The Egypt that’s emerged in the week since President Mohammed Morsi was toppled from power looks much as it did in the period just after the uprising in 2011 that led to the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Appointees in the new government are nearly all proponents of military intervention. The new prime minister named Wednesday, Hazem el Beblawi, served as the minister of finance in the first military government after Mubarak’s fall. The Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization that helped Morsi ascend to power, once again is isolated from the political process, just as it was under Mubarak and in the first months after his ouster.
And old problems are back. Divisions permeate the political landscape, and Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have suffered several notable attacks, allegedly by Islamists, as the government proves incapable of protecting them even as it warns of the dangers of terrorism.
Still unanswered, in a country where most of the population at least publicly seems to support the military’s overthrow of Morsi, is whether people will go back to the basic acceptance of government corruption and incompetence that prevailed through the Mubarak years. Analysts and those who advocated Mubarak’s fall think that after removing two presidents through massive popular movements, the public’s tolerance for bad government is likely to be low, a challenge for Egypt’s current rulers.
The military must “present some reforms to placate the angry people and to integrate the Islamists in some way,” said Ashraf el Sherif, a professor of politics at the American University in Cairo. “The challenge is to make an alliance of all sectors and introduce some kind of reforms in a way that will not introduce instability.”
For the so-called revolutionaries who led the uprising against Mubarak, the broad support for the military’s move against Morsi is frustrating. While they, too, wanted Morsi out, they’re wondering in the aftermath whether anyone recalls that the anti-Mubarak uprising was intended to bring about democracy and such social reforms as the end of corruption and police brutality.
Morsi’s final weeks made it clear that those revolutionary dreams hadn’t really flourished under his government or the military government that ruled for nearly 18 months between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s inauguration. With the economy flailing, Morsi’s administration arrested activists who opposed him, and manipulated new laws and a new constitution to its favor.
“We can say that the January 2011 revolution was not a revolution,” el Sherif said. What’s taking place now, he said, could be described “as the second road map of the counterrevolution.” The first was the military government before Morsi’s election.
Ola Shahba, a political activist who took part in the anti-Mubarak and anti-Morsi demonstrations, wasn’t so glum. She said there was a big difference between the Egypt of 2011 and the Egypt of today.
“It’s not 2011, because many more people are speaking out. There is real public pressure,” she said.
But will that pressure continue, now that many of the worst physical indications of Morsi’s incompetence – the lack of electricity and the long lines for gasoline – are gone? “That is something we have to wait to see,” she said.
For political activists, getting people to see beyond physical comforts to issues such as more professional policing and freedom of speech and association is the challenge. “We have to try to convince people that these reforms are not going through, and that the military is not capable of managing a transitional rule where social justice is a primary goal,” Shahba said. “Right now, they just want a better life.”
So far, there are signs that both sides are returning to old practices. The military has turned to its supporters to fill roles in the government. It’s also rounded up hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members. Morsi, who remains detained, reportedly will face charges of “insulting the judiciary.”
The government has shut down news channels friendly to the Brotherhood and charged its leaders with inciting violence. After clashes Monday morning between Morsi supporters and the military that led to at least 54 deaths, the military said it was protecting the nation from “terrorists,” and obliquely suggested that the attacks on troops in the restive Sinai and the gathering of Morsi supporters in eastern Cairo were one and the same.
On Monday night, attackers set a church ablaze in the Nile Delta city of Port Said, the sixth such attack in as many days, one for each day since Abdel-Fattah el Sissi, the minister of defense and the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, announced that Morsi was no longer the president.
It’s lost on few people here that one of the main events that preceded Mubarak’s ouster was the bombing of a church in Cairo. Christians remain divided over who was most likely responsible, Islamists or the government – trying to prove its claim that only it stood between the nation and chaos.
In the meantime, the military continues to say it wants no role in governing Egypt now and that it toppled Morsi only to fulfill the will of the people. A “road map” laid out by the interim president, Adly Mansour – which calls for drafting a new constitution in four months and for parliamentary and presidential elections by February – is the solution, the military said in a statement Tuesday, a clear path to a future where “no one can go against the will of the nation.”
Where the Muslim Brotherhood fits in to that is still working itself out. Late Tuesday, hundreds of Morsi supporters who’d marched toward the presidential palace demanded that soldiers move aside so the marchers could return to their headquarters at a mosque in Rabaa, the district in eastern Cairo where more than 50 Morsi supporters died Monday. “We are peaceful. We want to go through,” they chanted.
When the military refused, the protesters turned away and searched for another route.
“Why do they come here when they know we are here?” Islam Jafer, a military commander at the scene, asked a McClatchy reporter.
That standoff between the military and the Brotherhood is likely to bode ill for stability.
El Sherif said the Brotherhood’s insistence that Morsi be reinstated was the sort of all-or-nothing stance Morsi was famous for, which had alienated so many Egyptians. “They must accept defeat and minimize losses,” he said.
And the military must learn to work with them. Without the Brotherhood as part of the process, “you will never have stability,” he said. “You will have perpetual conflict, maybe low-level but persistent.”