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How Egypt’s Michele Bachmann Became President and Plunged the Country Into Chaos

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Posted on Jul 1, 2013
AP/Khalil Hamra

A protester holds an Egyptian national flag as he and others attack the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in the Muqattam district in Cairo.

By Juan Cole

(Page 2)

The collapse of tourism and the lack of private investment caused Egypt’s foreign currency reserves to fall from $36 billion to $15 billion in only two years. Because the foreign reserves were the tool used by the Central Bank to defend the value of the Egyptian pound, it suddenly lacked the ability to prevent devaluation against the dollar. Since early in the last decade, the pound has been allowed to float against other currencies but the float is “managed.” The decline in value of the pound caused food and diesel prices to rise (Egypt is a net importer of food because it covered its best farmland along the Nile with concrete in order to urbanize). A third of Egyptians live on $2 a day, and they are very sensitive to food and fuel price inflation. Morsi is widely now thought to have been more interested in winning political victories over his opposition and promoting the interests of the religious right than in getting the economy humming again.

Once the constitution was approved, Morsi moved to create the fiction that he had a functioning legislature, packing it with Muslim Brothers. The lower house of parliament elected in fall 2011 had been struck down by the courts, since the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis had run party candidates for most of the seats set aside for independents (one third of the total), and these party candidates easily defeated unknown and poorly funded independents. Morsi abruptly appointed 90 members to the previously largely ceremonial upper house, a significant number from the Freedom and Justice Party and its allies or fellow travelers of the religious right. He then declared that the upper house could independently legislate, even in the absence of the elected parliament, and even though only 7 percent of its seats were elected. The religious right began crafting legislation. The courts struck down the upper house in June, though to no great effect.

Last month, Morsi suddenly appointed 17 provincial governors (governors are appointed, not elected, in Egypt, which is one of the things wrong with Egyptian politics). Several of them were Muslim Brothers or Salafis, and one was a member of the al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, a former terrorist group. Adel al-Khayat was appointed to govern Luxor, the site of the Valley of the Kings and a major tourist destination. The Gama’a had conducted a terrorist strike there, killing dozens of tourists in 1997. Luxor was not willing to forgive the Gama’a, and demonstrators demanded that the appointment be withdrawn. Al-Khayat resigned last week. Again, that Morsi was using his position as president to turn the Egyptian government over to the religious right, and sometimes to its most extreme wing, frightened and angered liberals, leftists, Coptic Christians and women.

Morsi’s various decrees, announcements, policies and appointments have created apprehension among millions of Egyptians that his primary goal is deploying the power of the state to impose religious fundamentalism on the country and to ensconce his Muslim Brotherhood permanently throughout the government and the judiciary. The fear of liberals concerning Muslim fundamentalist groups had long been that they would behave as the German National Socialists or as the Stalinist Communists had, participating in elections only until they won, and then arranging for a one-party state thereafter. There is no evidence that Morsi has such a design, and he did try to schedule parliamentary elections in April, but the plan was struck down by the courts because he did not consult them on the enabling legislation. But Morsi, given the widespread fear of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, had a responsibility to go out of his way to allay those anxieties. Instead, he reinforced them at every turn. Egyptians have been galvanized and politically mobilized by the events of the past 30 months, and refuse to be quiet in the face of what they see as incompetent government and unfair Brotherization. Morsi so far has refused to get the message, secure in the support of his base and the legitimacy bestowed by winning the June 2012 election. Whether he finally demonstrates more flexibility in the aftermath of the recall movement against him will determine whether Egypt returns to prosperity or faces more years of instability.

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