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‘Egypt cannot afford to lose time and credibility’

Jan 22,2014 - Last updated at Jan 22,2014

On Saturday, Egyptians are set to commemorate the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising that toppled their president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak.

While liberal and leftist secular youth are expected to flock to Tahrir Square to make the point that the “revolution” continues, the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is calling upon its supporters to also go to the square to protest last summer’s ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood stalwart.

Possession of Tahrir, the cradle of the uprising, could, once again, become a casus belli. The security forces and army are bound to be heavily deployed and on alert to prevent clashes, presumably by preventing supporters from the banned Brotherhood from entering the square.

On January 14 and 15 Egyptians voted by a landslide in favour of the constitution written by a committee appointed by the military-backed interim government, which assumed power after Morsi was deposed.

While 38.6 per cent of registered voters took part in this constitutional referendum, the third since Mubarak’s fall, the charter received a 98.1 per cent approval rating, more than 30 per cent higher than the constitution drafted by a committee dominated by the Brotherhood and rammed through by Morsi after he decreed himself sweeping powers beyond judicial review.

In the referendum on the Brotherhood-drafted constitution, 32 per cent of the electorate voted and 64 per cent said “yes”, with Egypt’s largest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, voting against.

While few read or understood the new constitution, Egyptians voted “yes” this time because they see the charter as a means to attain security and economic well-being.

Egyptians vote because they believe they will, ultimately, achieve the objectives of the “revolution”: bread, freedom and dignity.

The writing of the new constitution and the referendum constituted the first stage of a roadmap devised by the military and the interim government following Morsi’s removal by the military on July 3 last year, in response to protests against his regime involving millions (some say 17 million, others 33 million).

The next stages are elections for president and parliament. The roadmap put the parliamentary poll first, but it seems the order will be reversed and a presidential election could be held in March. The new parliament should be inaugurated within six months from the adoption of the new constitution.

The people’s choice for president is army chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi who, before the vote on the constitution, said he would consider running if he received a popular mandate.

He is, reportedly, highly reluctant to take on the presidency but “is cornered” by the military, Egypt’s powerful business class, the “oligarchy”, and by millions of Egyptians who insist he is the only man for the job.

Ehab Samir, adviser to the president of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, said Sisi “will win because he is a national hero… [people feel] we need someone like him for a [four-year] term. The army is an integral part of what Egypt is all about, the only strong institution left....

“We need to have a president, a head of state elected to lead the country.... People want to see something happen. We cannot afford to remain in limbo.”

Sisi may be reluctant because he is realistic. Egypt’s next president will face violent unrest, political instability, and economic collapse.

Backers of the Brotherhood, which demands Morsi’s reinstatement, have mounted bombings and shootings, as well as constant street protests. Radical jihadists are attacking army and police posts in the restive Sinai and kidnapping and killing civilians.

While $12 billion in grants and loans from the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have staved off bankruptcy, borrowing has also increased the country’s debt.

Tourism, a major source of revenue, has collapsed. The cost of food is rising by 20 per cent a year. The rich do not pay taxes, the country’s infrastructure is crumbling, and the 40 per cent of Egyptians who live below the poverty line grow poorer and increasingly frustrated with the lack of relief.

“Feloul”, remnants of the Mubarak regime, are doing their best to frustrate the “revolution” meant to reverse the free market madness introduced during the former president’s rule.

Political analyst Hisham Kassem said Sisi will have to “resign from the military and run as a civilian politician. He will be on his own. If he fails to deliver [what the people expect] he will lose the support of the military” as well as the people.

“The army will not shoot people to defend political failure or allow the politicians to manipulate it.”

Sisi’s challengers could include former Arab League secretary general and Egyptian foreign minister Amr Musa, defected Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abdu El Fattouh and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. All three stood against Morsi in the first round of the presidential poll in 2012 and lost.

Kassem stated: “The Brotherhood is finished as a political force for the time being. Its protests draw less and less support. People are furious that the Brotherhood seeks to derail the ongoing political process.”

The interim government has good reasons to postpone parliamentary elections. The new constitution bans parties based on religion, in theory, prohibiting both the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultraorthodox Nour Party from fielding candidates.

The fate of these parties will, however, be determined by whether the ban on the Brotherhood is enforced. So far, the Brotherhood has been proscribed as a “terrorist” organisation, but its party has not yet been outlawed.

The survival of Nour, which has backed the ouster of Morsi and had a representative on the committee that drafted the constitution, may not depend on what happens to the Freedom and Justice Party.

For the post-Morsi order, Nour is important because it is said to represent, at least in part, the fundamentalist constituency. The Strong Egypt Party, founded by Fattouh, is more moderately fundamentalist.

Egypt’s traditional liberal and leftist parties and those that have emerged after the fall of Mubarak remain small and divided and may have to contend with the revival of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), perhaps under a different name.

Aware of this danger, the traditional and new parties will form mergers and electoral alliances in coming months, but there is no guarantee that they can defeat the NDP machine which largely remains intact.

Commentator Youssef Zaki argued the new parliament could resemble Mubarak’s 2005 people’s assembly, which was dominated by the NDP but had a 20 per cent Brotherhood membership.

The fact that under the new constitution, 75 per cent of seats are reserved for independents rather than party candidates makes it easier for the NDP and the Brotherhood, which have long fielded “independents” who were not independent, to win seats and all the more difficult for other parties to do so.

Once a parliament is inaugurated, there is no guarantee that the mergers and alliances formed by traditional and new parties will survive.

Egypt cannot afford to lose time and credibility due to parliamentary infighting, as this could put the country at risk of becoming a “failed state”.

Egypt is too big and too heavily populated to fail.

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