Egypt in 2014: More demonstrations to come
December 26th, 2013
10:41 AM ET

Egypt in 2014: More demonstrations to come

By Steven A. Cook, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. The views expressed are the writers’ own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Egypt hasn’t made international headlines for a while, but Egyptians themselves have still been making news. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that began after a coup toppled embattled President Mohammed Morsy in July has extended through the end of 2013, and will likely continue. At the same time, a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula has occasionally reached into major cities like Ismailiyya and Cairo. The government’s approach to the violence seems to be based solely around bringing as much firepower to bear on the perpetrators as possible. But while there might be some success in killing some terrorists and criminals, the complexity of the situation on the ground means this strategy will likely do little to change an environment where extremist elements thrive.

Beyond the security situation, Egyptian politics are likely to remain fraught. After the coup, the military-backed interim government issued a roadmap for the restoration of democracy. Never mind the fact that there was no democracy to restore – Egyptian officials have been faithful to the transition they set up after the military’s July intervention. Since interim President Adly Mansour accepted constitutional revisions that first a committee of ten legal experts, and then a broader group of fifty, debated and further refined, the constitution will be put to a referendum on January 14 and 15. The roadmap calls for parliamentary elections within 15 days of the draft document’s passage, and then finally presidential elections within one week of the parliament’s first session. Mansour is currently studying the idea of flipping presidential and parliamentary elections. Regardless of what he decides, Egyptians will carry out the remaining aspects of the roadmap relatively problem free, but this does little to resolve three core issues that will destabilize Egyptian politics in 2014.

First, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to have ongoing and serious consequences for Egypt. Egyptians have largely come to detest the Brothers – a sentiment that the state-run media and a variety of private, but anti-Brotherhood outlets have reinforced – but they do retain a significant core following, some of whom have become radicalized as a result of the coup. For the Brotherhood, the coup was an illegitimate act that undermined a democratically elected leader, adding to the organization’s already well-developed narrative of victimhood.

The interim government meanwhile maintains that the military’s intervention was a reflection of the people’s will at a time when Morsy was bringing ruin to the country. In addition, according to officials, the Brothers are tied to terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the Sinai and elsewhere. Although some analysts expect a deal between the officers and the Brothers, both sides derive political benefit from these widely divergent accounts of Morsy’s year in office, raising the prospect for continued contestation, protest, and violence.

Second, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have floated the Egyptian economy, relieving some of the most significant economic challenges of the last three years, Gulf largesse only gives Cairo some breathing space. Tourists – who contributed $12.5 billion to the economy in 2010 – are avoiding popular destinations in the Nile Valley for fear of being caught in the middle of a spasm of protest and violence. Likewise, foreign direct investment, which helped drive GDP growth in the last years of Mubarak’s rule, has declined since 2011. The only two bright spots are remittances from Egyptians working abroad and revenues from Suez Canal tolls, both of which are up in the last three years. Taken together with the aid from Gulf countries, this revenue does little to address Egypt’s underlying economic problems.

Egyptian policymakers are caught between the need for reform and fear of the political reaction to modification of, for example, the system of subsidies that distorts the economy, but keeps the prices for energy and certain food products low. The demonstrations that ended Hosni Mubarak’s long rule were not at a basic level about the economy, but Egyptians have been expecting better economic times ever since. Opposition to Morsy was also rooted in political disaffection, but it is important not to overlook that his presidency coincided with Egypt’s near economic collapse. If Egyptians do not perceive improved economic prospects relatively soon, instability is likely to continue.

Finally, although Egyptian officials are adamant that they are presiding over a transition to democracy, what is actually happening in Egypt suggests something much different. The interim president recently signed into a law a measure that severely restricts the ability of people to protest. Under the new draft constitution civilians would be subject to trial in military courts for a variety of offenses that are open to broad interpretation, and the same document places the military as well as the police forces beyond the bounds of civilian control. The police have taken on street protests and student demonstrations with a renewed brutality, recognizing that anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment affords the Ministry of Interior a certain amount of political cover it never previously enjoyed.

Overall, Egypt’s new government, in cooperation with a willing media, have created an environment that dampens public debate with an onslaught of imagery and commentary that places Major-General al Sisi, the coup he oversaw, and military operations in the Sinai beyond reproach. Rather than democracy, Egypt’s leaders are presiding over a political system that more closely resembles the old, authoritarian political order. Presently, Egyptian democracy advocates, liberals, revolutionaries, and other activists – many of whom welcomed the military’s intervention – are powerless to prevent this development, but they have been remarkably resilient in doing what they seem to do best, fostering public discontent. Expect that demonstrations both large and small will continue into 2014 and beyond.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Egypt

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Allan Kinsman

    It seems true countries in the middle east and Africa are struggling with the recent attack against restrictive government. These revolutions create an unclear potential. The United States has until recent times had influence over politics through it's usual systems in place. However the coming world will take a new understanding and a new dynamic if we will continue to have a voice in the coming redefining muslim influenced world. Our traditional partners in the region may very well need to take pause with their relationship with us. Today may be opportunity for us to reevaluate our own actions and reactions to these transitions throughout the region. As our policies are simplified and our goals are clarified a move back toward common sense and values may be the best course of action. For too long ineffective perspectives have led us to misunderstanding both in domestic and foreign policy. We as usual have thrown monies at a problem through a lobbists influenced government instead of using reason and long term goals to shape a sound future.

