Cold Winds in Cairo

When I was living in Cairo, the transition to winter was sometimes smooth. The beastly oven of summer changed slowly into a bearable fall of cool-warm. The fall moved from the cool-warm to a few weeks of cold, or at least what was cold to Egypt. These were smooth changes. It seemed so normal. We even delighted in the cold evenings when we could wear sweaters while sailing on the Nile. It felt like a novelty the first time; then it was comfortable to change with the changes and dig out our sweaters in late November.

The recent cold winds to hit Cairo and Egypt came as a shock to some. These cold winds came from the decrees of President Mohamed Morsi. He was supposed to be the protector and developer of democracy according to many. He has turned out — for many — to be quite different. He essentially grabbed the powers of the judicial, executive and the legislative branches of the baby democracy that is developing in Egypt. He stole the candy from the baby, according to many in Egypt.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters cheered in delight. Just about everyone else felt the cold winds. They also felt that their revolution was falling prey to a manipulative, dangerous and very clever man. The person who the Brotherhood really wanted at first had the last name of Al-Shater, “the clever one”. The real clever one turns out to be the person that many called “the spare tire” — the American-educated “former” leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayat. The last part of his name might give some in the west pause, if they are thinking.

Egypt for now is looking more like Iran in 1979 than ever before.

The liberals and intellectuals were the original igniters and leaders of the Egyptian revolution; the Muslim Brotherhood took it from them. There were discussions about inclusivity, but as the Copts, liberals, Wafd and others left, the Constitutional and other committees made no effort to reincorporate them. There was a collective crocodile sigh and the leadership went on with the committees.

The press, other media, academics, government officials and more are being packed by members of, or loyalists to, the Muslim Brotherhood. Discussions about applying a somewhat strict version of Sharia in Egypt get more heated by the day, while the opposition apparently continues to be sidelined from the game. The extremist Salafis seem to have more voice in the new Egypt than the academics or even the experienced umdas (village leaders) in some areas.

Sectarian tensions are mounting. The recently elevate Pope of the Copts has stated publicly that he rejects the mounting power of the extremists and wants his flock to be considered full members of Egyptian society. Given that the Copts make up around 8-10 percent of the country, that makes sense.

A working democracy requires inclusivity. It needs a sort of equality supported not just voting, but other civil and social rights too. It took the United States over a century to move toward greater voting and other rights for minorities. These were hard fought battles that started with the bloodiest war in American history, the Civil War, and went on into the 1960s with the various civil rights and voting acts. This process is ongoing.

Democracy is a fragile thing; extremism is its worst enemy. Al Ahram provides a translation of President Morsi’s recent decrees here:

“We have decided the following:

Article I

Reopen the investigations and prosecutions in the cases of the murder, the attempted murder and the wounding of protesters as well as the crimes of terror committed against the revolutionaries by anyone who held a political or executive position under the former regime, according to the Law of the Protection of the Revolution and other laws.

Article II:

Previous constitutional declarations, laws, and decrees made by the president since he took office on 30 June 2012, until the constitution is approved and a new People’s Assembly [lower house of parliament] is elected, are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity. Nor shall they be suspended or canceled and all lawsuits related to them and brought before any judicial body against these decisions are annulled. 

Article III:

The prosecutor-general is to be appointed from among the members of the judiciary by the President of the Republic for a period of four years commencing from the date of office and is subject to the general conditions of being appointed as a judge and should not be under the age of 40. This provision applies to the one currently holding the position with immediate effect.

Article IV:

The text of the article on the formation of the Constituent Assembly in the 30 March 2011 Constitutional Declaration that reads, “it shall prepare a draft of a new constitution in a period of six months from the date it was formed” is to be amended to “it shall prepare the draft of a new constitution for the country no later than eight months from the date of its formation.”

 Article V:

No judicial body can dissolve the Shura Council [upper house of parliament] or the Constituent Assembly.

 Article VI:

The President may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution.

Article VII:

This Constitutional Declaration is valid from the date of its publication in the official gazette.” (Emphasis supplied)

The paragraphs in bold and italics are the ones that are really worrying and angering so many in Egypt. They are also the ones that have sparked violence on the streets of Cairo and in many other places in Egypt. They have spurred a call for the impeachment of the President. They have instigated a strike by the judges in the country that will further paralyze a legal system that has been in various forms of paralysis for decades. That strike is also due to the firing of the chief prosecutor, who was apparently replaced by a judge with Muslim Brotherhood sympathies.

