Mass protests against Morsi's government in Cairo (photo: dapd)
Egypt Two Years after the Revolution

No Agenda, No Goal

Egypt remains gripped in political turmoil and despite apparent efforts by President Morsi to initiate dialogue with his opponents, it appears neither he nor his rivals are able to come up with a concept to lead the nation out of its ongoing crisis. An analysis by Karim El-Gawhary

For days now, Egyptians have been marking the second anniversary of the start of the nation's revolution with street battles across the country. On Sunday (27 Jan), the streets off Tahrir Square were transformed into a battlefield between police and demonstrators.

The violence is still being overshadowed by events in Port Said, where death sentences handed down to 21 local soccer fans held responsible for last year's clashes at the city stadium triggered angry unrest. Seventy-four people died in the riots last February, almost all of them fans of the opposing side from Cairo, Al-Ahli.

There are many fronts currently polarising the nation. While Ahli fans celebrated what they perceive to be "just" death sentences, people in Port Said were horrified at the decision. Some relatives took up arms and stormed the local prison where many of those sentenced are being held. At least 36 people were killed in the gunfight and the street battles that ensued. The unrest in Port Said continued on Sunday after the funerals of those killed in the clashes.

Fans of the 'Al-Ahly' football club after the proclamation of sentence in Cairo (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
A polarized nation: While Ahli fans and victims' families expressed relief at the outcome of the trial, in which 21 men were sentenced to death for their role in deadly soccer riots in Port Said last February, people in Port Said were horrified at the decision

​​On the political front, there have been at least 11 other deaths in recent days as government buildings and offices used by the Muslim Brotherhood were stormed.

Dialogue with no agenda and no goal

And what is the President doing? He is saying nothing, holding talks with his national defence council, a committee set up in accordance with the new constitution and made up of ministers and army officers. In a declaration, he then cryptically called for all political movements to take part in a dialogue without any kind of agenda or goal, and at the same time declaring a state of emergency in the three worst-hit cities, Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya.

And what is the opposition doing? The National Salvation Front, led by Muhammad ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Arab nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi and the former head of the Arab League Amr Moussa, gave a media conference at the weekend to issue its demands. The opposition says that unless a National Salvation government is formed and the constitution rewritten, the protests will continue.

The high point of the media conference was an announcement that the opposition will boycott upcoming parliamentary elections if its demands are not met. Or in other words: Dear Morsi, give us what we want, or we won't go head-to-head with your Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary race. A classic case of shooting itself in the foot.

Neither Morsi nor the opposition currently has any idea how to help Egypt and its ever-increasing stack of problems out of the quagmire. For months now, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have been trotting out the same motto: "Everything will get better if you only give us more time."

The state within a state

A man is spraying a Muslim Brotherhood caricature graffiti in Cairo (photo: Reuters)
The spectre of the Muslim Brotherhood: The opposition alliance of leftist, liberal and nationalist forces accuses President Mohammed Morsi of usurping sovereign power and establishing a new dictatorship in religious garb

​​But no one is coming up with any concrete proposals on how the situation might be improved. Thus far, Morsi has done nothing to dismantle the ineffective and corrupt state apparatus bequeathed to Egypt by Mubarak. And the interior ministry, which still persists with the hidebound police practices of the dictatorship with all its arrogance and immunity, remains a state within a state, creating its own conditions for survival out of the reach of the Muslim Brothers and the opposition. Forensic examiners say that the nine demonstrators killed at the weekend in Suez were short at point blank range, some of them in the back. Thus far, the security apparatus has not been called to account over this.

The opposition's credo is equally simplistic: "Anything but the Muslim Brothers". At the street demonstrations of recent days, many people could be heard calling out "Topple the regime, topple Morsi". Quite apart from the fact that democratic credibility is somewhat eroded by efforts to oust an elected president because he and his Muslim Brothers could not be beaten at the ballot box, the question arises: and what then? No opposition figure appears to be presently in a position to come up with an answer.

In Egypt today, no one can put forward a vision that addresses the real problems faced by people, the ailing economy, stagnant wage levels and the rising cost of living and the urgent need for jobs, not to mention the long overdue reform of the state apparatus. As Tahrir Square activist Wael Khalil summarises: "That has to be the curse of the Egyptian mummy. Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the opposition have done their political homework."

Karim El-Gawhary

© 2013

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Lewis Gropp/

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