Taking stock of Egypt’s revolution | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 03.02.2013
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Middle East

Taking stock of Egypt’s revolution

Two years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the shifting political situation in Egypt remains unsettled. DW sorts through the chaos and answers questions about the most important developments in the country.

What does the current state of emergency mean for Egyptians?

After riots that left dozens dead, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi declared a temporary state of emergency in a number of cities in January 2013. For many Egyptians, the emergency measures bring back memories of former president Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak assumed power in 1981 after the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar El Sadat, and consolidated power with the help of emergency legislation that was continually extended up until the end of May 2012 - long after he stepped down.

A state of emergency, which the constitution allows in the event of war or catastrophe, restricts civil rights and simultaneously increases the power of security forces. They can, for example, arrest any "suspicious person" without needing grounds for doing so. Both of Mubarak's predecessors, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El Sadat, also declared states of emergency to ensure their own positions of power.

How much power does Mohammed Morsi have?

When Mohammed Morsi assumed the office of the Egyptian presidency in June 2012, his authority was still unclear. The new constitution had yet to be prepared. The interim constitution that was valid between March 2011 and December 2012 was shaped in large part by Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF); in the process, the military secured sole supreme command over Egyptian security forces.

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 30: Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi arrives at the Chancellery to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 30, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. Mursi has come to Berlin despite the ongoing violent protests in recent days in cities across Egypt that have left at least 50 people dead. Mursi is in Berlin to seek both political and financial support from Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Morsi also wields tremendous informal power through the Muslim Brotherhood

The new Egyptian constitution, which has been in effect since December 26, 2012, also provided the military a degree of independence from the government. The constitution is frequently criticized as "Islamist," because hardly any views of liberal, secular and leftist groups are represented in the document. However, it passed a popular referendum and designated the authority of the president.

In reality, Morsi's political reach goes far beyond the powers formally entrusted to him in the office of the president. He is able to leverage his power through the Muslim Brotherhood, which has tremendous influence throughout Egypt. Morsi was a member of the group up until he became president. Many observers presume that Morsi's political decisions were an attempt to help his former party achieve a majority in parliament.

How influential is the military?

The military is still considered the decisive force in Egypt. Indeed, the refusal of the army to crush the February 2011 protests played a crucial role in the fall of the Mubarak regime. Afterwards, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi assumed the reigns of power, guiding the political transition until the parliamentary and presidential elections. The newly elected Morsi succeeded in retiring the military leadership from the Mubarak era and installing a new generation of younger generals. 

A degree of cooperation can be observed between the president and the armed forces, particularly when it comes to maintaining law and order. The military controls an extensive network of companies - including beyond those in the arms industry - and runs a patronage system backed by tremendous financial resources, making it a state within a state.

What is the makeup of the parliament?

The first free parliamentary elections in Egypt were carried out in winter 2011/2012. Through them, Islamist parties were able to win 70 percent of the seats. The winner of the elections was the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party - Morsi's former party - which took 37.5 percent of the vote. In a surprisingly good showing, the Salafist Party of the Light took nearly 28 percent of the vote.

CAIRO, Dec. 29, 2012 (Xinhua) -- Egyptian army soldiers secure the Shura council while Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi is giving a speech at the opening ceremony of the country's upper house of parliament, Dec. 29, 2012. (Xinhua/Amru Salahuddien) (zw) XINHUA /LANDOV

The Egyptian army is the decisive force in the country

Toward the end of June 2012, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces dissolved parliament again. The rationale? The allocation of seats was unconstitutional. New parliamentary elections are scheduled for spring 2013.

What are the demands of the opposition?

For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood was the largest and most well organized opposition party in Egypt, even though it was officially banned by the Mubarak regime. Members of the Brotherhood were represented in parliament as independents and had influence, albeit limited, on Egyptian politics.

But with the ouster of the Mubarak regime, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood came to power, and a new opposition developed in response. Split broadly between a neo-Nasserite camp and a liberal camp, the main opposition groups have one thing in common: They advocate the separation of religion and state. Hamdeen Sabahi leads the neo-Nasserites - a leftist movement - while former IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa are the most recognizable figures in the liberal camp. These three leading opposition figures have joined forces and formed the National Salvation Front, an umbrella group that opposes the Muslim Brotherhood's growing political power.

