Anne Penketh: Same bad old movie with stability so far away

Yemeni protesters hold posters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Photo / AP
Yemeni protesters hold posters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Photo / AP

A president has been ousted. The sand-coloured tanks are stationed again around Cairo. Egyptian militias are back on the streets, checking cars for concealed weaponry.

Mass demonstrations, this time pitting supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi against opponents of his Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, have returned in unprecedented numbers. Political violence stalks the country, with 75 people killed since last week, including members of the Christian minority.

We have seen this movie before. It was in 2011, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took control of Egypt for a "transitional period" and escorted Hosni Mubarak from the presidential palace. More than 800 people were killed in the 18-day uprising which forced Mubarak from power.

The SCAF, with a different leader, is again in control. This time it acted swiftly, with the enthusiastic backing of the liberal National Salvation Front (NSF), led by former international diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, who has admitted to softening up Western governments before the army coup.

The SCAF is supported by the grassroots movement Tamarod (rebellion), whose members advocated the removal of Morsi just as its allied April 6 youth movement demanded Mubarak's downfall before the 2011 revolution. But both movements suffer from the same flaw- they lack a serious political platform for the future.

Morsi had no experience of government before becoming President. But who does in Egypt? The country had been ruled by President Mubarak and his corrupt cronies for 30 years. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned, and condemned to clandestinity and jail. Nevertheless, the Brotherhood won almost half of the parliamentary seats in the country's first democratic elections last year thanks to its grassroots network based on its social welfare programmes which filled a vacuum left by the Mubarak regime.

The army's experience in 2011 was disastrous. The generals took over reluctantly and have done so again. In 2011 they agreed to political concessions after being swayed by surges of demonstrating crowds. But in their bumbling incompetence and fixation on preserving their own economic privileges, they failed to nurture the kind of political reconciliation, good governance and institution-building which is even more desperately needed today.

As in 2011, the generals have promised a transition period followed by elections. But what are their plans for the Brotherhood whose leaders have been arrested in an even more polarised situation than two and a half years ago? The Brotherhood's supporters are refusing to engage in any negotiations until Morsi has been reinstated as president.

Egypt has been in chaos since 2011. The country desperately wants, and needs, stability. Its economy is in freefall, its tourist industry is collapsing, its currency hammered and its now detained president rejected by a large part of the electorate. Morsi's approval rating dropped from 78 per cent to 32 per cent in the past year. He had an authoritarian default button and systematically refused to reach out to the opposition until it was too late. He failed to behave like the president of all Egyptians, despite having the legitimacy of a democratically elected leader.

The first major test for the SCAF, and its fig leaf interim civilian government, will be the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of elections. But it's possible the next parliament could be a replica of the present Islamist-dominated legislature. The nationwide support for the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be underestimated.. Egypt is a conservative society where people in rural areas vote for candidates approved by their local mosques. That is what ensured victory for the Islamists in the polls last year.

The ultra-radical al Nour party - backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia - obtained a quarter of the vote in parliamentary elections. They have broken with the Muslim Brotherhood to protest against its monopoly on power in the parliament and joined with the NSF as unlikely bedfellows to seek Morsi's overthrow.

The party's religious fanatics stand to do well in any future poll. As for the liberal and secular opposition that began the revolution in 2011, although its leaders have united within the NSF, the alliance has done little to broaden its support base beyond urban areas.

In 2011, the revolutionaries were demanding bread, dignity and social justice. In 2013, those demands remain as valid as ever.

Unfortunately for the Egyptian people, they are trapped in a cinema showing the same bad movie over and over again.

- NZ Herald

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