Egypt’s cabinet resigns, look to bread and butter issues

The resignation of interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi and his entire cabinet on Monday came as a surprise and has set off endless speculation – the most common that this sets the stage for Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, having now left office as Defense Minister along with all the other cabinet members, will announce his resignation from the military and his candidacy, as a civilian, for the presidency.

This will happen as soon as interim President Adly Mansour issues an amended version of the law that repositions the presidential election to precede the parliamentary polling, and thereby launching the electoral process. And that amended law to be issued at any moment now.

Unpopular Beblawi

That is all quite probable, but there are also other factors. The Beblawi government in office since mid-Jul 2013 has become increasingly unpopular over the past few months and is under heavy attack in much of the Egyptian media.

It came as a surprise and has set off endless speculation – the most common that this sets the stage for Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi

Abdallah Schleifer

One reason for that unpopularity is why I am writing this column in the dark but for two battery powered desk lamps. This is the second night in the row my neighborhood has been hit with a power cut, and there have been several every week for the past few weeks. A string of nearly nightly power cuts in the months of May and June last year—hot months which prompt the rapidly increasing number of Cairenes owning air conditioners to use them, strained the system and former President Mursi was faulted for his government’s failure.

So one would have thought – however the difficulties involved – this interim government would have somehow resolved the problems in meeting increasing demand for electricity. Now the problem is back again and it is not even summer time.

Strikes, arrests and Sisi

There are other problems. Civilian advisers close to Sisi have reportedly been troubled by the poor press Egypt is getting outside of the country for the widespread arrests and heavy sentencing not just of Muslim Brotherhood activists and other pro-Mursi demonstrators but also of liberal secular youth arrested and sentenced on the spot (in an otherwise sluggish judicial system) for symbolic protests against the new Protest Law introduced by Beblawi.

But far more significant is the rising tide of strikes that have spread over the past month from the textile factories outside of Cairo involving tens of thousands of workers and spreading to the bus drivers here over the past week and now picking up speed among postal workers.

These are not one-day protest strikes – these are serious industrial actions and in all cases what is prompting this unrest is that the desperately needed increase in the minimum—wage which was approved last Fall and was to go into effect at the beginning of the year, has not been implemented.

This failure by the interim government and the wave of strikes that have followed is of far greater importance to most Egyptians than the over-zealousness of the security forces. But as is usually the case, the economic crisis which has been endured by the Egyptian working class well before the Jan. 25 uprising has almost always taken second-place to civil rights and human rights issues in the global coverage of Egyptian popular discontent and in the domestic discourse of most Egyptian public figures and intellectuals.

“Bread” and “social justice” were two of the three slogans of the Jan. 25, and for most Egyptians those two slogans have far more importance than the word “freedom” that linked the other two.

Why would Sisi, who according to reports personally intervened to get Beblawi’s government to approve the minimum wage increase in the first place, want to be associated upon announcing his candidacy with an interim government that has fallen so low so quickly, in public esteem?

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Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary "Control Room" and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:41 - GMT 06:41
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