Egypt: “Arab Spring” turned into a summer of discontent

Egypt: “Arab Spring” turned into a summer of discontent
  • PublishedAugust 5, 2013

Having managed to overthrow two governments in 30 months, Egyptians discovered they have even more mass power to direct their national affairs, forcing the army to break its long-held vow not to get involved in politics. Adel Darwish examines a nation whose much-touted people’s revolution has pulled the country apart rather than unify it.

A tale of two Egypt’s is unfolding just weeks after masses of Egyptians – between 18 and 35 million (according to police/protestors figures, which is at least threefold the number who overthrew President Hosni Mubarak’s government in February 2011) – took to the streets all over the country in what is now described by anti-Morsi supporters as a “June 30 Revolution”.

President Mohammed Morsi, who came to power after what was said to be Egypt’s freest democratic elections in 2012, was ousted by army generals on 5 July 2013 when he failed to meet their 48-hour ultimatum to resolve the crisis engendered by the countrywide protests. After siding with the “majority” of the country’s population, who wanted President Morsi out, the army generals took a backseat, while reportedly whispering directions to the nervously cautious driver, Chief Justice Adly Mansour (acting as an interim president according to the national constitution, which stipulates that the Supreme Constitutional Court rules the state until a new president is elected).

Within a week, however, Chief Justice Mansour moved to a passenger seat, handing the wheel to Prime Minister Dr Hazem el-Beblawi, an independent-minded reformist and pro-free market international banker, to form a national unity interim government until elections are held next February. Helped by the acting vice president, the former UN International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Dr Mohammed el-Baradei, Dr Beblawi formed a cabinet of technocrats and specialists whose ages ranged from 30 years to 77 years.

News of five women and three Christians in the cabinet (a first since the country’s 1952 military coup that gave the army a say in national politics) caused celebrations in Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the demonstrations that overthrew the governments of former Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Morsi. Seven miles away, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, bussed in from all over Egypt, packed Rabaah Mosque Square, where a week earlier nervous, sleep-deprived young army conscripts manning the barriers at the Republican Guard HQ, a stone’s-throw from the mosque, panicked at the sight of an angry MB mob charging at them. The young soldiers killed 53 MB protestors and injured 200, including two policemen and two soldiers. They claim the mob was throwing fire-bombs and firing shotguns, although the MB claim the police fired tear-gas first.

The MB supporters believed that Egypt’s first freely-elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, ousted on 5 July by the army, was held behind the soldiers’ line.

The other Egypt was living the nightmare that Egyptians only saw on television screens and in foreign correspondents’ reports. Several terrorist attacks claimed the lives of unarmed border-guards, traffic police and civil servants in Northern Sinai. On 14 July, terrorists fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a shift workers’ transport bus in el-Arish, killing four people and seriously injuring 14 others.

Because a 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty limits the number of troops each side can deploy near the border, Egyptian troops in Sinai became overstretched. Besides shutting down smuggling tunnels between Rafah and Gaza (border-guards keep catching Hamas fighters red-handed), and chasing suspected terrorists, the army had to guard various MB-run centres as angry relatives of the victims of the bus attack vowed revenge. A couple of days earlier, Mohammed al-Beltagi, an MB leader, told al-Jazeera that “troubles in Sinai could be halted within an hour of reinstating Morsi”. Not a vote-winner with relatives of terror victims.

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