MIDDLE EAST: by Frank LindseyNews Weekly
Egypt becomes a nightmare for Muslim Brotherhood
, April 27, 2013
Having achieved power after surviving 80 years of persecution, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is now widely despised and facing growing nationwide protests.
The Brotherhood’s long-awaited dream of making Egypt an Islamic state is turning into a nightmare, only two years after President Hosni Mubarek was deposed by massive protests, says Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. So deep is the economic, social and political crisis that there is a serious threat of civil war, although many believe that the army would step in before that happened.
Civil disobedience is rife. In Cairo and across Egypt there are daily demonstrations calling for an end to the rule of President Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood. Dozens have died and thousands have been wounded in conflicts between opposition protesters and groups of the Brotherhood.
Egypt is increasingly divided between President Morsi and his Islamist allies on one side and an opposition made up of moderate Muslims, Christians and liberals on the other.
According to Mazel, nothing has been done to solve major issues that Morsi promised to deal with in his first hundred days, such as growing insecurity, huge traffic jams in Cairo, shortages of fuel and cooking gas, shortages of subsidised bread and the growing refuse in the streets.
Egypt’s economy is a shambles. The country’s central reserves, needed to defend the local currency against devaluation, have been reduced to a “critical level”. Reserves have dropped from $36 billion before the Egyptian uprising to just $15 billion today. Credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s has downgraded Egypt’s long-term credit rating to “B-” — the same level as Greece.
The tourist industry, a major part of the Egyptian economy, is almost non-existent. Egypt needs hard currency from tourism to pay for fuel and wheat imports. About a quarter of the government’s budget is used to subsidise both these basic products, according to David D. Kirkpatrick.
Egypt imports 75 per cent of its wheat, combining high-quality foreign wheat with lower-quality domestic supplies to improve its subsidised bread. It also imports much of its fuel. For the first time last year, it was forced to import some of the natural gas used to generate electricity.
Power failures are getting worse. Queues for diesel and cooking gas are getting longer. Diesel shortages have reduced the ability of farmers to run their irrigation pumps and to have their tractors bring in the next harvest.
Kirkpatrick says that United States officials are warning of a disaster unless Egypt swiftly carries out a package of tax increases and subsidy cuts tied to a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
He goes on to say: “That would persuade other lenders that Egypt was creditworthy enough to obtain billions more in additional loans needed to meet its yawning deficit. But fearful of a public reaction at a time when the streets are already near boiling, the government of President Mohamed Morsi has so far resisted an International Monetary Fund deal, insisting that Egypt can wait.”
Climbing fuel and bread prices are raising fears of an economic catastrophe, when the government is already struggling to quell violent protests by its political rivals.
For the thousands of young men and women who joined the revolution in Cairo’s Tahrir Square two years ago, youth unemployment was a driving issue. In country where 51 per cent of the population is under 25, their main demand was simple: an economy that would employ them.
Instead, 3.5 million Egyptians have lost their jobs in the two years since the Mubarak regime was overthrown. Unemployment is now 25 per cent for people aged 25-29, and 41 per cent for those 19-24.
About 78 per cent of those without stable employment are high school or college graduates aged 15-29, and 32 per cent of the unemployed have university degrees, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
The national poverty rate is over 25 per cent, while in regional and rural areas, where 57 per cent of the population live, the poverty rate is 69 per cent.
Zvi Mazel says that dissatisfaction is now evident everywhere. He writes: “In a remarkable and enduring show of unity, non-Islamic opposition parties under the banner of the National Salvation Front are boycotting the regime until their demands — cancelling the Islamic constitution and setting up a consensus government until new elections are held — are met.…
“Elections held in students’ union throughout the country saw Brotherhood candidates defeated by independent candidates. Worse, elections to the key Journalists’ Syndicate saw the victory of Diaa Rashwan, head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies and bitter opponent of the Brotherhood.
“In other words, the movement is losing both the youth and the elites.”
Frank Lindsey is Western Australian state president of the National Civic Council.