Egypt in October 2012: slow progress among political polarisation

REFORM PROCESS

The constitutional process goes on despite institutional uncertainties. The legality of the constitutional committee has been challenged and Egypt is awaiting the pronouncement of the courts. After a series of delayed deadlines, Egypt’s Administrative Court has referred the decision to the Constitutional Court, which leaves additional time (a month or two) for the completion of the constitution. It is now likely that in December the Islamist-dominated Constitution Assembly will submit a draft.

The drafting of the constitution is an increasingly polarizing process accompanied by conflicts concerning the wording of several articles. While the original formulation of “principles of Sharia” withstood the Salafist pressure and remained the same, other parts drew criticism from the liberal camp, especially articles concerning religious freedom, women’s rights and gender roles. It is expected that religion will play a starker role, yet far from what is promoted by radical Islamists.

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly agreed to an article that will permit the current president to continue his term for the full four years after a new constitution is drafted.

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

The constitutional process was accompanied by street protests against the perceived domination of the constitutional process by Islamist parties and against a so called “brotherhoodisation” of the state’s institutions. Islamists and liberals clashed on Tahrir for the first time, the former protesting a court decision and the latter the constitution.

Social unrest continued with a series of strikes in the transportation, education and health sectors. The protests reached the highest level of violence in almost a year during the “video” protest on September 11 at the US embassy in Cairo. Salafists and MB called for a massive demonstration two days later but eventually calmed their supporters down after original protests got out of hand.

In expectation of elections months after the constitutional referendum, liberal and leftist politicians have taken an active stance on the constitution and reorganized the political field. Leftist groups launched the Revolutionary Democratic Coalition; a noted presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy founded his Egyptian Popular Current. Mohamed El-Baradei’s Constitution Party was registered as a political party and will merge into a coalition with another liberal party, the Adl.

JUSTICE

President Morsi issued a pardon to those charged with acts „in support of the revolution”. Currently, more than 1,000 protesters are on trial related to the 2011 uprising. Trials for the former regime’s leaders have sentenced steel magnate Ahmed Ezz and former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to prison. Authorities have launched a civilian investigation of former SCAF members for their alleged role in the killing of protesters during their eighteen months in power. On the other hand, a Cairo criminal court acquitted those accused of organizing the bloody “Camel Battle”.

GOVERNMENT

Testing the limits of presidential power, president Morsi tried to dismiss the state attorney but had to refrain from encroaching upon judicial independence. In a similar move, President Morsi ordered the suspension of the editor-in-chief of the state run Al-Gomhouria newspaper. Tawfiq Okasha, the owner of the populist TV station El-Faraeen, was convicted of defamation and sentenced to four months in prison in a Luxor court.

Foreign Policy: President Morsi held as speech at the UN Assembly in which he condemned the attack on the US consulate in Libya while reserving the right to defend Islam against defamation. Regarding Syria, Egypt has participated in meetings with regional Muslim powers and supported the initiative of Lakhdar Brahimi, yet there is still no indication of progress on Syria at this time.

ECONOMY

The budgetary deficit will rise from eight to eleven percent of GDP due to an increase in government spending and a drop in tax revenue The government has been actively seeking to secure financial backing for Egypt’s budget, just as foreign reserves have dropped by $84 million last month to stand at $15 billion. The government has secured a $235 million loan from the Saudi Arabia-based International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation, and a $450 million loan from the United States. The US House renewed almost $130 million a month in military and economic aid to Egypt for 6 months. Egypt seeks more assistance from Algeria and Qatar.

Prime Minister Qandil said that Egypt is aiming to cut its energy subsidies by up to a third, $6.5 billion of $17.2 billion, over the coming year as part of an ambitious plan to reform the economy and to finalize the still ongoing negotiations with the IMF by the end of October.

The Egyptian stock market’s main index EGX30 was up one percent in October. The Egyptian stock has fallen due to the revolution but recovered 50% of its value in 2012. Foreign direct investment in Egypt has also made a partial recovery, with inflows of $2.5 billion in the first half of 2012. Egypt will import Algerian gas in order to meet its own export contracts as domestic demand rises.

Author: Zora Hesová

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