Insight: Egypt is once again risking its future

Wed Jan 30, 2013 10:17am EST
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By Samia Nakhoul

CAIRO (Reuters) - With violence sweeping Egypt's cities and the economy lurching deeper into crisis, each passing day is adding new bricks to a wall of mistrust between the Islamist-led government of President Mohamed Mursi and a fractured secular opposition.

Two years after the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Egypt, the epicenter of the upheavals reshaping the Arab world, is once again gambling with its future.

Writing on Twitter this week as protesters clashed with police in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, Ahmed Said of the liberal opposition Free Egyptians Party asked: "Will the army intervene on the side of the Egyptian people or not?"

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief and defense minister, duly warned on Tuesday that chaos in the streets and political deadlock could lead to "the collapse of the state".

For now at least, this looks more like a shot across the bows of Egypt's bickering politicians than a bid for power, most observers believe. Senior officers told Reuters the army's main concern was to safeguard national security and contain the violence that has enveloped major cities, including three along the strategically and economically important Suez Canal.

The instability has provoked unease in Western capitals, where officials worry about the direction of a powerful regional player that has a peace deal with Israel. The United States, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid each year, called on Egyptian leaders to make clear violence was not acceptable.

The violence is rooted in popular rage at the failure of Mursi to deliver security, stability, jobs and food and enmeshed with polarized and poorly focused political agendas.

Since the 2011 revolution, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which Mubarak spent his 30-year rule suppressing, has won two referendums, two parliamentary elections and a presidential vote. But, as the renewed turmoil of the past week demonstrates, Egyptians have still to reach anything like consensus on who should govern them, and under what rules.   Continued...

A protester opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi stands in front of fire that they set during clashes with the riot police along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square, in Cairo January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany