Nothing is working for Egypt’s military junta. They have dug themselves into a deep hole and can’t get out. Minister of Interior Muhammad Ibrahim is frustrated by his inability to quell the unrelenting torrent of protests across the country. Threats of lethal force have failed to deter tens of thousands from taking to the streets on the eve of the ‘trial’ of ousted president Mohammad Morsi. Now that the controversial court has begun its proceedings, the protests can only become bigger and more intense.
The dreadful conduct of the regime has not gone un-noticed abroad. Internationally acclaimed columnists from the New York Times and Washington Post in the US, to The Guardian and Financial Times in the UK, churn out an almost daily commentary on the strangulation of Egypt’s budding democracy.
Soon after toppling the elected civilian president, minister of defence Gen. Abdul Fattah Al Sisi announced a road map to return the country to democracy. This catchphrase was obviously selected to create a veneer of authority and sense of direction. Like all the other road maps promoted in the region, this is also seen as a charade designed to cover up an agenda based on deception.
Three months after the coup, Egypt’s military rulers are still struggling to win outside support for their action. In recent weeks they have embarked on a public relations blitz with a steady procession of delegations to western capitals. These missions are failing spectacularly. In London, an attempt by a Tamarod founder, Mohamed El Nabawy, to convene a seminar at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) descended into a farce and had to be abandoned.
Undeterred by the fiasco, the junta has decided to focus on safer channels. New reports have emerged of contacts between Egypt’s foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London to coordinate a visit by a diplomatic delegation that includes members of the Egyptian Popular Current, which is led by the failed presidential candidate Hamdin Sabahi. Outside of Whitehall, this initiative is not expected to have any impact on public opinion, not least after the state run newspaper, Al-Ahram, confirmed that the Popular Current will form a coalition with the controversial Rebel (Tamarod) group in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Several factors underscore why the junta’s public relations drive is stalling. The first is its dependence on Israel; a country which despite its claims of being the region’s only democracy has a well-documented record of human rights violation and institutionalised racism. Today, Israeli leaders act as the primary advocates for the continuation of American aid to the Egyptian military.
Across the board, there is widespread mistrust of the junta’s ability to manage, let alone revive the Egyptian economy. With more than forty per cent of the population now living below the poverty line; inflation spiralling; investors fleeing and factories closing; the country’s economy is on a life-support system. Few investors and donors are willing to put their capital here. It is simply too risky and doesn’t make good business sense.
Saddled with its commitments to revive the ailing economies of Greece, Spain and Portugal, the EU is in no position to rescue Egypt from economic collapse. The Arab Gulf, which backed the coup, have themselves come to the realisation that they cannot continue to bail out a country as large as Egypt. Indeed, not all the members of the GCC have healthy economies. Bahrain and Oman, for example, are struggling; a fact which makes them more naturally entitled to assistance from the richer UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Another reason why the junta is failing to win sympathy and support lies in the fact that westerners are acutely aware of the real causes of Egypt’s discord. There is, indeed, universal recognition that what is at stake is the subversion of an elected government and its replacement by a military junta fronted by civilian foot-soldiers. None of the ambiguous phrases such as ‘war on terror’ and ‘road map’ have concealed this fact.
Finally, western observers of the Egyptian scene know that this is not a political conflict with the Brotherhood per se, but rather a counter-revolution led by an army that is determined to protect its vast vested interests. The Financial Times noted; “Hardly a day now passes without some indication of how the new Egyptian regime seeks to erect a military-police state, crushing those who dare oppose it.” It added, “But General al-Sisi would be making a big mistake if he thinks his current popularity provides a sustainable basis for authoritarian rule.”
In the US, the New York Times viewed the rehabilitation of Gen. Mohamed Farid El Tohamy as one of the clearest signs of the counter-revolution now underway in Egypt. Not only is he seen as the quintessential Mubarak man, but also a guardian of the system of corruption and impunity that characterised that era.
As the political crisis within Egypt deepens with the show trial of the democratically elected president, the junta will, in desperation, become even more repressive. Clearly the purpose of the ‘trial’ is geared to gain through a court what the coup makers crave most and what they have failed to not achieve by force – legitimacy. Under its military junta, Egypt’s international isolation is set to continue until the will of its people is respected and upheld.