Egypt: Will the army step in?



Osama Al Sharif

Published — Wednesday 13 March 2013

Last update 13 March 2013 8:24 am

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Egypt is getting out of control: The police are on strike in a number of cities, the civil disobedience in Port Said is in its fourth week, hooligans are attacking and ransacking public buildings, and angry youth are clashing with anti-riot police on daily basis. The government has been unable to end chronic fuel shortages while large parts of Sinai suffer from lawlessness.
President Muhammad Mursi has failed to reach a compromise with the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) which insists on boycotting legislative elections. The economy is suffering and negotiations with the IMF over a $ 4.8 billion loan are faltering. Everyday there is death and mayhem somewhere in the country.
Last week a high court ordered the suspension of parliamentary elections, called for by President Mursi two weeks ago, and referred the election law to the Constitutional Court. In the midst of strikes, clashes and political uncertainty, calls on the army to take over are getting louder.
The hardliners say counterrevolutionary forces are at work to undermine the presidency and efforts to stabilize the country. The NSF, an umbrella of opposition parties, says it is Mursi's authoritarian edicts that triggered Egypt's current crisis. In fact it could be all these things. Certainly there are forces that do not want the conservatives to succeed. But President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood have failed to win the trust of the opposition. They are accused of acting unilaterally by imposing their own constitution and denying others a role in shaping the future of the country.
The opposition is suspicious of attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate the state's secular institutions including the judiciary, the army and the Ministry of Interior. But the street is like a runaway train.
Rebellious youth no longer listen to the NSF. They want to topple the regime and start a revolution. And yes, remnants of the old system may be conspiring to disrupt attempts to end the state of anarchy. No one really knows who is behind recent attacks on newspapers, public buildings and businesses associated with the Islamists.
President Mursi refuses to listen to demands by the NSF which include sacking the government of Dr Hisham Qandeel, rewriting the constitution and abrogating the controversial Constitutional Declarations. He calls for dialogue but gives no indication that he is willing to compromise.
The NSF finds itself in a difficult position also. It is losing credibility as well, and while it says it wants to reform the presidency and correct its course, it refuses to engage in dialogue with the president. The impasse has weakened both sides and encouraged angry youth to take matters into their own hands.
The Islamists are not a united front as well. The Salafist Nour party has adopted some of the NFS's demands, but said it will not boycott the elections because it did not want one party to tighten its control over Egypt. The NFS said it will boycott the elections because there are no guarantees that it will be free and transparent. It accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of political manipulation in order to take over the new legislature.
Meanwhile, the economy is on the brink of collapse and the stock market has been losing billions of pounds every day. Egypt's closest ally, the United States, has been unable to exercise pressure on the opposition to reach a deal with the presidency. Last week's visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry was boycotted by the NSF. The independent media criticized US attempts to interfere in domestic Egyptian politics.
And now that the court has decided to suspend the elections, the crisis has reached a new level. President Mursi is running out of options. If the situation continues to deteriorate there is the possibility that the army will intervene. Few weeks ago Minister of Defense Abdel Fatah Al Sisi warned that the current crisis could undermine the Egyptian state. A drawn-out showdown between the police and the people of Port Said, which claimed the lives of more than 35 civilians, finally came to an end when the army moved in and replaced the security forces in the Suez Canal city. It was a further indication that the army remains a possible last minute player in this dangerous game.
There are those who believe that President Mursi is slowly turning into another Mubarak; relying increasingly on the Ministry of Interior and the discredited police force. Some believe he is not ruling but takes his marching orders from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially the powerful Khairat Al Shatter. It is in fact difficult to defend the president because every decision that he had taken in recent months has backfired and provided further evidence that he lacked leadership qualities.
It is almost impossible to imagine a scenario where the president and the opposition could work out their differences. Both have become hostage to their public positions and no side is willing to take a step back. It is no wonder that more people are looking toward the army for salvation!

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