Egypt: A Failing State
Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power is not a “massive blow” to political Islam, much less the proof of its failure. It is the result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to monopolize all power, coupled with the MB government’s gross economic and social mismanagement. The Army intervened because the stability of the state was threatened, and Egypt’s generals have a vested interest in maintaining order which guarantees their enormous economic privileges. Their quarrel with Morsi is not ideological. The support for Abdel Fatah Al-Sissi’s coup from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is a sign that those regimes do not expect the new government to re-impose the secular-nationalist agenda that had characterized the Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak decades. Their Salafist protégés in Egypt, Younis Makhyoun and his al-Nour Party, supported Morsi’s removal and are now poised to play a key role by capitalizing on the Brotherhood’s declining popularity. Al-Nour has already shown its strength by preventing Mohamed El-Baradei’s appointment as prime minister. The party has distanced itself from the generals in recent days, and its leaders say that they will insist on keeping the Islamic law as the basis of Egypt’s constitution.
Equally fallacious is some Western liberals’ lament that Morsi’s overthrow has been “disastrous” for the prospects of democracy in the Muslim world. Those prospects had always been nil. The notion that Egypt has “mutated from poster boy for free elections to a ballot-failed nation” is ridiculous: Morsi’s victory in the presidential election in June of last year was marked by serious irregularities which have never been properly investigated, and he has wantonly abused power during his year in office. All opposition was crudely demonized, and the Mubarak-era oppressive apparatus retooled to serve the Brotherhood. Last November he issued a decree granting him dictatorial authority, including immunity to any judicial oversight. In December he staged a bogus referendum that rubber-stamped a new, Sharia-based constitution which was drafted solely by the MB-dominated Shura Council with Salafist support. The rhetoric of “democracy” was used by Morsi strictly in line with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dictum that “democracy is a train: you can get off when you reach your destination.” Morsi’s desired destination was always crystal clear: ikhwanat al-daula, Ikhwanisation of the state.
Egypt’s problems are staggering, possibly insoluble. It has few natural resources. Its situation is considered “critical” by the Foreign Policy’s Failed_States_Index, on par with Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Burkina Fasso. The country of 85 million under-educated people has to import one-half of its food. A quarter of the population is unemployed; among the young—the majority—that figure is estimated to be over 50 percent. Two-fifths of its people survive on two dollars a day; a quarter on one. The tourist industry, the only reliable source of foreign exchange under Mubarak, has collapsed. In 2011 Egypt’s GDP grew by the measly 1.8 percent—exactly equal to its population growth. In June 1979 the population of Egypt was forty-one million, and it has more than doubled since. The share of investments in GDP declined from 21 percent in 2011 to 13 percent last year. Some three million Egyptian workers in the oil-rich Persian Gulf states provide a key source of revenue, but their status is uncertain. If Egypt is forced to reabsorb some or most of them in the years to come, the perfect storm scenario will be complete.
Occasional injections of foreign liquidity can postpone the disaster, but they resolve nothing. A long-term solution demands fundamental restructuring, primarily in agriculture, which requires political stability. This is possible only with the generals firmly overseeing a government of appointed experts for many years to come. This may be Egypt’s only chance to rebuild investor confidence and avoid mass starvation, civil war, and a fresh deluge of destitute and desperate immigrants hitting Europe.