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Egypt’s sweltering summer ahead

H.A. Hellyer

Published: Updated:

It will be tricky in Egypt this summer – but one wonders if the government realizes that, let alone will do what it is needed to get the country through it without problems.

Increased financial demands in a country that has a worsening economy, which see no signs of recovery in the short term, can only mean one thing: Egypt will be particularly flammable this summer.

Dr. H.A. Hellyer

The country is already in a rather awkward situation. There is, of course, the intensification of long-running political polarization – the different parts of the political elite that are opposed to President Mursi’s government. That ranges from the forces within the National Salvation Front, to formerly pro-Mursi forces like the Salafi al-Nour party, to the non-NSF and continually critical forces like Strong Egypt (founded by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh). It’s increasingly difficult to find, frankly, political parties that are not opposed to President Mursi, other than his own Freedom and Justice party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. There are some exceptions, such as the ‘Centrist’ party, which some previously hoped would be a progressive Islamist/post-Islamist force after the January 25th uprising – its stance in more or less constant support of President Mursi’s government has dashed that thus far.

However, political polarization is only part of what makes the country increasingly unstable. The conflict between the presidency and other parts of the Egyptian state is not showing any signs of lessening – indeed, it seems to be deepening. The judiciary is feeling very much under siege, with good reason, and will continue to be a thorn in Mursi’s side. The foreign ministry is not looking like it is part and parcel of Mursi’s government – the foreign minister did not join Mursi on his recent trip to Russia, and may yet be replaced by an MB stalwart in the imminent cabinet reshuffle due to take place later this week.

Ramadan’s economic pressures

Most importantly of all are the pressures that are about to take place as a matter of course in Egypt. July is the hottest month of the year – which means that electricity demands are likely to be the highest during that month in normal circumstances. This year, July is also Ramadan – which means electricity demands will be even higher than usual as families host more often than usual. Electricity cuts will increase, which will only add to the frustration of average Egyptians. The fact it is Ramadan will mean more pressure on an economic level – as Ramadan is also the most expensive month of the year, as Egyptians will not only host each other more often for the daily breaking of the fast (iftar), but also provide meals for the less fortunate in the well-known ma’idat-r-rahman gatherings.

Increased financial demands in a country that has a worsening economy, which see no signs of recovery in the short term, in addition to all the other pressures mentioned above, can only mean one thing: Egypt will be particularly flammable this summer. Will there be a spark that sets any part of it off?

Summer unrest

No one can predict that for sure. The last time there was unrest was earlier this year, in Suez. One hopes that there will be no social unrest at all – but it is entirely possible. If Suez in trouble is replicated anywhere else – and particularly in Cairo, where the international media is focused and would exponentially represent the effect of such unrest – the repercussions could be difficult for Mursi’s government to manage. In Suez, it was the military that eventually brought calm – would that be the same if unrest broke out in the summer? What sort of actions might they take?

Again, no one can predict what for sure. One can be sure that there are indeed forces that are already clamoring for a military intervention – carelessly, and irresponsibly, to be sure, but they exist. They range from forces that would prefer a military regime to even a successful and competent government led by President Mursi and the MB, to forces that see a military intervention as the only way out of an increasingly unstable situation that the present government is unable to positively affect. Indeed – many view the MB as the source of instability itself.

That is unfair and inaccurate – as the MB is not the initial source of instability in Egypt. The sources of instability reach from before the revolution itself – a set of institutions and an economy built under Hosni Mubarak’s reign, that meant that the absence of a ‘strong-man’ regime and widespread fear could only result in instability. Egypt’s institutions are simply not built to function without those elements – they need widespread reform, restructuring, rebuilding, and in some cases, removal. President Mursi’s government, unfortunately, is unlikely, whether due to a lack of will or competency, to enact such change on its own. His government needs to find Egyptian allies who can help, through consensus, to take Egypt to it’s next stage of transition in this revolutionary period, if it wants Egypt to progress without things getting much worse.

That, unfortunately, is also unlikely. The opposition to Mursi is not abating – it’s widening and deepening, particularly after his decree in November that ensured minimal co-operation. That same decree has even been disavowed by members of his own administration – and the effects of that decree continue to make any grand political compromise incredibly difficult to achieve – and the only way that is going to change would have to be a move from the presidency itself. As long as that too remains incredibly implausible, it is hard to see things in Egypt improving before they get worse. This summer in Egypt may be a rather sweltering one indeed – and not just because of the weather.

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Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and ISPU, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

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