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Saturday, July 8, 2017

After four years in power el-Sisi's Egypt is in worse shape than before he took over

Four years after the Egyptian military overthrew the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, the country is in sad shape both socially and economically..

General Abdel el-Sisi announced the overthrow on state television on July 3rd 2013. He suspended the constitution and installed an interim government. There had been huge demonstrations against the Morsi government over fears that it was becoming increasingly authoritarian. El-Sisi was later elected president in May of 2014 with 97 per cent of the vote. There was only one other candidate. Morsi was the second Egyptian leader deposed in just over two years after an uprising overthrew the thirty-year old rule of military leader Hosni Mubarak. Now Mubarak is released from jail while Morsi continues to languish in jail. Mubarak was released in March of this year after six years in prison. On the other hand, Morsi remains in prison apparently in poor health and without proper medical attention according to a recent article. Morsi is suffering from fainting spells and twice fell into a coma.
The overthrow of Morsi created a social and political upheaval that divided the nation and no doubt helped recruit more jihadists committed to use violence against the Egyptian government. After Morsi was removed the interim government cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and others who mounted large protests against the interim government and el-Sisi. In August of 2013 the army and security forces attacked a demonstration in Rabaa al-Adawiy Square killing up to a thousand protesters. Human Rights Watch describes it as "one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history".
Shortly after Morsi's removal, in August of 2013 the military-backed interim government embarked on a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, many of whom who continued to stage counter-protests and express their support for Morsi. As well as the Muslim Brotherhood being declared a terrorist organization and thus unable to participate in presidential elections the following year. Amnesty International had its assets seized, was banned and declared a terrorist organization by the government. Amnesty had issued a statement condemning the mass sentencing of hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Abullah al-Arian of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar said: "The violent repression of Morsi's supporters sent a stark message to all Egyptians that under the resurgent authoritarian rule of the Sisi regime: Dissent will not be tolerated. Along with the mass imprisonment of over 50,000 people, this has ensured that opposition to the regime has remained limited in the years since." In 2015 the government adopted a controversial anti-terror bill.
In 2013 the government had already passed a bill placing many restrictions on demonstrations. Student demonstrations were often put down by the government. The government targeted not just former members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood but any activists opposed to the government. Many who had opposed Morsi now found themselves being arrested by the new el-Sisi government.
The el-Sisi regime was supposed to give rise to stability and prosperity. He adopted some of the type of neo-liberal policies that are favored by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the government was aware that many of the austerity policies favored by such institutions were politically unpalatable. El-Sisi slashed fuel subsidies and raised taxes, to generate long term revenue. He also embarked on some infrastructure projects to boost employment. However, stability has begun to erode and the demands of the IMF for further austerity measures and subsidy reductions for further loans has caused inflation and may even generate social unrest as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.
Sarah Yerkes, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington said: "Some Egyptians have accepted the return of some of the 'old guard' because they believe that, for all its faults, the Mubarak regime brought them more stability than the Morsi regime. In the long run, this type of thinking is irrational - Mubarak was only able to control Egypt for so long - but in the short run, some people are willing to put up with more repression [and] less freedom in exchange for what they perceive to be greater stability." As James Gelvin, a professor at the University of Los Angeles notes Egypt is much more authoritarian today than under any leader since General Nasser with all opposition virtually outlawed. He said today no one is safe from the government if they oppose it.
Yet, the repression has not resulted in any increased prosperity for most Egyptians. Mark Levine a professor at the University of California said: "With 30-40 percent of the country living on $2 a day or less, there is very little room for manoeuver for them. If the country grinds to a halt with new protests, literally millions of people face financial ruin and even hunger very quickly." While many may not protest for fear of the consequences the situation may be about to boil over. There were many demonstrations against the government when it ceded several islands to Saudi Arabia. Attempts to impose more austerity on the population may also generate spontaneous protests.
Ironically, as Egypt declines domestically it appears to be strengthening relations internationally and to be playing an important role in Libya. Yet Yerkes concludes: "On virtually every indicator, Egypt is worse off today than it was under Mubarak. The security situation is far worse, the economy is worse, the levels of repression are far higher and the ability of the government to deliver basic goods and services has declined." The Arab Spring appears to have transitioned quickly into an Arab Winter in Egypt.


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