July 27, 2013

Egypt: Revolution or a Military Coup? Part 1

The Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” affords ground to the analysts generation for expressing their point of view regarding the political, economic, security, information situation in Ukraine and in the world in general, according to their personal geopolitical studies and analyses.


Note that an authors’ point of view
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Oleksiy Volovych

The author of the material that we are offering to our readers is a former military serviceman, a graduate of the Faculty of Oriental Languages ​​of the Moscow Military Institute of Foreign Languages. At one time he served as a military translator in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, the UN Forces of peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNPROFOR).Is engaged in scientific activity, Candidate of Historical Sciences. For some time he worked at the Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon as Secretary for Political Affairs. Now Oleksiy Volovych is a leading researcher of the Odessa branch of the National Institute for Strategic Studies. He speaks English, Arabic and its dialects.

Egypt: Revolution or a Military Coup? Part 1

Today, we can hear various estimates of the accomplished on July 3 this year Egypt military coup. Some say it's the end of the Egyptian revolution of February 11, 2011, others — that it is its continuation and a new stage, still others — that it's a “reset of the revolution”. In our view, the revolution in Egypt, in the full sense of the word never happened, as the real power has always been in the hands of Egyptian Generals.

Gamal Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), President of Egypt from 1956 to 1970, Colonel, Hero of the Soviet Union (1964)

Having lived in a country for several years, one remains at least not indifferent to it and its people. I do know it from my own experience. From August 1970 to July 1972 I had served as a military interpreter in Egypt. Since then 40 years have passed. Now is a different era, a different international situation, different values and priorities. But the Egyptian people basically have remained the same, as I knew them — friendly, good-natured, hospitable, freedom-loving and with an extraordinary sense of humor.

New Heroes of the Soviet Union: Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Vice-President A. H. Amer
New Heroes of the Soviet Union: Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Vice-President A. H. Amer. Egypt, May 1964

I remember well how popular and loved by all his people was the country's President, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who, with the help of the Revolution of July 23, 1952, turned Egypt from kingdom into a republic. He was not only national but also global political leader, a passionate supporter of Arab unity, one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. He was popular not only in Egypt and in the Arab world but also beyond. Nasser stood on anti-imperialist positions, defending independence of Egypt. No wonder, in May 1964 he was awarded the title of a Hero of the Soviet Union... Sharing Nasser's ideas, young Libyan military officers led by 27-year-old Muammar Gaddafi, made a revolution on the 1st of September, 1969, and turned the Libyan Kingdom into a republic. Despite the fact that Nasser died in September 1970, the Egyptian people keep the memory of him, and have raised him to the rank of a national hero. Today, millions of Egyptians dream of reviving the ideals of the Revolution of July 23, 1952.

I think that “Arab revolutions” as such have never happened. What took place in 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and is happening today in Syria — does not fit the classic definition of the term “revolution”. The main outcome of the revolution is to change the political system and seizure of power by new, having the support of the majority of the population, political forces. More or less actively in the “revolutionary” events in these countries participated not more than 5 % of the population.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who led the military coup in Libya, with Nasser,  the leader of Egypt

It seems today we are witnessing the end of this socio-political process, which can be called the Egyptian “revolution” of February 11, 2011, when Egypt formally changed the power, but not for long. Because, again, the real power has always been in the hands of Egyptian Generals. In Tunisia and Egypt, the political system remained the same, despite Islamists' rise to power. Positions of Islamists who are at power in Tunisia (“Al-Nahda”), as well as of those in Egypt, are not strong enough. In Libya the political system has undergone formal changes, but to power have come puppet political forces solely due to the massive military intervention by NATO countries, who destroyed the great gains of the Libyan revolution of 1969 and its leader Muammar Gaddafi. The same we see today in Syria. 70 % of the Syrian population supports President B. Assad, but Western countries, Turkey and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf with a persistence worth a better use, provide military and financial support to the Syrian opposition and the armed mercenaries-Islamists, who, to tell the truth, lack even basic concepts of democracy.

