Two years after the democratic uprising against President Hosni Mubarak began, Egypt is descending into chaos.
Three cities—Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez—are in open rebellion against the government of Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood came to power through a democratic election.
Morsi promptly reined in the military, blunted the power of the judiciary and issued a sweeping decree last November that gave him unchecked authority. A large majority of voters approved a Muslim Brotherhood- drafted constitution in December.
Since then, protests and riots have broken out throughout the country. In Port Said, a judge’s decision sentencing to death 21 people involved in a football riot last year pushed the city past the boiling point.
Defying a government-imposed curfew, rioters took to the streets. Dozens have been killed as this city on the edge of the Nile Delta was in effect “proclaiming its own independence,” The New York Times reported.
Riots have broken out in Cairo as well; Al Jazeera reported 178 were wounded in Tahrir Square, where Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring began two years ago.
Meanwhile, Egypt, whose stock market was one of the world’s best in 2012, is in an economic crisis. The Egyptian pound has dropped, and the central bank’s efforts to prop it up have cost it 60% of its US dollar reserves, which have “reached critically low levels.”
As chaos and anarchy spread, Egypt’s defense minister and top general, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, made an ominous statement, warning Morsi and the opposition that “their disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations,” the Times reported:
“Political, economic, social and security challenges” require united action “by all parties” to avoid “dire consequences that affect the steadiness and stability of the homeland,” General Sisi said in an address to military cadets that was later relayed as public statement from his spokesman. And the acute polarization of the civilian politics, he suggested, had now becoming a concern of the military because “to affect the stability of the state institutions is a dangerous matter that harms Egyptian national security.”
The Times quickly added that “unlike his predecessors, he wants to avoid any political entanglements” and that “there was no indication of an imminent coup.”
But the general’s language sounds as if he’s laying the groundwork for one—note the reference to “the collapse of the state” and “a dangerous matter that harms Egyptian national security.”
This is a blunt warning to both Morsi and the opposition: settle your differences and show you can rally the Egyptian people behind you—or else.
It’s also a sobering reminder—along with Libya, Syria, and Iraq—of how difficult it is to bring real, peaceful democracy to countries seething with resentment and religious fanaticism.
Wouldn’t it be a sad irony if two years after the Arab Spring began, the region’s most populous country replaced one autocrat with another—or a military junta?
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.