Egypt on the Brink

Source: The Nation

Cairo, Egypt

The second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution has been marked by rocks, firebombs, tear gas and bullets. More than fifty people have been killed and over a thousand wounded across the country. The army has been granted arrest powers, and military troops have been deployed to the three cities where President Mohamed Morsi has declared a state of emergency and ordered a curfew.

This outbreak of rage has laid bare the precarious state of a country plagued by a disfigured transition process, a lingering sense of injustice and the repeated failures of an entire political class that has forsaken a host of popular grievances in its scuffle for power.

Much of the vitriol has been directed toward Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Using a highly contentious decree that granted him near-dictatorial powers, Morsi forced a controversial constitution through a referendum process last month. The move sparked mass protests and deadly clashes and left a deep national rift in its wake. It also bolstered fears of the “Brotherhood-ization” of the state, namely that the group was asserting control over the regime left behind by Hosni Mubarak rather than reforming state institutions.

In the weeks since, the economy has edged closer to the precipice with the Egyptian pound plummeting to record lows against the US dollar causing a rise in the price of staple goods like sugar, rice and cooking oil and exacerbating the economic burdens of the poor.

In this charged environment, it didn’t take long for the protests on January 25 commemorating the revolution to turn violent; clashes between demonstrators and security forces erupted in cities across the country as protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails and police fired tear gas, birdshot and live ammunition, leaving at least eleven dead.

The mostly young men and boys doing the fighting include “Black Bloc” protesters in balaclavas, a newly-formed, apparently loosely organized group that has nonetheless quickly gained notoriety in the media.

The port city of Suez saw the anniversary’s deadliest confrontations with up to nine people killed. A forensics report later found the victims were shot by live ammunition at close range and, in some cases, from behind. The next day, protesters stormed three police stations in Suez and freed prisoners as the police fled the area. The army was eventually deployed in an attempt to secure the city.

Morsi stayed off the airwaves and did not make any statement until after 1am, when he posted a much-derided message on his Twitter account urging “citizens to adhere to the values of the revolution, express opinions freely and peacefully and renounce violence.”

Continue reading