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A police officer fires rubber bullets at anti-government protesters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on the third anniversary of Egypt's uprising
Image: Reuters

Facing stagnation

Kersten Knipp / ew
March 1, 2014

Three years after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is still struggling to cope with the changes. International observers have seen little improvement in the economic, political and press-freedom situation.


Continuing terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsula, high unemployment and rocketing inflation: former Egyptian prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, who resigned on February 24, cannot look back at a very successful term in office. He had vowed to restore security and stability, but during his seven months at the helm conditions in the country only deteriorated. He was neither able to improve the country's economic situation nor curb the spread of politically motivated violence.

When he resigned from his post, pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi wrote that the move was not voluntary. According to the paper, el-Beblawi had to go because "el-Beblawi's additional time in office would have fully eroded the political credibility of the system." El-Beblawi could not afford to let things get out of hand, having promised improvements under his rule.

Grave fundamental problems

Had he served a longer term, would el-Beblawi have been able to pacify the troubled country? Probably only to a small degree, as the problems faced by Egypt cannot be solved within a few weeks or months. According to political scientist Christian Wolff from the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg, Egypt suffers from a business culture that hinders entrepreneurial activity. The principles of a free social market economy are still a foreign concept and corruption is a major obstacle, said Wolff, adding that he did not see any real perspectives for change.

Another thing that el-Beblawi was not able to ameliorate is the authorities' brutal treatment of dissidents. Since the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, over 1,300 of his supporters have been killed in clashes with Egyptian security forces.

Hazem el-Beblawi (Photo: REUTERS/Ben Job/Files)
El-Beblawi did not live up to his promisesImage: REUTERS

Even secular demonstrators - those who demonstrated on the streets in January 2011 and contributed to the ouster of Mubarak - have experienced repercussions. Prominent activists such as Ahmed Maher - founder of the April 6 youth movement against Mubarak - and blogger Alaa Abd el-Fatah have been sitting behind bars since last November. A new law introduced in November gives the government the right to take harsh measures against "unauthorized protests."

Freedom of the press is also under threat in Egypt. Currently, 20 employees of Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera are facing trial, charged with helping a "terrorist organization." Amnesty International sees the incident as setting the tone of Egypt's future dealings with the media. "The move sends the chilling message that only one narrative is acceptable in Egypt today - that which is sanctioned by the Egyptian authorities," said Salil Shetty, General Secretary of Amnesty International, in a statement.

The influence of big business

Egypt's business owners originally pinned their hopes on the military. Some of them already criticized the situation in the country during Mubarak's reign via the television channels and newspapers they acquired. Indeed, the list of Egypt's major newspaper owners reads like a "who's who" of the country's economic elite. Daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm belongs to media entrepreneur Naguib Sawiri and his colleague Salah Diab, who has made his fortune in the energy and agricultural sectors. Meanwhile, the owner of the Al Watan newspaper is property developer Mohamed al-Amin, who also owns Al-Youm Al-Saba'a.

All of these businessmen were deeply unsettled by the hard-line religious stance of the Muslim Brotherhood and openly opposed Morsi and his supporters in the months following Morsi's fall from power. Now, according to Wolff, they are focusing on defining their future position.

"They now have to reclassify themselves and they will position themselves in the power discourse," said Wolff. "And that is the military, that is [Egyptian military chief Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi."

Looming disillusionment

Wolff added that anybody who wants to achieve something in the future will not be able to circumvent the military. "It has an extremely strong influence, and it won't let anyone take that away - neither the neo-capitalist elite nor the more middle-class Muslim Brotherhood community."

Violence in Cairo on the third anniversary of Egypt's uprising (Photo: DW/Mostafa Hashem)
The Egyptian government has little tolerance for dissidentsImage: DW/M. Hashem

How el-Sissi uses his power remains to be seen. A date has not yet been set for the presidential election. According to Wolff, it is not yet clear if el-Sissi will manage to assume political power over the whole country. He also expects little change for Egypt's young generation, leading to their disillusionment.

"The fundamental problems that prompted the youth to protests in the streets - no job prospects, no dignity, state oppression - are of course still there," said Wolff.