Egyptian politics Grim tidings

The president calls early elections and the opposition responds with a boycott

An anti-Mursi protester chants anti-Mursi slogans during a protest in front of the gate of El-Quba in Cairo
EGYPTIANS have reason to fear the domestic news these days. If it is not about events such as a freak ballooning accident that killed 18 tourists, or the death of nine villagers who fell, one after another, into an open manhole, or a plague of locusts sweeping in from the Red Sea,or the rental of the antiquities to Qatar it will surely be about something at least as grim: Egyptian politics. Two years after an uprising toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s public affairs remain as miserably unsettled and accident-prone as ever.

It might seem a good thing, for instance, that the president, Muhammad Morsi, should recently have set a date, April 22nd, for fresh parliamentary elections. Egypt has had no lower legislative house since June, when courts dissolved the last one after declaring the election rules which produced it to be unfair. The weak upper house, elected last year with a voter turnout of barely 10%, functions as a temporary lawmaking body. Its 85% dominance by Islamists, led by Mr Morsi’s own group, the Muslim Brotherhood, renders its deliberations suspect in the eyes of many.
An Egyptian bangs a pot as he protests against the high prices of goods in Tahrir square in Cairo
The main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, a loose coalition of non-Islamist groups, immediately declared that it would boycott the April poll. Encouraged by mounting public criticism of Mr Morsi and his party, accompanied by strikes and street protests, they have made a series of demands that the president has so far ignored, or parried with feeble promises.

Perhaps Mr Morsi, who captured the presidency last June with a slim margin of only 2%, should take his opponents more seriously. A recent opinion poll by Baseera, an independent agency sympathetic to the Brotherhood, suggests his approval rating has plunged from a high of 79% in October to just 39% last month.
pharoah for rent 3
Many ordinary Egyptians are weary of revolutionary unrest and do not share the secularists’ gut fear of the Brotherhood. Still, they increasingly resent both Mr Morsi’s bullying style and his government’s fixation on parochial matters. In recent weeks it has pushed laws banning alcohol sales in some districts and placing heavy state controls on non-governmental organisations, all at the expense of achieving tangible improvements in snarled traffic, rising crime, police brutality, petty corruption or the appalling systems of public health and education and the Islamization of the institutions.
The Brotherhood have appointed more than 13 thousand of their people in the top spots of Government ministeries and intstitutions

Yet the same poll offers little comfort to Mr Morsi’s opponents. More than 20% of respondents had not even heard of the National Salvation Front mostly those who do not read or write Of those who had, a minority said they did not support it. Its leaders represent a full spectrum of secular views, from far left to right-wing holdovers from Mr Mubarak’s regime.

When some opposition factions suggested recently that perhaps the army, whose management of the country before Mr Morsi took power was erratic and messy, should again take charge, others cried foul.But more are leaning towards the idea. They can agree to differ with Mr Morsi about the controversial constitution, which he rammed through in December. Top of their list of demands is the appointment of a broader cabinet, a change in election laws he decreed last month and the sacking of his public prosecutor. These are fine matters of principle. And they do resonate with the public at large.

The secular front faces other difficulties. Despite its falling popularity, the Muslim Brotherhood maintains formidable discipline and a well-oiled electoral machine. Fellow-Islamists but not allies anymore to its right, such as the Nour Party, a Salafist group, also have extensive grassroots networks that the secularists cannot match. Although the Salafists openly criticise Mr Morsi, too, they have no argument with his Islamising agenda, and would be delighted to run for office without secular challengers.
Morsi Pots and pans
In other words, as has happened so often since Mr Mubarak’s fall, Egypt faces two unenviable options. Should the election go ahead it will probably produce a low turnout, deepen the dangerously stark polarisation between secularists and Islamists, and cast more doubt on the legitimacy of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government. Should Mr Morsi bow to pressure, put off the vote and accommodate non-Islamists’ demands, the country will face yet more uncertainty.

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