Zigzags of Egyptian democracy

Hosni Mubarak
Hosni Mubarak (1928), President of Egypt from 1981 to 2011
Hussein Tantawi
Hussein Tantawi (1935), Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt from 2011 to 2012, Field Marshal

Don't forget that after resigning on the 11th of February, 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak transferred his powers to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt, headed by Defense Minister Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Egypt's military machine as the basis of “Mubarak's regime”, continued to function during the past two and a half years up to the present. The military suspended the Constitution, dissolved the Parliament and were carrying out supreme power functions in the country up to the Presidential elections, conducted in two rounds in May and June, 2012. As you know, in the second round won representative of the “Muslim Brotherhood” movement, the leader of the established in April 2011, “Freedom and Justice Party”, Mohammed Mursi (62 years old). He became the first democratically elected President of Egypt, having gained three percent more votes than his opponent, former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik.  For M. Mursi voted 13.2 million out of the 51 million voters. (Egypt's population is about 85 million people). As only a quarter of the electorate voted for M. Mursi, we can hardly say that he was a “popularly elected”. Presidential elections also showed that Islamists do not enjoy popular support in Egypt. And this is the main “blind side” of M. Mursi and Egyptian Islamists of various stripes.

Mohammed Mursi
Mohammed Mursi (1951), President of Egypt from June 2012 to July 2013

The first (and, as it turned out, — the last) year under Egyptian President M. Mursi, was very challenging and stressful in socio-economic and socio-political spheres. At the beginning of March, 2011 to the post of Prime Minister was appointed Essam Sharaf, who led a transitional government until November 21, 2011. March 19, 2011 was held, initiated by ex-President Hosni Mubarak, referendum on amendments and additions to the Constitution of Egypt, limiting  the power of the President (4 years instead of 6, ban on election to a third term, abolition of emergency powers). The Constitution also appeared position by which to register as a candidate for President it was enough to gather signatures of 30,000 citizens in 15 governorates or of 30 MPs. It also allowed automatic registration of candidates from parties represented in the Parliament.

Having got the right to operate legally, have significantly strengthened their positions Islamist parties (“The Freedom and Justice Party” of the movement “Muslim Brotherhood”, Salafi party “An-Nur”, “Creation and Development” party of the Islamist group “al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya”), that received in the Parliamentary elections in January 2011, three quarters of the seats. Secular opposition parties (“Wafd”, “Destour” and others) have joined in the National Salvation Front (NRF), which is led by Nobel laureate and former Head of the IAEA, the leader of the party “Destour” (Constitution) M. El-Baradei, “Nasserist” and left-centrist Hamdeen Sabahi and former Secretary- General of the Arab League (LAS) Amr Moussa.

However, in June 2012 the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt declared illegitimate one third of the country's Parliament. This decision the Court motivated by the fact that during the election was violated the principle of competition. On the basis of this decision, on June 16 the Supreme Military Council of Egypt dismissed the Parliament and gave itself legislative powers. In early June 2013 the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt also decided to dissolve the Shura Council (the upper house of Egyptian Parliament), having recognized its election unconstitutional and contradicting the Law on elections. At this, the Court took a strange decision to “postpone the execution of the verdict” until new elections which may be held in early 2014.

July 10, 2012 M. Mursi by his Decree reopened the work of the Parliament, which fact was perceived by the military as a direct challenge. July 24, 2012 M. Mursi appointed Hesham Qandil Irrigation Minister (instead of fired Kamal Ganzouri, the acting head of the transitional government from December 7, 2011 to June 21, 2012).

August 27 M. Mursi issued a Decree appointing 21 Advisers and Assistants and 27 Governors.  However, the appointment of “his” people in key positions in the state administrative apparatus did not improve its functioning, as most of Mursi's nominees did not have sufficient expertise and experience in public service.

November 22, 2012 M. Mursi signed the Constitutional Declaration (document, temporarily replacing the Basic Law of the country), allowing the country's President to issue “any decrees aimed at the defense of the revolution”, which cannot be challenged in court. M. Morsi also gave legislative powers to Shura Council (upper house of Parliament), carrying up only advisory functions before. Such M. Mursi's actions made opposition indignant, and it accused him of usurping power. M. Mursi's Declaration was condemned by organizations for the protection of human rights, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights and Watch Freedom House. A wave of thousands-strong protests swept across the country, which made M. Mursi cancel his decision on the 8th of December, 2012.

December 15, 2012, during a National Referendum, a new Constitution was approved, which proclaimed Sharia the only source of Law. Secular opposition once again took to the streets, “christened” M. Mursi “a new Pharaoh”, and called on him to resign.

