Five weeks after the 3 July coup, Egypt looks near another tipping point.
On 3 July the army, following huge protests against Egypt’s Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, ousted the Islamist government and installed a new administration of its choice.
The Brotherhood has chosen not to steer towards civil war as Algeria’s Islamists did when that country’s army cancelled elections in 1992 to stop the Islamists winning. But it is keeping up mass street protests.
Dozens of Brotherhood protesters were killed soon after the coup, but the Islamists remain undaunted. The army threatens to clear the protests by whatever means necessary, but hesitates at the bloodbath necessary to do that.
On 5 August the Guardian reported that: “Egypt’s military leaders are understood to have offered to include the Muslim Brotherhood in a political process that gives the vanquished movement three ministerial posts in a unity government and frees some members from prison. [Six Brotherhood officials, including two top leaders, are due to be brought to court on 25 August on charges of murder and incitement]... However, the Egyptian military and the presidency later denied that talks had taken place”.
US and EU envoys are trying to cook up a compromise.
The army leaders and the government they installed still enjoy political credit from the backlash against the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, a (cautious) clerical-fascist movement which tightened repression, squeezed workers’ rights, and failed to offer Egypt’s poor (13% official unemployment, 30% among youth) any relief during its year in power.
The army is trying to coopt the left. Kamal Abu Eita, who was leader of the Real Estate and Tax Authority Employees’ Union (one of the most important independent trade unions under Mubarak) and president of the new Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, has been made Minister of Manpower.
Nabil Fahmy, the interim foreign minister, has reversed the policy announced by the Brotherhood government shortly before its downfall, of active support for Sunni-Islamist opposition militias in Syria. “I can tell you frankly from now on that there is no intention for jihad in Syria” (FT 21 July).
But the new government has reinstated the old regime’s political and religious police units, disbanded in March 2011.
On 5 July it closed the Rafah crossing which connects Gaza to the outside world. It has since reopened it, four hours a day in place of the previous nine. The economic impact in Gaza is heavy.
According to Die Zeit (17 July), the 3 July coup was followed by a leap in prices on the Cairo stock exchange, and the return to Egypt, with their money, of many Egyptian plutocrats who had stayed abroad under the Morsi regime. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have sent billions in aid.
The decisive question remains: will Egypt’s new workers’ movement be able to use this period of flux and relative openness to build itself and assert itself as an independent political force, against the Islamists, the army, and the plutocrats.