    December 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      What we Americans along with our rubber stamp allies need to do for that part of the world is to butt out and let things take their course, even if it means that we have fewer lackey states over there. In other words, we not only do not need to but also have no business running the Middle East! I believe in self determination!

      December 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        True, people in every country have to be architect of their own fortune. We have been doing this all the time. The only difference is that in the Middle East, people there had been oppressed for centuries.
        Today Egypt is divided. People are at a crossroads. Let them make their own mistakes and they need time to learn from them. They have to go through this ordeal in order to write their own history, which is not just about power and glory. Turmoil and shame are also part of it.

        December 28, 2013 at 11:56 am |
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    December 26, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  3. chrissy

    True @ Joseph, and STOP sending them money all the time! Maybe we need our own revolution to get that point across huh?

    December 26, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Reply
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    December 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
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    December 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
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    December 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Reply
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    December 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Reply
  8. chrissy

    Good grief! You would think the clown above wouldve learned to spell by now!

    December 26, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Just ignore the bozo above, chrissy. He thinks he's funny. It's people like this along with those foul speaking Tea Partiers who need to be blocked, but are not since they're politically "correct"!

      December 27, 2013 at 9:06 am | Reply
      • banasy©

        My gosh, there is nothing PC about the mutterings of the tin foil hat brigade...

        December 27, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  9. JAL

    The focus should be on elections, while trying to maintain a peaceful exchange.

    December 27, 2013 at 10:18 am | Reply
    • Amgad Elsayed

      "PEACEFUL exchange"? Have you been in coma

      December 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  10. chrissy

    The US must stay out of this! We've done more than enough damage just by financing Egypts military during the time frame when they overthrew their government! Best we can hope for is forgiveness for that very very poor lack of judgement, especially as we broke the law by doing so!! May God forgive the ignorance of our government on that issue!

    December 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • Amgad Elsayed

      Enough said. Yours is the best comment but if you realy are looking for forgivness, then you should ask the people you hurt through pressing your government for correction. Be blessed, Merry Christmas

      December 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Very well put, chrissy. Thank you.

      December 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  11. chrissy

    I was speaking metaphorically @ Amgad. My government and I already do not see eye to eye on nearly everything. And as they are comprised mainly of egotrippinmaniacs i seriously doubt they would ever admit they were wrong, much less ask for forgiveness for their actions!!

    December 27, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  12. chrissy

    Lol i just call it how i see it @ Joseph! Many would disagree of course!

    December 27, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
  13. herblaub

    Egypt is still the big Arab power in the Middle East and a ally of Israel.For example in the Sinai they are trying to not allow the radicals brotherhood followers to gain control of the Sinai .and as they continue to destroy the Brotherhood who so poorly governed Egypt and this led to their overthrow by the military which is still the most important politcal factor in the nation now as before 1911

    December 28, 2013 at 2:18 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      They just declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

      Wonder what happens now?

      December 29, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  14. chrissy

    Well now THAT was just a glowing recomendation! They are allies of Israel! Was that meant to give us a warm fuzzy feeling? Funny cuz it had the very opposite affect on me!

    December 28, 2013 at 10:40 am | Reply
  15. Gonz

    Egypt is like a patient that has cancer. The remedies and treatments are painful and convulsive. I agree with a person that said that we should leave them ALONE to make their history. If they succeed they will be a beacon of light for the whole Islamic world. If they fail the whole world will very soon be experiencing the hell they are going through.

    December 29, 2013 at 12:39 am | Reply
  16. chrissy

    Lol @ banasy. Probably the same thing that happened when Al Quaeda was declared terrorists! Alotta financing to them!

    December 29, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  17. saywhat

    Egypt's return to rule of brutal military dictatorship does not augur well for the region. It is most certainly going to radicalize those opposed to military rule and push the country which had after decades under dictatorship saw a glimmer of hope towards chaos.
    It also makes a mockery of our hollow claims of being champions of democracy.

    December 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  18. chrissy

    @ saywhat, we are lucky if our governmental brats can champion their way out of the bathroom.

    December 30, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  19. ashraf

    u see the pic on the top, those guys in the pic do not belong to MB they belong to the Ultras, but they are paid to demonstrate. the good news we will not see much of them in 2014

    January 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Reply
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