Thursday, 31 January 2013

In Egypt, escalating unrest threatens Morsi's control

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency and curfew January 29 after protests continue since igniting on the January 25 anniversary of Egypt's 2011 uprising.

Egypt's Shura Council, or upper parliamentary house, accepted the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's judgment to impose the state of emergency inside the affected provinces. Soldiers are being placed onto the streets to arrest any citizens not respecting the curfew.

The governorates experiencing unrest are Port Said, Suez, and Ismalia. All of these governorates border the critical Suez Canal but are not affecting commercial traffic so far.

The protesters are on the streets for mixed reasons, but the most prominent appear to be constant with recent history. The anniversary of the 2011 protests brought people out onto the streets initially, and the weekend’s death sentences handed down to people involved in the February 2012 soccer riots are sparking other protests.

Of course, some protesters are joining in to condemn last November’s power expansions engineered by Mr Morsi, although these participants appear to be few.

Mr Morsi’s employment of the state of emergency is disturbingly close to tactics employed by his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. This fact will not be lost on the Egyptian people who now see Mr Morsi as little better than Mr Mubarak.

The Sinai Peninsula has experienced unrest recently with a number of armed anarchist groups living in the area. A number of them have been spotted with handguns and other small arms. Egyptian police in the area reportedly were shot at with live bullets and returned fire into crowds of demonstrators, further inflaming anger.

According to some sources a handful of arrests have already been made as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on January 30. The groups attacked police cars and stations setting some on fire.

The unrest seems to have spread in limited form to the capital as well.

Egyptian police fired tear gas at thousands of Anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters marching in Cairo toward the Shura Council. A reporter describes an armoured security vehicle driving "frantically" at some of the demonstrators, causing several injuries; a second armoured vehicle was reportedly smashed in Tahrir Square.

The Egyptian military appear to have waited until Morsi requested their intervention before making an entrance. While the military still retain solid control over some of the most important structures of Egyptian politics, the generals appear to be deferring the hardest decisions to Morsi. Doing so deflects most blame for Egypt’s current situation from the military to Morsi’s government.

Army Chief of Staff General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi obliquely pointed to the deferred action taken by Morsi by saying the unrest could “lead to the collapse of the state”. The general does not give much away by proclaiming this, as the fall of Morsi would not directly affect the type of control the military would have in event of Egyptian state collapse.

As in Libya after Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, the capital of Egypt is getting most of the focus from Morsi’s new government. Declaring a state of emergency in the Sinai shows how little control Cairo currently has in the Peninsula. The Sinai experienced unrest during the 2011 protests, but they weren’t as well documented as those in Cairo.

Many of the demonstrators still feel left out of the political process and are unimpressed with Morsi’s rule, going so far as to suggest their personal lives might actually be worse off now than during the Hosni Mubarak rule.

And while Egypt tries to prevent a collapse of its currency and stave off fuel shortages, the protests are both a result and driver of the spiralling economic situation. Investment is also low, and will only get lower in response to these new protests as few investors will want to get involved with a country teetering on the brink of more societal upheavals and potential outright economic collapse.

Morsi’s police were unable to calm the protests alone and had to call on the military for assistance, exposing just how much Morsi still relies on soldiers for control of the Egyptian state.

But if the situation devolves any further, the military may be forced to intervene to prevent an escalation. Not to remove Morsi, but to stop the protests from destabilising Egypt. At the moment the unrest appears to be assisting the military in keeping Morsi’s power in control.

The legislation introduced by Morsi late last year benefited the military, and Morsi’s rule is not antithetical to military participation, but widespread unrest would hurt Egypt deeply. 

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