Egypt’s vote won’t calm turbulent streets


CAIRO: Egypt’s streets are turning into a daily forum for airing a range of social discontents from labor conditions to fuel shortages and the casualties of myriad clashes over the past two years.

Parliamentary elections called over the weekend by the Islamist president hold out little hope for plucking the country out of the turmoil. If anything, the race is likely to fuel more unrest and push Egypt closer to economic collapse.

“The street has a life of its own and it has little to do with elections. It is about people wanting to make a living or make ends meet,” said Emad Gad, a prominent analyst and a former lawmaker.

Islamist President Mohammed Morsi called for parliamentary elections to start in late April and be held over four stages ending in June. He was obliged under the constitution to set the date for the vote by Saturday.

“I see that the climate is very agreeable for an election,” Morsi said in a television interview aired early on Monday. He also invited all political forces to a dialogue on Monday to ensure the vote’s “transparency and integrity.”

Morsi’s decree calling for the election brought a sharp reaction from Egypt’s key opposition leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who said they would be a “recipe for disaster” given the polarization of the country and eroding state authority.

On Saturday, ElBaradei dropped a bombshell when he called for a boycott of the vote. An effective boycott by the opposition or widespread fraud would call the election’s legitimacy into question.

But in all likelihood, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its ultraconservative Salafi allies will fare well in the vote. The Brotherhood has dominated every election in the two years since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The mostly secular and liberal opposition will likely trail as they did in the last election for parliament’s lawmaking, lower house in late 2011 and early 2012 — a pattern consistent with every nationwide election post-Mubarak.

President Morsi’s Brotherhood-dominated administration has been unable to curb the street protests, strikes and crime that have defined Egypt in the two years since the uprising.

In fact, the unrest has only grown more intense, more effective and has spread around the country in the nearly eight months that Morsi has been in office.

On any given day, a diverse variety of protesters across much of the troubled nation press demands of all sorts or voice opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood.

Sunday was a case in point.

Thousands of brick workers blocked railroad tracks from a city south of Cairo for a second successive day to protest rising prices of industrial fuel oil, crippling transportation around the country of 85 million.

The rise resulted from the government’s decision last week to lift subsidies on some fuel prices. It is part of a reform program aimed at securing a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile there are ample signs that Egypt’s economy is deteriorating steadily.

Foreign reserves have dropped by nearly two thirds since Mubarak’s departure, the key tourism sector is in a deep slump and the local currency has fallen nearly 10 percent against the dollar in the last two months.

Khaled el-Hawari, a marketing executive in one of the brick factories, said industrial fuel oil prices increased by 50 percent, threatening the business and the livelihoods of hundreds of workers who could be laid off.

“No one is listening to us or responding,” he said. “We plan to protest outside the Cabinet next.”

In the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh, hundreds of quarry workers stormed the local government building, forcing staff to flee. The workers are demanding permanent employment in the factory. They chanted against the recently appointed local governor, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the coastal city of Port Said, a general strike entered its second week on Sunday. The city has practically come to a halt as thousands of workers from the main industrial area joined the strike.