Egypt’s ordeal

By Suyash Tibrawalla

Wikimedia Commons

Two years after the overthrow of the dictatorial government of President Hosni Mubarak, the people of Egypt still long for real peace and freedom. The revolution that ousted Mubarak was based on three essential goals: justice, liberal democracy and economic progress. However, it was not very long before their new leader, President Muhammad Morsi, was accused of having a sinister political agenda, triggering another episode of violent domestic unrest across the country on the eve of the second anniversary of the uprising.

Just last summer, Egyptians were faced with a tough choice between a return to the yoke of the last six decades under Ahmed Shafiq, an old Mubarak loyalist, and a new but uncertain future with the Muslim Brotherhood. Practically, they chose the latter but to no avail. Within months of his presidency, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, under growing secular pressure issued a decree granting himself unchecked authority and practically exempting his office from judicial checks and regulation. According to the Economist, this political blunder has “left Egypt starkly and dangerously polarized.”

Moreover, the fact that this move was ratified just a month later through the Islamist-drafted constitution, which was pushed through by a slim majority of conservative voters, gave rise to explosive protests. The courts abandoned work, while demonstrators crowded the streets of major cities in the largest numbers seen since the uprising against Mubarak. However, Morsi appears to have not learned his lesson and has not budged from his position. His recent autocratic decision to ignore protests and hand down death sentences to 21 individuals who had participated in an Egyptian football riot last year was nothing but a catalyst in the dramatic escalation of ongoing protests since November. Protestors have refused to accept him as their legitimate leader, and characterize his regime as a “new form of authoritarianism.”

President Morsi has not only faced stern criticism for leading the country away from democracy and toward theocracy, but also for struggling to revive a near stagnant economy since the revolution. According to Bloomberg, Egypt’s economy has grown at a snail’s pace since the revolution, even slower than the rate of growth in two decades under Mubarak. Because of the political violence, investors and tourists, the only hopes to help stabilize a free-falling economy, have avoided the country, causing foreign currency reserves to drop to miserably low levels. The government has been trying to negotiate a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in order to inject money into the economy, gain investor confidence and eventually release more funds from other lenders. But Egypt’s horrible figures stemming from the ongoing domestic turmoil endangers its chances to qualify for the IMF loan.

For a country with nearly 50 percent of its population living in poverty and relying on the government to subsidize basic necessities, with almost no jobs available, and with soaring food prices, survival is next to impossible. It may be one of the worst times to impose austerity measures and raise taxes to secure foreign loans. But who knows what might happen when all political power is in the hands of an inexperienced and self-destructive Egyptian president who faces a fragmented opposition of secular liberals?

Morsi’s numerous obstacles have still not given his secular opposition any incentive to unite and bring down his administration. They have failed, at least until this upcoming election, to gain strong support by providing any revolutionary alternative solutions to the problems that vex the state.

The slow pace of liberalization, dire economic and social conditions and ongoing protests against the government in the form of the street violence that has led to the death of almost 60 people in the past week, are signs of a moribund state. The Egyptian army chief, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, issued a warning just last week, after an emergency was declared by the president, that the political crisis could lead to the collapse of the state.

The people of Egypt have suffered a great deal under Mubarak and therefore will not tolerate another like him, even if he is their first democratically elected leader. They are aware of what two decades of oppression can do to a nation and will not stop until their demands are fulfilled. Mohammed Morsi, at present, is a failed president with immensely controversial policies, but he must remember that he is still in power. In order to establish his credibility among the people and save Egypt from collapsing, he must make radical changes in his style of leadership, his policies and maybe even his ideology.

Suyash Tibrawalla is a Collegian Columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]