It is undeniable that 2013 has been a roller-coaster year for Egypt. On June 30th, Egypt’s first ever democratically-elected President was removed from power by the Army after enormous protests against the unpopular regime. Since then, the former Egyptian Chief of Staff and now Defence Minister, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has assumed the reins of power as ‘de-facto leader’. Egypt is now at a critical juncture in it’s history, with a slipping currency and a host of domestic issues that set the backdrop for an intense political play in the new year.
Egypt faces several very significant political ‘what if’ questions in 2014, with some of the most pessimistic observers fearing as much as a civil war between the supporters of the former regime and the army. Around 20-30% of the Egyptian population support the former President, Muhammed Morsi, and contained within this demographic are some Salafists (ultra-conservative Muslims), Islamists and backers of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation that Morsi was a part of.
Morsi’s trial is now underway and a host of charges face the deposed leader, including incitement to murder and conspiring with terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah against Egypt amongst others. These charges can all amount to the death penalty if not life in prison, and the execution of either of these punishments could easily spark enormous unrest, if not a dreaded civil war from Morsi’s backers.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has existed since 1928, Egypt being the country of it’s inception, and almost every Egyptian leader since (with the obvious exception of Morsi) has attempted to crush them. Their leaders were executed and they simply went underground. In the wake of the July revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood turned out en-masse. On the 5th of July, the Brotherhood’s ‘Supreme Guide’ Muhammed Badie said that the group would ‘sacrifice their souls for Morsi’ following his imprisonment. This has rung true; since the beginning of the trial, over 1000 Morsi supporters have died. Should Morsi be executed, he would be declared as being a martyr and a confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and incumbent Government would get very serious. Instability in Egypt’s neighbours of Sudan and Libya as well as the return of Egyptian Islamists from Syria only worsens the climate for an even more serious conflict.
Despite a crackdown, the Brotherhood remains to be a vocal force in Egypt; no matter what Morsi’s fate will be, they shall certainly react to it as shall his other supporters in the Egyptian political world. The ensuing protests, strikes, maybe even riots and insurgency will cause instability and consequently harm the investment and the economy of the country.
Aside from the former leader’s future, there is also the question of spring elections. The main ‘what if’ is whether or not the current strongman of Egypt, General Al-Sisi, will run for the presidency. When asked if he would run earlier this year, he gave an elusive response saying “Would this please everybody? Would this please some foreign powers? In any case, let’s see what the days bring.” al-Sisi is an extremely popular figure in Egypt with support from the Coptic Christians (10% of Egypt’s populations), many intellectuals and secular figures. This week, the popular political youth movement Tamarod came out with support for a hypothetical al-Sisi candidacy as did Amr Moussa, chairman of the Constitutional Committee saying “if he doesn’t run, we’ll make him”.
Some of this popularity could derive from legacy of the other military leader, Gamel Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian military man that won the presidency with Soviet backing. He beat France and the United Kingdom in the Suez Crisis, consequently nationalising the Suez Canal, and distributed 3 million acres of land. With that, he is an Egyptian hero and seen as the epitome of a strong, unifying Arab leader. Al-Sisi has some of that strong and decisive military image, a popular mandate as well as the backing of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States who delivered him their immediate congratulations when Morsi was deposed. As well as congratulations, they currently support Egypt with $12 billion economic stimulus package which can be seen as a hat-tip for al-Sisi’s efforts to root out the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, the General would win if he wanted to.
However, this would harm the image of Egypt’s democracy as it will perhaps confirm that a ‘coup’ took place with a General being boosted to the Presidency. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists would, too, react very negatively. Yet if he does not run then many Egyptians would be disappointed; the direction of the July 30th revolution may be less valuable and perhaps even less legitimate in the eyes of some.
The upcoming elections in spring, a potentially volatile Morsi trial, and the unpredictable ambitions of General Al-Sisi make confrontation between different elements of Egyptian society very likely, and conversely, make an end to the rollercoaster Egyptian revolution unlikely. In any case, I hope for the unlikely, that Egypt and it’s people have a more stable and peaceful new year.