Since then, opposition demonstrations almost never stopped and reached its peak in June 2013. Because of bloody clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mahmoud Morsi in Cairo and other Egyptian cities among participants of demonstrations from both sides hundreds have been killed and thousands have been injured. June 29 civil society activists said that during the “Tamarod” (Riot), they collected 22 million signatures of Egyptian citizens demanding resignation of President Mahmoud Morsi. The opposition accused M. Morsi of monopolizing power by “Muslim Brotherhood”, of accelerated Islamizing  the country, of  non-fulfilling his election promises and of inability to run the country, which was the cause of the economic and political crisis in Egypt. In the second half of June, due to the disagreement with the policy of President Mahmoud Morsi, ten Egyptian Ministers and three governors resigned, which was one of the manifestations of the power crisis.

Economic collapse

Rising unemployment in Egypt
Rising unemployment in Egypt

In any country, revolutions or deep social changes tend to end in chaos. First of all, a socio-political turmoil takes a toll on the economy. And Egypt is no exception. Compared to 2010, the crime rate in Egypt has increased three-fold. The main reason is the difficult economic situation in the country and soaring unemployment. However, as of 2010, the total unemployment rate in Egypt was around 8 %, and was lower than in the USA, France, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkey and many other countries. In the first quarter of 2013, the overall unemployment rate in Egypt reached 13.2 %, and among Egyptian youth of the age of 15 to 29, it made 77 %. Moreover, among young people with secondary, vocational and higher education, this figure exceeds 85 %. Besides, about 6 million Egyptians must work abroad.

The failure of the Egyptian tourist traffic
The failure of the Egyptian tourist traffic

According to the portal Bussines FM, until 2010, the Egyptian economy kept growing by 5-7 % a year, and is now getting reduced by 7 % monthly. In 2011, about four thousand factories and plants were closed; millions of Egyptians joined the already huge army of the unemployed. Over the past two and a half years, foreign exchange reserves have fallen from 36 billion to 13 billion US dollars. This barely buys abroad essential commodities. 15 % of Egypt's revenues were provided by tourism, but since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the number of tourists has dropped by 33 %.

An additional burden on the economy of the country creates growth of the population — about 3 % per year. For comparison: the territory of Egypt is 1 million square kilometers, while the territory of Russia is 17 million square kilometers. If Russia had the same density of population as Egypt does, it would be home to no less than 1 billion 360 million people (about as much as in China today). The population of Russia, however, is 143 million people, which for such a large territory is not enough.

Serious problems are also in the sphere of supplying Egyptian population with food. After nearly three years of political turmoil and economic crisis, it is more and more difficult for Egyptian authorities to maintain the same level of food imports. Normally Egypt annually imports about 10 million tons of wheat. Today's grain reserves in Egypt do not exceed one and a half million tons, representing a month's supply. (By the way, in terms of export of Ukrainian wheat, Egypt is in the first place. In 2012 Egypt bought 1.2 million tons).

The official inflation rate now stands at 8 %, with a budget deficit 13 % of GDP. In 2012 negative balance of foreign trade reached 30.4 billion US dollars. This year, Egypt has purchased goods for 58.7 billion US dollars, and sold — for 28.3 billion US dollars. Its own oil and gas reserves are barely sufficient to ensure needs of the population.

In order to mitigate the economic crisis, M. Mursi was planning to receive from the EU, USA, Russia and the IMF loans totaling 30 billion US dollars. However, his efforts were not successful. In talks with the IMF, the government of Egypt has undertaken to reduce government subsidies and raise taxes on individuals. The list of subsidies for essential goods has been reduced from 25 to 6.  To fulfill the conditions of the loan, by 50 % have increased the price of gas, fuel oil, electricity and basic commodities. All this angered the poor Egyptians, constituting about 50 % of the population.

Some Arab countries of the Persian Gulf have expressed willingness to provide economic aid to Egypt in the amount of 12 billion US dollars. However, it seems that these promises had not been implemented before the dramatic events in Egypt. In our view, no matter who was at the time in place of President M. Mursi, the difficult economic situation would be the same, or nearly the same, as it is the consequence of a complex transition period.

The current economic situation in Egypt is particularly bad against the background of achievements of the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. According to official data, over five years, from 2005 to 2010, had been created 4.3 million jobs, built 169 hospitals and 2.3 thousands of schools, 300,000 housing units, including social ones. Economic growth in 2009–2010 was 5.3 %. For this indicator, Egypt entered the list of the 30 fastest developing countries in the world.

To be continued