When Morsi swore in the newly appointed members of the Shura Council—in a televised speech on December 29—the atmosphere recalled the days of Mubarak. Pavements were freshly painted on the route that he would take to the downtown building. Bushy green trees were planted. Graffiti were whitewashed. For “reasons of security” employees from the nearby Ministry of Health were told to leave the building.
Morsi was facing a crisis. His vice-president had resigned; his ministers were resigning (allegedly over negotiations about cabinet posts); his former advisers were issuing public statements saying the nation had been severely let down. The Egyptian pound was weakening, the Central Bank governor tried to resign, and Egyptians everywhere had began to speak of despair. The words “grieving,” “grief,” and “mourning” seemed to appear with increasing frequency on Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. On the streets, I began to hear more and more people refer to the good old days that were now gone. Unemployment and prices were up, traffic was worse, and garbage seemed to be everywhere. Parked cars were now being stolen daily and held for ransom.Not to mention the recently passed constitution that the opposition still insisted it would contest.
Despite all this, Morsi gave a speech much like the ones he had given before—he insisted that those who spoke of Egypt going bankrupt were, in fact, bankrupt themselves. The opposition press dismissed what he said as “a waste of time.” The state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, long a mouthpiece of Mubarak’s men and now under the tutelage of an Islamist, ran banner headlines in praise of his words. But on social media sites and in the opposition press, the speeches of both Mubarak and Morsi were cut and pasted, side-by-side. The only real differences, aside from the mention of Allah, seemed to be grammatical ones.
It is a sign of things to come that the Shura Council that Morsi swore in is largely a mirror of his government, and that the first laws the council are considering govern the parliamentary elections to take place this spring, and also include draft legislation to regulate protests and strikes. Already the Islamists have encroached on the main executive and legislative bodies of the state, and the Shura Council is working, as its first action, to amend the parliamentary elections law in order to eliminate the technical provisions that caused the last Islamist-dominated parliament to be dissolved. They want a majority there too.
The Brotherhood, in its highly organized way, is already preparing for the parliamentary elections. Various factions of Islamists are forming and rebuilding parties with an eye to another sweeping victory. Amid all this, ElBaradei’s NSF seems somewhat pallid—not firm in defining policies or planning political action, and not visible enough as a campaign force among the masses. There have been signs that in a turbulent future, the army may become more involved in politics. We hear, for example, persistent rumors that the Brotherhood seeks to give a part of the Sinai to the Palestinians—a “plan” that allegedly involves Qatari funds. In December, the defense minister issued a military decree restricting the ownership of “strategic areas” (such as the Sinai) to Egyptians. In a military statement, the minister said: “Sinai will remain a part of our beloved Egypt, and the army will never allow it to be threatened.”
The day after the Shura Council speech, while I was talking to a well-known businessman at a sporting club, he excused himself to take a call from a client. “Yes,” he said, “I’ll give you power of attorney.”
He hung up and muttered the name of a leading Brotherhood family. “It’s no longer about Morsi,” he said. “They’re running for the elections of the board of Marina”—a large-scale north coast beach resort.
They’re the best clients these days—they’re in control of so much of the business. You can’t really tell them “no” anymore, even if they want control of our beaches. And the reality is that they are creeping up, and want control of everything. It’s not about Egypt, it’s about their larger vision for an Islamic Caliphate. And the problem is that they don’t know how to play politics. They make a deal, and then manipulate or break it, and then swear to God that you are the one in the wrong.
—January 10, 2013