(MENAFN - Arab News) I ALMOST feel sorry for President Muhammad Mursi who's struggling to bring order to a country that's on the verge of chaos and bankruptcy. I say "almost" because some of his decisions and lack of experience triggered the current social and economic downward spiral.
Six months ago, the picture looked fairly rosy. He was beginning to look statesmanlike and even his opponents were willing to give the new man a chance. Then he went and spoiled it all by grabbing military and judicial powers prior to pushing through a controversial constitution and clamping down on the media, thus tearing-up democracy's rulebook. The result has been a nation splintered and enmeshed in violence and an economy that's traveling south at the rate of knots.
US Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visit to Cairo was marred by the refusal of opposition heads to meet with him while his exit from Egypt was held up by two hours when members of the Ultras Ahlawy - politicized football fans - blocked the airport road with burning tires. Elsewhere, demonstrators burnt US flags or raised unflattering caricatures of Kerry's face. Many feel that Obama's support for the Muslim Brotherhood was misguided. Kerry's parting advice to Egyptians sounds nave and unrealistic given the prevailing state of play. "Hard work and compromises" were needed to restore "stability and the Egyptian economy," he said. He calls upon the country to unite, easier said than done when Egyptians hold diametrically-opposed world views.
Two years ago, almost all Egyptians were in the same anti-Mubarak camp. When the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate won the presidential race by a whisker the country was virtually split between enthusiastic Islamists and moderates/secularists/Copts that feared their fledgling democracy was under attack. That was the president's opportunity to make good on his pledge to be a president for all Egyptians. He didn't take it. Instead, he inserted Muslim Brotherhood members into high government office, Parliament's Upper House and state-controlled media.
Mursi blames the feisty National Salvation Front - an opposition umbrella organization led by Mohammed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi - for inciting the violent civil unrest which is bringing the country to its knees and threatening a coveted 4.8 billion IMF loan that would open the door to others. Privately owned television stations and newspapers are also at fault, he says, for stirring up anti-government emotions via nightly talk shows, whose hosts ensure Egypt's dirty laundry is out there for all to see and go out of their way to turn the president and his colleagues into figures of ridicule.
Anti-government dissent is no longer a monolith as it was when Mubarak was in charge. Workers in state industries are striking for better wages even as the army of the unemployed swells. Disaffected youth who feel their revolution has been hijacked are joining clandestine militias like Black Bloc or turning protest into fun by donning Disney costumes or stripping down to the underwear to gyrate to the Harlem Shake outside the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters and elsewhere.
In the meantime, the Brotherhood's core base the nation's poorest are getting poorer due to the plunging value of the Egyptian pound resulting in 15 percent higher food prices. They are further beset by increased charges for water and electricity. An economic plan drawn up to appease IMF demands, now awaiting a green light, will increase income, property and corporate taxes and taxes on cigarettes, shisha tobacco, iron, cement, carbonated soft drinks and mobile phone usage. It's hard to see how the millions living on less than 2 per day will cope. If the government can't get its act together, it may be swept away by a revolution of the hungry.
Strangely, or perhaps not, people are becoming increasingly nostalgic for the 'good old days' of the Mubarak era. Demonstrators are increasingly calling for the return of Mubarak, set to be re-tried beginning April 13th, and holding up placards begging his forgiveness. And in a peculiar twist, on Sunday, a Cairo criminal court lifted a travel ban on Hosni Mubarak, his immediate family and aides and unfroze their assets even as the Prosecutor General imposed travel restrictions on members of Egypt's mega wealthy and respected Sawiris family for alleged non-payment of taxes.
In Mahalla, the site of Egypt's largest spinning and weaving factory and the city that gave birth to the April 6th movement now calls itself "The Independent Republic of Greater Mahalla" as a protest by union leaders and activists. In Port Said, where bloody clashes between protesters and the police have been ongoing for weeks, crowds have been chanting for a military takeover to oust the government and hold new elections.
So far, the army has sought to remain apolitical sticking to its role of protecting borders but last weekend soldiers faced off against riot police in defense of citizens. Mursi's re-designation of Port Said as a "Free Zone" has done nothing to placate public fury. On Sunday, Mansoura was aflame over "the brutality" of Central Security Forces (CSF) said to have crushed a man to death under one of its vehicles and broke-in to offices of Hamdeen Sabahi's Popular Current and Social Popular Alliance Party to make arrests.
When the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi was forcibly retired and replaced by Field Marshal Abd El-Fattah El-Sisi, President Mursi would be forgiven for believing he had the military under his thumb. But El-Sisi is no puppet and, although a devout Muslim, is unaffiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has warned that the military's responsibility is to defend the country and its citizens - and he has vowed not to stand idly by watching his nation self-destruct.
A government of National Unity, made up of veteran politicians and technocrats from all sides of the political and religious spectrum, would save the day. It's the obvious solution for a country bitterly divided and hurtling toward bankruptcy. It would quell anxiety and restore much-needed investor confidence. It's the logical way forward but will Mursi acknowledge his limitations eliciting wrath from the Brothers and take it?