The former followers of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak also remain politically active and are benefiting from the growing tension between the Islamist parties and the opposition.

“Many demands have not been met,” said Hoda Salah, a German-Egyptian political scientist. “That includes the goals of the revolution: human dignity, the end of the police state and economic reform.”

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 file photo, Egyptian anti-government activists clash with riot police in Cairo, Egypt. More Arabs are politically engaged than ever before, demanding to be heard. They're learning what it means to question everything and everyone after decades under heavy autocracies where discussion, innovation and public participation were discouraged or crushed. This week, as Egyptians prepare to mark on Friday the anniversary of the start of the revolution that swept aside Hosni Mubarak, the issue seems to come up at every panel that even tangentially touches on politics or strategy. (Foto:Ben Curtis, File/AP/dapd)

Journalists have been repeatedly beaten and arrested at demonstrations

Many Egyptians are frustrated with the developments of the past two years. This frustration has found expression in the streets, with a growing number of violent clashes between opponents of the government and the police since the end of 2012.

How has freedom of the press developed?

Under Mubarak, freedom of the press was tightly restricted in Egypt. And since the fall of the regime, the situation has actually deteriorated. Egypt ranked 127th out of 178 countries for press freedom in 2010. Two years later, Egypt had fallen to 158th place.

“It's a massive restriction of the press when you're beaten to a pulp for reporting on a demonstration,” Christoph Dreyer, with Reporters Without Borders, told DW.

Dreyer said that the situation improved slightly in comparison to 2011, but still remained bad.

“There were a series of assaults at demonstrations, in which journalists were arrested and their equipment confiscated. The situation is far from being good,” he said.

How is the economic situation?

The political upheaval in Egypt has pushed the country into an economic and financial crisis. Since the fall of Mubarak, Cairo's foreign currency reserves have sunk from $20 billion (14.6 billion euros) to around $15 billion. A decline in tourism is driving the drop in the country's currency reserves. Many potential visitors have decided they'd rather make a detour around crisis-stricken Egypt.

Foreign investors are also staying away. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood has lost the confidence of the business community in recent months - both in the West and in the Gulf states. Only financial support from Qatar has pulled Egypt back from the brink of economic collapse. The value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted compared to the dollar, reaching a record low recently. And poorer Egyptians are the ones being hit the hardest by the economic turmoil with rising grocery prices making life difficult.

“Many people have become poorer,” said political scientist Hoda Salah. “The disappointment is big.”

The bad economic situation carries with it the potential for new conflicts.

How has Egyptian foreign policy changed?

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Tourism in Egypt has taken a hit due to political uncertainty

The relationship between Egypt and Israel has worsened since Morsi came to power. But the Egyptian president has not seriously questioned his country's peace treaty with Israel, despite the unpopularity of the agreement among the Egyptian people. Although the US is closely allied with Israel, Cairo maintains good relations with Washington. America remains one of Egypt's biggest financial donors, giving billions to the country's powerful military.

Egypt also receives money from the Gulf monarchies. Qatar has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood both financially and through the media. While the leadership in Doha views the Brotherhood as the leading political force in the countries affected by the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia has been more critical of the Islamist group. Riyadh is considered the main financial backer of Egypt's Salafists, who are strongly influenced by Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative Wahhabi sect and are considered competitors of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Morsi's Islamist-dominated government now has regular contact with Iran, but an alliance - once feared by some Mideast observers - has not materialized. Cairo and Tehran have found themselves at loggerheads over the fate of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Can Egypt reclaim leadership of the Arab world?

Cairowas long considered the center of the Arab world. But in the past two decades, the economic and political influence of the Gulf monarchies has grown at the expense of Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation with 80 million people. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has attracted investors and guest workers from all over the world and has turned Dubai into a modern metropolis, where many Egyptians work as well.

Qatarhas used its wealth from gas and oil extraction to make a name for itself in the world. For example, the television network Al Jazeera - which has become the leading media outlet in the Arab world - is considered by some observers to be an arm of Qatari foreign policy. In addition, the emir of Qatar has become something of a regional conflict mediator in recent years, a role once played by Egypt. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has bought a certain amount of economic and political influence in Egypt by lending Cairo financial support.

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