The Egyptian army has overthrown president Mohamed Morsi, accusing him of having failed to negotiate with the opposition parties a solution after several weeks of crisis. The military have appointed the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, as a provisional head of state to call presidential elections.
During the past days, even some members of the Morsi cabinet had voiced their position against Morsi’s self-defence and lack of dialogue once the army issued a deadline of 48 hours to initiate conversations.
Now security forces have carried out arrests among Morsi’s supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Also, the army has been deployed in a short number of cities around the country
The protests of the last days have shown that there is in Egypt a strong secular movement resolutely opposed to what they believed it was an attempt to force religious ideas on to the country. During the fall of president Hosni Mubarak, this sector of the society had’nt had a visible role. Yet, the methods deployed to achieve a change of regime this week poses some questions about the democratic nature of the process.
Beneath the political conflict, Egypt has been shaken by a profound discontent, common to all forces from institutions to the judiciary to small companies and the youth: the nation has lost its leadership among its neighbours because of a combination of political, social and economic crises.
The country’s two fundamental sectors, hydrocarbons–some fields are now depleted–and tourism–whose profits have dramatically dropped as a consequence of the turmoil–, have pushed Egyptians to the brink of a democratic revolt or a military coup.
On top of all this, a new threat came in May: the diversion of part of the upper Nile, in order to continue the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, will cause Egypt the loss of a substantial part of river water inputs, on which the Egyptian civilization has depended for at least five thousand years. Ethiopia generates 85 percent of the Nile water intake.
Although Addis Ababa officials say the construction of the dam will benefit downstream countries (Sudan and Egypt), nobody believes that the Ethiopians will just produce hydroelectric power without using the waters to prop up their own agriculture.
In little more than fifty years, Egypt has gone from being the country with almost absolute power to regulate the use of the Nile, to be forced to negotiate with all countries upstream. In fact, a treaty in 1959 between Britain, Sudan and Egypt gave the latter the right to ensure the sharing of river flows, which was set at 55,500 million of cubic metres for Egypt, and 18,500 million for Sudan of a total flow of 85,000 million of cubic metres.
Today, with other African countries raising claims, Egypt would need a military power far beyond its financial and technical capabilities for the defence of its historic rights. Instead, Egypt has seen itself dragged into political struggles and the loss of civil peace necessary to address the economic and security challenges that plague the country.
Financial insecurity is also growing. Political instability is the main cause of the rapid decline of the Egyptian currency reserves. Before the revolution that toppled Mubarak, the reserves had reached $36 billion. Currently, they are running at less than $13 billion. In recent months, Egypt has received loans of $3 billion from Qatar and $500 million from Saudi Arabia.
That instability is at the origin of the failure of government and the International Monetary Fund to reach an agreement on a loan of $4.8 billion. This loan is subject, like all IMF’s, to a reform programme that the government could hardly tackle if it wants to avoid a social explosion, because among the conditions there is the requirement to reduce commodity subsidies, liberalising parts of industry and commerce, and cuts in government expenditure.
Egypt must find the way to democracy among all these obstacles. It will not be easy.