Egypt's de­scent into law­less­ness a bit­ter own goal

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Linda S. Heard

PROTEST has be­come a way of life for many Egyp­tians all over the coun­try. Ev­ery­one seems to have a gripe; ev­ery­one is aware that some­thing is rot­ten in the state of Egypt but there's lit­tle con­sen­sus on how to put things right. Scenes of an­gry demon­stra­tors fir­ing build­ings and chok­ing un­der clouds of tear­gas has be­come rou­tine tele­vi­sion watch­ing, so much so that most café pa­trons sim­ply glance at the screen and sigh be­fore re­sum­ing their con­ver­sa­tions or a game of domi­noes. On Fri­day, a court rul­ing con­firm­ing sen­tenc­ing for those in­volved in a riot last year dur­ing a foot­ball match be­tween Cairo's Al Ahly and Port Said's Masry club that robbed 74 fans (most Al Ahly sup­port­ers) of their lives pleased no one. Port Said res­i­dents con­sider the sen­tences of their guys - rang­ing from death to 15 years in prison, too se­vere - and thou­sands took their ire to the streets, while oth­ers tried to dis­rupt the Suez Canal by un­ty­ing speed boats and throw­ing burn­ing tyres into the water. A large ban­ner erected over the port's en­trance called for the city's se­ces­sion from Egypt, echo­ing an ac­tion taken by the city of Ma­halla which de­clared its in­de­pen­dence last year. Last week, the In­te­rior Min­istry with­drew its po­lice forces from Port Said in the hope of calm­ing ten­sions elic­it­ing cel­e­bra­tions. Os­ten­si­bly, the army now has con­trol of the city ex­cept the mil­i­tary is es­chew­ing polic­ing du­ties an­nounc­ing it is only re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing state build­ings and the canal. Ini­tially, Al Ahly sup­port­ers were pleased with the sen­tences; that was un­til it sank in that sev­eral po­lice­men al­leged to have stood-by watch­ing the killings were off the hook. Thou­sands of the club's hard line fans known as Ah­lawy Ul­tras vented their fury at the ac­quit­tals by torch­ing a po­lice club and set­ting the coun­try's foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion head­quar­ters on fire af­ter steal­ing tro­phies and de­stroy­ing doc­u­ments en­shrin­ing Egypt's foot­ball his­tory that, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, is now lost for­ever. Other fans dis­rupted train ser­vices be­tween Cairo and Alexan­dria. "The Pres­i­dent and the government are both di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for turn­ing the coun­try's po­lit­i­cal fire into a real fire," read a state­ment from the leader of the Lib­eral Free Egyp­tians Party.

The gen­eral mood is one of help­less­ness and anx­i­ety. It's ev­i­dent that a government over­whelmed by vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion and a se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus that's break­ing apart - over 30 po­lice sta­tions around the coun­try are on strike - has lost di­rec­tion and con­trol, so much so that an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are nos­tal­gic for "the good old days" when Mubarak was at the helm. Plac­ards ask­ing Mubarak, who's ail­ing and be­hind bars, for for­give­ness are com­monly seen.

Many more are call­ing upon the mil­i­tary to step-in and to prove their se­ri­ous­ness, are sign­ing per­sonal pow­ers of at­tor­ney in the name of the Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces; ironic when just months ago, the thought of a mil­i­tary coup was anath­ema for al­most ev­ery­one. Pres­i­dent Mo­ham­mad Mursi is in a quandary. An au­thor­i­tar­ian ap­proach only in­cites in­creased rage in a na­tion that suf­fered for over 30 years un­der a vir­tual dic­ta­tor­ship. On the other hand, a lais­sez-faire pol­icy is bring­ing the coun­try to its eco­nomic knees.

In­sta­bil­ity has Egypt's re­gional friends with fat pock­ets back­ing-off; in­vest­ment has dried up along with tourism. The Egyp­tian pound is bleed­ing against the dol­lar re­sult­ing in a 15 per cent price hike on food­stuffs, medicines and other goods and as the for­eign cur­rency re­serve dwin­dles, the sit­u­a­tion is likely to worsen. The government's at­tempt to raise in­come, prop­erty and sales taxes in ac­cor­dance with IMF con­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with a $4.8 bil­lion loan is se­verely im­pact­ing the poor in a coun­try where an es­ti­mated 50 mil­lion sub­sist be­low the poverty line. A rev­o­lu­tion of the hun­gry seems in­evitable un­less the sta­tus quo un­der­goes dra­matic change.

Democ­racy isn't do­ing too well ei­ther. A court has sus­pended par­lia­men­tary elec­tions sched­uled to be­gin on April 22 on the grounds that elec­toral law, which the op­po­si­tion al­leged favoured Is­lamists, must first be re­viewed by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. In any event, most op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing those un­der the um­brella of the Na­tional Sal­va­tion Front headed by Mo­ham­mad Al Ba­radei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, vowed to boy­cott that bal­lot. It's be­yond time that Mursi stopped fid­dling while his coun­try burns and learned that de­nial isn't just a river in Egypt. With all the good in­ten­tions in the world, he can't save his coun­try from chaos and bank­ruptcy with­out the help of the op­po­si­tion.

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