Egypt’s Mounting Crisis

As the head of Egypt’s government while angry, violent protests consume the capital city, President Mohamed Morsi finds himself all alone.

Egypt’s revolution is being torn asunder, so angry are urban, secular Egyptians about Morsi’s bald power-grab—and the draft constitution he is trying to foist on the nation. Street fighting between thousands of urban Egyptians who oppose him and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood brethren killed at least six and wounded nearly 500 others.

Morsi is desperate. On Sunday he annulled most of the decree that had granted him near-dictatorial powers. But he’s still been talking about imposing marital law, at least until the draft constitution his Islamist allies in Parliament quickly threw together is put up for a vote later this month.  

The problem is, he’s the head of a government staffed by people who worked for former president Hosni Mubarak most of their lives. For all that time, the Muslim Brotherhood was the enemy.

Now, Morsi doesn’t trust the Interior Ministry—the home agency for police and other security services—to stand with him. Morsi dismissed the Army’s commanding generals earlier this year, trying to show them who’s boss. For decades, one of the Army’s key missions had been to protect the nation against the Muslim Brotherhood.

So when Morsi got in trouble, all he could do was call upon his Muslim Brotherhood kin to come out and fight the protesters. He had already used the same strategy for economic development. Egypt’s economy is a wreck; that’s the people’s number one concern. So, soon after taking office Morsi dispatched hundreds of Brotherhood youths to collect the garbage, fix traffic problems, hand out food, provide public security, and solve as many of society’s problems as they could.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t work. But even with all of that anger in Cairo, the truth is that if Morsi is able to put that deeply flawed draft constitution up for a referendum, it will almost certainly pass.

How can that be? Well, Egypt is just like many major states. The liberals, the educated, secular Egyptians, live in the cities. They’re the ones who stirred the revolution against Mubarak last year. But when it came time to vote, the Muslim Brotherhood candidates for Parliament and the presidency won handily.

The truth is, only 20 percent of Egyptians live in the two major cities, Cairo and Alexandria. The rest of the nation, rural and less well educated, has a distinctly different political point of view. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

Think back to the major protests in Moscow a year ago. Tens of thousands of urban Russians denounced Vladimir Putin. But he, too, won reelection.

“Moscow is like Cairo,” Coit Blacker told me. He’s a former senior director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs on the National Security Council. While educated young people in Moscow disparage Putin, he added, outside the cities most people were still responsive to Putin’s Cold War rhetoric. 

And, similar to Egypt, only about 10 percent of Russia’s population lives in the two major cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In Egypt, Morsi plans to hold his constitutional referendum on Saturday. On Monday, his spokesman called on the military to protect the polling places—even though Morsi certainly knows he cannot count on full cooperation from the Army.


Photo Credit: Lilian Wagdy 

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