Deeply divided Egypt starting to look like a failed state

General al-Sisi: future’s so bright, I have to wear shades… sierragoddess

Some good news for Hosni Mubarak and, almost simultaneously, some bad news for his successor Mohammad Morsi. Mubarak, who is under house arrest while being tried on corruption charges will have been buoyed by the news that his sons have been acquitted on corruption charges relating to various land deals. Also acquitted on the same charge was Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under the Mubarak presidency.

Meanwhile it was announced that Morsi, who followed Mubarak into the presidency early in 2012, will face charges relating to an alleged criminal plot involving killing protesters and leaking state secrets to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. If found guilty, Morsi will face the death penalty.

The fresh charges levelled against the ousted former president come as Egyptians wait for their chance to vote in a referendum, next month, on a replacement to Morsi’s 2012 constitution. It will be another step engineered by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the general in charge of Egypt’s military, and Adly Mansour, the interim Egyptian president towards to removing all remnants of Morsi’s one-year rule.

Yet rather than testing the popularity of the draft constitution, the referendum will serve as a litmus test as to the popularity of the interim government, the post-Morsi era and, of al Sisi himself.

Heavy-handed repression

In the aftermath of Morsi’s removal from power, Egypt has experienced high levels of political and social unrest and large numbers of Egyptians are unhappy at the series of events since the military-facilitated coup d’etat. While the interim government is fortunate to have wealthy supporters in the Gulf, this financial aid will not continue indefinitely, nor will money be able to appease Egyptians who experienced the heady scent of democracy for the first time in a generation only two years ago and are now terrified it will be as precipitously whisked away again.

Al-Sisi, who recently missed out on being named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year”, and Mansour have overseen a crackdown on protests and dissent, which, while initially focused on the Muslim Brotherhood, is now much broader in its scope. One such effort to prevent dissent was a law that sought to “to criminalise all forms of peaceful assembly, including demonstrations and public meetings. The law also gives the state a free hand in dispersing peaceful gatherings by use of force”. The parallels with the authoritarian presidency of Hosni Mubarak are clear and the law attracted criticism from no less than 19 different organisations.

The massive protests against Morsi’s government were widely seen as a reaction to what people perceived as a creeping authoritarianism and a gradual Islamicisation of governance under his administration. But since his ousting there can be little doubt that Egypt’s internal situation has worsened.

The most serious consequences of the overthrow of the Freedom and Justice party have been felt by the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the country, as the interim government and population alike have violently targeted its members and supporters. It has been estimated that more than 4,000 Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested since July 3 (many of them sentenced to life imprisonment) and countless others tortured and killed while in prison.

With Islamists being targeted in the street and the Muslim Brotherhood being left out of the political process, the country is now bitterly divided; sectarianism along ethnic, religious, and cultural lines is not new in Egypt, but is now becoming increasingly problematic. But despite the presence of a “common enemy” – the interim government which is seen on so many sides as unconstitutional – opposition is splintered and groups such as the Islamists, Salafis, student unions and the common mass of citizens continue their struggle alone, often targeting and/or blaming each other for the conflict and instability.

The Muslim Brothers are not the only victims of the interim government’s increasingly authoritarian character. Egypt is arguably increasingly displaying several of the characteristics of a failed state and a continued lack of public services, state monopoly of power, a faltering economy and the army’s indiscriminate use of force are just a few aspects of this in evidence. The military is steadily re-establishing the status quo as it was before the 2011 Revolution and bringing back the rule by terror that was characteristic of the latter years of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Making martyrs

The security services have been openly targeting those who protested after Morsi’s removal and at those who joined the protests once realising what the installation of Mansour as interim president meant for the country. OpenDemocracy reported that 17 people a day were killed in the regime violence between August and September, along with repression and arrests of those media that do not support al-Sisi’s rhetoric.

A curfew has been imposed and the controversial state of emergency has been re-instituted, mirroring one of the major sources of grievance that led to the outbreak of the 2011 Revolution. The freedom of expression, assembly and organisation that blossomed after the revolution have again been removed, when the interim government issued a law suppressing them in an attempt to end the daily protests.

At least 70 university professors with Muslim Brotherhood sympathies have been arrested, while the sentencing of two dozen Islamist women and girls to 11 years jail for staging a street protest made headlines around the world. The women were later released after an appeals court reduced their sentences.

The re-drafting of the constitution is also proving increasingly controversial, while daily clashes and violent repression continue to shake the country, making it look like the 2011 Revolution never occurred.

The new constitution has been drafted by a 50-strong committee and has been criticised for protecting and rewarding those responsible for overthrowing Morsi, namely the military, judiciary and police force, increasing their autonomy even at the expense of the president. Conversely, Islamist groups, including Al Nour, along with other religious faiths have lost political rights, with religiously motivated political action now banned. This reflects a concern at the political power that religious groups possess within Egypt, while also highlighting the desire of those in power to protect their interests.

To justify this, a member of the Constitution Committee suggested that “Once you have burned your mouth on hot soup, you will blow even on yoghurt. That is what has happened with this constitution”.