Adrift in Egypt
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Egypt's drift into political chaos is, arguably, the most unfortunate blow the Arab world could suffer post-Spring, given the country's pre-eminent position in influencing the region. What started as peaceful protests in Cairo last Friday, to mark two years of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, had by Sunday turned into bloody street battles in Port Said, after 20-odd football fans were handed death sentences for riots that killed more than 70 people at a match last year. Even after President Mohammed Morsi declared an emergency and deployed the military in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez along the Suez Canal — to keep the shipping lines, so vital to the Egyptian economy, open — people came out in defiance. The warning of the army chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, that the destabilising political struggle could "lead to a collapse of the state", cannot be ignored.
After two years of transition, Egypt is a divided country, with the Muslim Brotherhood's liberal and minority opponents demanding Morsi's resignation. Although the protests in Cairo and those in the Suez cities have separate origins and aims, they are connected by Morsi's rapid loss of ground and control. Post-Spring Egypt's transition from rule by the military was bound to be phased and problematic. Morsi's ascent as Egypt's first democratically elected president was a beginning. But soon after the military handed over power last year, Morsi's promise of a government for "all Egyptians" began to sound hollow. His November decree giving himself near-absolute powers, and his pushing the controversial new constitution through an Islamist-dominated legislature, were the tipping point. As the country erupts now, Morsi's "firm" response seems to have only aggravated the crisis.
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