Bloody Week in Egypt Paints a Bleaker Future

Golden child of the Arab Spring headed toward irreparable political turmoil, according to poll, experts.


Four out of five Egyptians believe the country is worse off now than it was under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, according to a new Gallup poll.

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The political and social landscape in Egypt is grim, and not simply because of the hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries this past week.

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New polling and insights from experts point to a bleak future for the country that two years ago threw off the shackles of an authoritarian regime and successfully conducted its first democratic elections in more than a generation. The results of the 2012 election crumbled last month when the military removed President Mohamed Morsi from office, and descended into further hostility following violent police crackdowns on pro-Morsi supporters this week.

What was once considered the country with the brightest future from the Arab Spring movement has withered into a crisis that, at best, will take Egyptians years to resolve.

Four out of five Egyptians believe the country is worse off now than it was under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, according to a new Gallup poll. The survey was conducted in June, more than two years after Mubarak's authoritarian regime was overthrown by widespread political protests throughout the Middle East, but before Morsi's ouster in July and this week's violence.

Half of the country believes it will remain worse off in the next five years, according to the poll.

Almost three-quarters of the nation also believe that job opportunities in the private sector have declined. More than two-thirds say government jobs are also harder to get.

Forty-two percent of the country believes it will take Egypt more than five years to resolve its political and economic issues. More than 10 percent believe they will never be resolved.

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The only glimmer of hope came in the public view of domestic media. Fifty-seven percent believe that media freedoms have increased in the last two years, with a third saying they have declined.

"I'm not seeing a particularly happy ending here," says John Carey, a professor of government at Dartmouth College and an expert on Egyptian politics. "I'm pretty demoralized about the whole situation."

Morsi's political party, the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, now has no reason to have confidence or trust in the democratic process in Egypt, Carey says. That party had been banned under Mubarak, but the military establishment that controlled much of the government allowed many of its members to run as independent candidates. As many as a quarter of the parliament was made up of this party in 2005.

The activist political party has a history of violence in Egypt dating back to colonialism under Britain, but renounced militancy during a reformation in the 1970s and 1980s. The Council on Foreign Relations said in July that Egypt's failed experiment combining modern governance with political Islam will likely inspire "renewed violence by Islamists who feel shortchanged by democracy and secularism."

Egypt expressed enough confidence in the Muslim Brotherhood to elect Morsi in 2012. He won roughly a quarter of the overall votes in the first round of elections, and more than 51 percent to clinch the presidency in the second round.

Even under adverse circumstances, the Brotherhood knew it had a real core of support, says Carey. That confidence is likely dashed now.

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"The question is whether we can have an influence on the military," Carey says. "That seems to be a window that's closing really fast."

Further complicating the situation is the common belief among all sides in Egypt that the U.S. is at the root of the problem. America and other Western support will have difficulty involving itself in the situation, as well as extracting itself from support such as the more than $1.5 billion in military aid the U.S. supplies to Egypt.

"You don't have to look far to imagine the worst case," Carey says, pointing to nearby Syria which has roiled in violent conflict for more than two years. It is more likely that Egypt will settle on some sort of pre-Morsi status quo in which some political factions bear the brunt of serious oppression.