Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

New year blues

Positive spins from the presidency have done little to reassure Egyptians who have a bleak prognosis for 2013, writes Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

With prayers, subdued — in some cases abruptly interrupted — celebrations, a visible lack of unity and growing extremism, Egypt parted from 2012, the year of the first ever free presidential elections and the post-25 January Revolution constitution, to greet a new year that many, including top state officials, say will be filled with serious economic challenges and more
Midnight mass at the Two Saints Church in Alexandria was headed by the new Coptic Patriarch who assumed his responsibilities last November. It was a reminder of New Year’s Eve two years ago when an assailant, yet to be identified, attacked worshipers exiting the New Year’s Eve prayers, killing and wounding scores of Copts. At the Anglican Church of Al-Doubara in Garden City, which offered refuge to hundreds of injured demonstrations during and after the 25 January Revolution, worshipers sang the hymn “God bless my country”.
“We are praying for a better tomorrow; we are hoping the situation will get better; we know we are heading towards many challenges – not just economic although these are of course the most daunting,” said Moshira, a worshiper parking her car before joining the New Year’s Eve mass at the Coptic Church of Mar-Girgis in Heliopolis.
Moshira has been discomfited by growing anti-Coptic sentiment in recent months, culminating in the call made by The Reforms Authority, a pseudo-religious body which counts leading figures from the ruling Muslim Brotherhood as members, that Muslims should refrain from extending greetings to Christians on the New Year and Christmas. But this “announced hatred and rejection of Christians” is not Moshira’s worst fear.
“I am afraid that much more serious problems are ahead of us: the economy is fast declining and the president and government do not seem to have any vision of how to fix it. Political leaders are endlessly disagreeing.”
“Since the end of the revolution we have been promised that security would be re-instated over and over again but it has never happened.  There are too many thefts and we all are afraid for our personal safety.”
Restoring security was one of President Mohamed Morsi’s key campaign promises. After 100 days in office he claimed he had made strong headway in fulfilling his vow. It is an assessment contradicted by crime figures.
Getting the police to assume their responsibilities has not been easy challenge, say President Morsi’s aides. The trouble, they claim, is that for decades the police were conditioned to think of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as the enemy.
“Today they cannot accept the fact that there is a Muslim Brotherhood President; they are working against in him in many ways, including the deliberate failure to assume their responsibilities to provide security,” says one of Morsi’s aides.
But the police are only one of many state bodies, Morsi’s aides suggest, that need to bow to the fact that this Muslim Brotherhood president is here to stay.
According to many analysts 2013 is going to be a difficult year as the president attempts to assert his authority at a time when his already dwindling popularity will inevitably be eroded further by increased prices, tax hikes, and the kind of street unrest these are bound to provoke.
“The rule of President Morsi, or rather that of the Muslim Brotherhood, is faced with a tough blend of political and economic problems that need to be addressed by consensual governance rather than the confrontation and exclusion of the opposition that we have seen since the president took office,” says Diaa Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
The drop in support for the Islamist political camp between the March 2011 referendum on a limited constitutional declaration to the referendum on the constitution two weeks ago is, argues Rashwan, part of a longer term trend.
“Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says, are bound to sustain further defeats “even if no full knock-outs” in the parliamentary elections due in spring.  
On record Islamist leaders predict election victory. On background a few sources within the Muslim Brotherhood implicitly acknowledge what one qualifies as “a different challenge” compared to the 2011 parliamentary elections conducted under the transitional rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, when Islamists gained around two thirds of the parliament’s seats.
“It is different, of course, because now the president is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. People have expectations but resources are limited. Those who struggle with poverty and poor services are legitimately impatient,” he says.
Despite the statement on New Year’s Day by presidential spokesman Yasser Ali announcing the “beginning of stability”,  this source is not expecting any  shift in the “economic situation” ahead of parliamentary elections, and predicts “some decline maybe” in the Islamists’ share of the vote.  
But the parliamentary elections represent a challenge not only to Islamists but also “civil forces”.  
Rashwan and former member of parliament Amin Iskandar are hopeful that the increasing support civil forces are gaining on the street will be translated into a stronger parliamentary presence. Both, though, are concerned about “infringements” or “direct intervention” by a ruling regime desperate to win a majority.  
“To judge by what we saw at the referendum on the constitution we can expect gross electoral violations,” says Iskandar.
He believes parliamentary elections will be one of many stations in the ongoing struggle “between Islamists and civil forces over the fate of the nation”.
“The struggle that started in 2012, fuelled by dismay at the performance of Morsi who promised to be a president for all Egyptians but has acted as the Islamists’ president, will continue throughout the year.”
The first significant date, says Iskandar, will be 25 January when to mark the anniversary of the uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak’s toppling non-Islamist revolutionary forces are planning nation-wide demonstrations to protest the Islamisation of Egypt.
“There are many slogans that will guide our struggle this year,” says Iskandar. They will include demands to drop “a constitution which discriminates against the poor, women and all minorities” and “to end the rule of Morsi, an elected president whose legitimacy is fast eroding”.
Verdicts are expected the following day, 26 January, in the Port Said case, when scores of football fans were slaughtered in a cordoned stadium under the eyes of the police.
Rashwan does not expect either date to produce a conclusive verdict on the legitimacy, or otherwise, of Morsi’s regime. Nor will the parliamentary elections. What will settle the matter, he says, is the “inevitable decline of the already dire living standards of the 40 per cent of Egyptians living under the poverty line, combined with the continued decline in the purchasing power of the middle classes who until now have given Morsi’s regime the benefit of the doubt because they want stability”.
In a bid to prevent reporting of increased poverty and election violations the “religious Right regime of Morsi” will seek to undermine and tarnish the image of civil society, says Ghada Shahbandar, a member of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.
“Everything we have seen during the past six months confirms that Morsi is intent on reproducing Hosni Mubarak’s police state, which was used by the military to rule during the transitional period and which is currently being transformed into a religious-police state. But we will face it without any inhibitions. We are perfectly aware of the campaigns of vilification coming our way”.
Rashwan also expects an increase in inflammatory campaigns against civil society and the independent media. He anticipates a raft of laws from the Shura Council limiting freedoms.
Activist Soniya Farid fears it will not end with repressive legislatiom. “Physical attacks against activists and journalists should be expected as well, to judge by what we have seen with Mohannad Samir.”
Samir, a well-known activist, was attacked on New Year’s Eve by an unknown assailant. He is currently in a critical condition.
“It is not that all activists will be shot. But demonstrators should expect serious harassment, especially women. We are entering a period of intimidation,” says Farid .
She predicts that it will not work.
“This is the lesson that they should have learned from the 25 January Revolution. Egyptians are beyond intimidation and this year will act as a reminder to anyone who doubts this is the case.”

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