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There is a painful sense of déjà vu about the events in Egypt today. People are going through more of the same with deadly consequences.
As the country goes through a crippling political crisis, with almost daily demonstrations and clashes, a court verdict yesterday, sentencing 21 people to death on charges related to violent clashes between rival football fans last year, sparked riots in the city of Port Said. At least 30 people were killed and more than 250 injured, with the city resembling a war zone. The death sentences relate to clashes in Port Said on 1 February 2012 after Cairo’s Al Ahly beat the local team, in which 74 people were killed.
The riots over the court verdict are not directly linked to the political crisis, but they are the outcome of the chaos and instability gripping the country. In the past few days, the country has been witnessing a spasm of violence against Mursi which shows no signs of abating.
The chaos and violence prove one thing: Egyptians are still deeply divided about their future. The difference is over the governance system. While the ruling Brotherhood is leaning towards a theocratic state, though not in its full contours, the secularists and liberals, who are currently spearheading the protests, are severely opposed to it. And a middle path has been conspicuous by its absence. The liberal opposition parties are claiming that there is no military dictatorship anymore, ‘but there are the beginnings of a theocratic one’.
The success of Mursi’s government would depend on his ability to alleviate the concerns of the opposition and get them off the streets by arriving at a consensus. For that to happen, the government will have to make significant concessions and go slow on its plans to install Islamic law. Stability and peace are more important for the country now than anything else. The economy is in tatters and soon will collapse unless immediate measures are taken. The country’s infrastructure is creaking, with more than 70 people killed in train accidents since December. The forex reserves are dangerously low and are depleting fast despite some baby steps to replenish them.
Despite the virulence of protests, Mursi seems to be popular among the people. According to a recent poll, his approval ratings rose to 63 percent in January, which is an enviable number for a leader. Reports say even some protesters are ambivalent about blaming the president himself for the problems besetting the country.
Egyptians and their rulers must realise that freedom will remain an empty shell if deprivation and chaos prevail, which is exactly what is happening in the country. As more blood is spilled, positions are hardening, and a consensus becomes elusive.•