Under Morsi or the military, calm seems unlikely as long as the conditions for unrest are not remedied.
The outbreak of the June 30 uprising in Egypt saw the military intervene and ouster President Mohammed Morsi. Following the longtime Muslim Brotherhood member’s removal, voices across the spectrum have tried either to justify the “ongoing revolution” or denounce the “coup.”
Morsi, not shy about his desire to vastly expand his power, had issued a presidential decree in November 2012 that empowered him to take all “necessary procedures and measures” to confront any “danger threatening the Jan. 25 revolution, the life of the nation, national unity, safety of the nation, or hurdling the state institutions in performing their roles.”
It was only repealed once protesters were banging on the gates of the presidential palace.
Though the Tamarod (“Rebel”) opposition movement’s estimates of protesters in the streets on June 30 are likely inflated, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ (SCAF) removal of the president was only made possible by the mass mobilization of anti-Morsi protesters. as well as the unity of political opposition to Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party.
But military coups are neither revolutionary nor democratic. If the generals are allowed to openly dominate civilian life once again, the hard work and valiant resistance to SCAF offered in the post-Mubarak period of the revolution goes to waste. The subsequent state violence against pro-Morsi protesters — which left 44 dead and 322 injured, according to The Guardian — offers a grim glimpse of the likelihood SCAF will voluntarily relinquish power.
Against this complex backdrop, however, many analysts attempting to explain the dramatic political theater in progress have routinely overlooked the conditions that made — and continue to make — unrest possible in the first place.
Neoliberalism: a rich handful, a poor majority
As Jason Hickel observed in 2012, the neoliberal economic order, imposed on Egypt in exchange for billions of dollars in American military aid, “has generated hunger, poverty and inequality in Egypt since the 1980s.”
For a large part of the three decades of Mubarak rule, the country’s economy underwent a process of liberalization that aimed to foster free-market capitalism and deregulation in order to attract foreign investment. The result was severe income inequality. “For Egyptians,” Hickel noted, “privatization means having to pay large sums on healthcare and education” as well as food and other basic necessities that were once supported by state subsidies.
The corresponding GDP growth only benefited the small wealthy class — such as the immensely influential multimillionaire Khairat el-Shater — while the overwhelming majority of Egyptians “have seen their portion of the economic pie shrink significantly over the same period.”
One example of this was the land reforms initiated by Mubarak, which reversed protections Egyptian farmers had enjoyed after the 1952 revolution led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. As of 2011, 57 percent of Egyptians lived in the rural countryside, according to The Guardian. “Under Mubarak’s watch,” the article observes, “one in ten Egyptians lost their farms. Almost two decades ago, families who had been self-sustaining farmers became landless sharecroppers with the stroke of Mubarak’s pen.” Between 1992 and 1997, as rents skyrocketed and food prices rose dramatically, roughly six million Egyptians lost their status as “secure, moderately prosperous farmers” and became “insecure sharecroppers” left with little protection from rich landlords.
Not that the Muslim Brotherhood brought much in the way of change to these policies. As reported in the Daily Star this year, economist Ahmad Ajjar remarked that since the revolution the country was experiencing “the same economic policies as under Mubarak, but with less efficiency.” Morsi’s regime had borrowed an additional 11 billion dollars in one year, while unemployment had grown from 9 percent to 13 percent.
With Morsi in place or not, the economic sovereignty of Egypt is a distant prospect. Following the ouster, the finance minister released a statement referring to an International Monetary Fund loan as “part of the solution” to the present situation. Economists have warned, however, that “any IMF loan package to Egypt will have dangerous long-term effects on the country’s most marginalized citizens,” according to Daily Star.
It was also added that IMF loan negotiations are generally shrouded in secrecy and “represent a threat to democracy,” saying they disproportionately affect already impoverished demographics.
Despite a great deal of progress being achieved solely as a result of the revolution, the neoliberal economic order has remained firmly in place — and it continues to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
This order was protected by SCAF’s intervention not because Morsi was a threat to it, but because the military shrewdly calculated that it could sacrifice him without changing the fundamental structure of the relationship between the military, the government and economy (including American military aid) in order to protect the cash flow, much like the sacrifice of Mubarak just two and a half years ago.
Discriminatory policies and neglect
Against the backdrop of economic inequality, institutionalized discrimination has led to further discontent. Together, official policies and de-facto neglect foster a sense of second-class citizenship among large swaths of Egyptians.
Bedouin Egyptians have long felt the pangs of systematic neglect. IRIN, a United Nations news site, recently described decades of government discrimination against the roughly 380,000 Bedouins in the Sinai Peninsula. “Even in [development] projects in the Sinai…the Bedouins — poor and unemployed — were excluded,” the article noted.
It added that “simmering conflicts in the Sinai stem from the lack of economic opportunities, something that has prompted some Bedouins to turn to illegal activities such as drug and human trafficking, and the smuggling of goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip,” as well as assisting refugees into southern Israel.
Egyptian Copts, comprising over 10 percent of the total population, are frequent targets of sectarian violence: Human Rights Watch has already recorded six separate incidents of assaults against Coptic populations since the ouster of Morsi. Black Egyptians also “encounter regular social hurdles” and are often denied service, a July 19 Al Jazeera article explains.
Xenophobia has not been reserved for Egyptian minorities alone. The Arab Organization for Human Rights accused the military and state-run media of launching a “hostile campaign” against Palestinians following Morsi’s removal. Meanwhile, Palestinians returning to Gaza were deported by Egyptian authorities, and the military has closed the infamous Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, usually for undisclosed periods of time and without forewarning.
Not that this necessarily reflects a major policy shift. Though the Muslim Brotherhood had promised to readjust the nation’s immensely unpopular ties with Israel, hopes for a new epoch of Palestinian solidarity were quickly crushed last year.
After brokering a November 2012 ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza Strip that put an end to an eight-day Israeli military offensive, the Morsi regime declined to uphold its duties as a broker despite a number of one-sided Israeli violations.
In February, flying in the face of historical ties between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the NY Times reported that Egypt further devastated Gaza’s economy by flooding dozens of tunnels with sewage. These tunnels serve as a lifeline for medicine, food, construction materials and other basic supplies.
This complicity in Israel’s isolation of and siege on Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, has always been a source of anger.
Rather than a benevolent act on behalf of the people’s will, the military’s intervention appears to be an attempt to divert attention from revolutionary activity. The army handed over Morsi once his ouster seemed imminent, aware that the spreading unrest would eventually set its crosshairs on the generals and the millionaires who serve as their financial patrons behind the scenes.
For all the courage and effort that it entailed, the Egyptian revolution has yet to bring down the edifice built by Mubarak.
Yet hope is not lost. Three decades of dictatorship created a forlorn landscape, but the January 25 revolution ushered in a new era of political participation: one in which Egyptians flood the streets when their right to dignity and self-determination is threatened.
On July 8, interim leader Adly Mansour issued a plea for calm amid massive protests and spreading violence and set a timeline for elections. He expressed “deep sorrow” over the “painful incidents” in which the military attacked and killed a number of pro-Morsi protesters. But calm seems unlikely for as long as the conditions for unrest are not remedied.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News editorial policy.