The Egyptian stock market tumbled yesterday and had to be shut down. It had a relatively feeble increase today. The cold winds seem to be keeping investors away. The sense of risk is still there. If more negative events take place, the market could fall again.

Demonstrations and counter demonstrations are being called. There will likely be more violence, more worry and anxiety amongst Egyptians and more hardening of opinions across the ever-widening political divide in this great country gone astray.

The fact that top judges have said they are planning to meet with President Morsi is a hopeful sign. Of course, after all the hard feelings, I am not sure what could come from that. The journalists union may call a strike; there were fist fights and loud yelling matches in the journalists’ union building yesterday. The organization that represents a lot of the fellahin or peasant farmers in Egypt stated its anger at Morsi’s decrees by saying the servitude of the peasants was over. The younger people are still fired up. The ULTRAs, the soccer fans for Ahly, Zamalek and others who were a major part of the disturbances and demonstrations since the early days of the revolution are also out in the streets again and looking for a fight.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a pro-Morsi demonstration. The anti-Morsi groups have called for other demonstrations. The offices of the Muslim Brotherhood have been attacked in many areas, including in Damanhour in Behaira Province, where one really would not expect such violence. A 15-year-old boy died in that attack.

Those thinking about investing in Egypt will likely shy away even more. Tourism will be shattered if this does not settle down soon. The winter season is the most important for tourism in Egypt. The IMF loan and some of the foreign aid packages for Egypt could also be in jeopardy. Capital flight is likely to increase. Unemployment and inflation are likely to get worse. The sense of hope in the county will likely be worsened. This is most important for the youth in the country. They have mostly very hard, impoverished and frustrating lives. They are also the demographic that could drive the country into another revolution for the poor, the unemployed and the hungry.

A cold wind indeed has come to Egypt.

One can hope that the cold winds will subside and warm a bit before the politics of Egypt freezes over into immovable camps. One can hope that there will be true dialogue and a moving forward for the country in many ways.

The revolution was the greatest event to take place in a very long time for most Egyptians. Many died and even more were injured. A post-revolution Egypt needs to be for all Egyptians, as many in the opposition have stated.

The Muslim Brotherhood should be listening and listening hard to what is going on. Winning a hair-thin election is not a mandate. There are many people in Egypt — all over Egypt — who do not like and do not trust the Muslim Brotherhood. Their time in power could be very short if they do not respond to the calls for equity, inclusiveness and great open-mindedness. Many also see the Morshid, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badei, as the man behind many of the decisions made by President Morsi. This is proving to be very dangerous for the stability of Egypt.

Egypt is a complex country facing a very challenging future. If it cannot move towards democracy and prosperity in a more stable and efficient way, great trouble lies ahead. The cold winds of November 2012 could be warm in comparison to what’s waiting.

Sawt means voice and vote in Arabic. If positions in Egypt harden and more and more people are left behind or shoved aside, the voices of even the so-far-silent could get much louder.

– Paul Sullivan is an internationally recognized expert on security issues including energy security, water security and food security in the Middle East and North Africa. He is an economist by training and a multidisciplinary public intellectual by choice. He is an Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University.

Paul Sullivan

Paul Sullivan is an internationally recognized expert on security issues including energy security, water security and food security in the Middle East and North Africa. He is an economist by training and a multidisciplinary public intellectual by choice. He is an Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Future Global Resources Threats at the Federation of American Scientists.



  1. What Paul Sullivan is writing about the situation in Egypt matches
    exactly with my own experiences living for 5 years in Cairo and
    working in the Middle East. The MB’s are very keen in gathering
    poeple around, because they promise the poor better live. And
    there is no doubt, the MB’s get a very strong support by the
    poor population, because they provide help with food, medical
    support and schooling. But only with one goal. To bring these
    poor on their way which means to strengthen religious conservatism
    and to get a pure Islamic state. The MB’s like the Salafists
    are not interestet in a free open society. There aim is not
    democracy but religious dictatorship. Poor Egypt, a country
    With enormous advantages in many fields, but their todays
    leadership is going an other way. But there is still some hope
    as Egyptians are a special volk and they hopefully will realise
    where the MB’s will go with them. One thing is sure. It was not
    worse under Mubarak’s regime. The revolution was well minded
    but seems to have turn out in the wrong direction

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