Egyptians get on with it as dismay with Brotherhood grows

Fri, Feb 1, 2013, 00:00

A light sprinkle of dusty rain did not dampen the determination of Egyptians to carry on normally by going to work, shopping or attending schools, colleges and mosques ahead of a potentially explosive weekend.

The streets of the capital were choked with cars, lorries, motor bikes and pedestrians dodging between them to cross. Cafes, workshops, groceries, and bakeries opened for business. Vendors sold roasted nuts on street corners. At the outdoor second-hand clothes market in Boulaq, scarfed women went from rack to rack looking for bargains.

A grey-haired middle-aged gentleman gently took my elbow to guide me across two broad Nile-side avenues in front of the Maspero television building, the site of the infamous October 2011 assault by security forces and troops on several hundred mainly Coptic Christians protesting discrimination: 28 died and more than 200 were injured. People entering the broad belly of the curved building slipped into the barbed wire enclosure and went about their business.

Life goes on despite what seems to be a never-ending rebellion. On Wednesday morning two men were shot and killed on the approaches to Tahrir Square, 500m from Mespero. Yet yesterday traffic flowed normally over the bridges across the Nile.

My Coptic driver Samir said, “Unrest is in pockets, not everywhere.” But customers are few. “Tourists are not coming to Egypt. Egyptians don’t have money.” A security guard at a bank breakfasted off a large fil-a-fil, cut into thin slices laid between two flat rounds of bread. A fil-a-fil costs one Egyptian pound (about 12 cent). Some families have to make do with bread soaked in tea. No one knows what will happen when the government puts up the price of fuel and electricity.

And no one knows what will happen after today’s midday communal prayers across this vast city of 18-20 million. Ahram Online political columnist Dina Samak said, “There will be marches on the presidential palace in Heliopolis.” No one how many people will take part or how the authorities will react.

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Over tea in the lobby of an upmarket hotel, analyst Youssef Zaki said: “The people want justice, dignity and freedom; they are not ready to bargain over these demands, they are ready to die for them.”

But these demands cannot be delivered by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, which is too “naive, inexperienced and stubborn” to succeed.

Consequently, he predicted that Egypt would suffer unrest and economic decline “for some time, several years, even a generation.”

“The west,” he said, “is watching with its interests in mind. Western leaders believe the Muslim Brotherhood can deliver stability here, in Tunisia, elsewhere. But more and more people are resisting the Brotherhood. With whom will the West deal if not the Brotherhood? Another general? But the grip of the military is fading.

“We are moving from transition to transition to transition.” He pointed out that after the French Revolution, France was not stabilised until the Third Republic.

Meanwhile, the situation in the three cities along the strategic Suez Canal – Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya – remains highly volatile following last week’s clashes with security forces that left more than three dozen dead and scores injured.

People ignore the curfew, which has been reduced from nine to four hours. Brotherhood members are fleeing because they fear attack.

Only politicians seem to believe that efforts to promote dialogue will succeed.

The latest was staged by Ahmed al-Tayeb, rector of Al-Azhar, the premier Sunni insti- tution of learning, who hosted a gathering of a dozen figures from the Brotherhood and secular parties, independents and Christians with the aim of calming tensions and promoting reconciliation. A 10-point plan to halt the bloodshed was approved.A similar plan put forward last year failed.