Egypt instability won’t end with referendum



Marc Burleigh

Published — Thursday 20 December 2012

Last update 19 December 2012 11:08 pm

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Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi will certainly succeed in pushing through a new constitution in a weekend referendum, analysts say — but his battle with the opposition is far from over.
The Arab world’s most populous nation is looking at prolonged instability that will undermine Mursi’s prospects of governing and badly hurt an economy tottering on the brink of disaster, observers warned.
Weeks of protests and missteps by Mursi have weakened the president’s authority and split the nation into two camps: One supporting the ruling Islamists, and one backing an opposition coalition of disparate forces united essentially by their fierce anti-Mursi stance.
“Of course, the constitution will be adopted” in a second-round referendum on Saturday, Hani Sabra, an analyst at the Eurasia group, said in a media note.
But “the referendum results will also fuel the confrontation between the Brotherhood and the non-Islamist opposition,” he said.
“This confrontation, played out through protests, strikes and clashes between rival supporters and police will make governing even more difficult. This will be compounded by the ongoing battle between the bureaucracy and the presidency.”
Opposition rallies against Mursi and the draft constitution have ebbed this week, as attention has turned to the referendum.
The opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, after initial hesitation over whether to boycott, has urged voters to reject the new charter drafted mainly by Mursi’s Islamist allies, saying it will open the way to Shariah-style strict Islamic law.
Unofficial tallies showed 57 percent of voters in the first round backing the draft constitution, though turnout was a low 30 percent and the opposition claimed numerous instances of polling fraud.
The margin is expected to grow in the second round to seal the text’s adoption, but by a smaller margin than Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood had been banking on.
Hostility to the charter is the principal issue holding together the broad coalition of leftwing, liberal, secular and Christian groups.
“The question is: If the Brothers win, will the opposition give up and say it did what it could? Or will it go into the streets calling for a bigger mobilization in the future?” asked analyst Hassan Nafaa of the Ahram Centre.
An adoption of the charter would trigger new polls, setting the scene for more demonstrations — and renewing the ideological debate over whether the country should become more Islamist.
“What is developing in Egypt is the ideological battle of the decade,” said Paul Sullivan, a professor specializing in Egypt and the Middle East at Georgetown University in the United States.
While most Egyptians see themselves as pious Muslims, the Brotherhood and the more radical Salafists want the country to adopt their views, he said in an analysis published on the Global Experts website. “In many ways what we may be seeing in Egypt is a clash of interpretations of Islam, or even a clash of civilizations within Egypt,” Sullivan said. One of the first casualties of the continued turmoil could be Egypt’s economy, which has slowed dramatically in the aftermath of the February 2011 revolution that toppled veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak and not yet recovered.
Gross domestic product is expected to grow a meager 2.0 percent this year and 3.0 percent in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund — less than half the performance recorded pre-revolution.
Unemployment is over 12 percent, around 40 percent of Egypt’s 83 million citizens lives on the equivalent of two dollars or less per day, and the central bank’s foreign reserves have plunged by more than half since early 2011 to less than $ 15 billion today. The IMF last week put on hold a proposed $ 4.8 billion loan Cairo needs to prevent devastating devaluation of Egypt’s currency, frightening investors.
The EU ambassador to Egypt, James Moran, said that Egypt’s eroding reserves “is a worry obviously for the government and also for us.”
Up to $ 2.7 billion the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was mulling to invest in Egypt’s private sector over the next couple of years could be affected, he said.

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