The Egyptian government recently assembled a new cabinet in order to deliver on the promises of the “Renaissance Project” (mashru’ al-nahda). It comes not a moment too soon, as the national, regional and international scenes are growing increasingly impatient with the government’s inability to deliver. Yet, it does not seem particularly likely this new cabinet is going to satisfy anyone.
On the national level, President Mohamed Morsi’s government has a problem from within the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as outside of it within the Islamist camp, and beyond. Within the Brotherhood, many are annoyed that the government is not composed of primarily members of the Muslim Brotherhood; they won the presidential elections and a plurality in the last parliamentary ones, after all. As such, they ought to compose the cabinet exclusively. Beyond the Brotherhood, even former supporters of the government, such as the Salafi Al-Nour Party, are becoming increasingly critical, as the government fails to deliver on expectations. The reaction of the opposition parties in the umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, was predictable: rejection of the reshuffle as a flawed and insufficient step to put Egypt on the right track.
But there is more to the Egyptian story than simply internal political conflict; there are regional considerations to keep in mind. Regionally, Egypt’s government has lost allies, and gained unfriendly cousins, if not enemies. Prime in this category is the government of the United Arab Emirates, which has shown clearly its displeasure with the present government, while at the same time, being clear in its friendliness to certain parts of the Egyptian public arena. When the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, visited UAE recently, it could not have been a coincidence that a group of Egyptians imprisoned in Emirati jails were released at the same time. The message seems to be clear: if a sufficiently senior representative is willing to engage directly with the Emirati government, there will be positive results. Indeed, it is likely that if President Morsi himself were to take up the Emirati invitation to visit Abu Dhabi, many other detainees would also be released – and perhaps other dividends of a more friendly relationship as well. With an economy that is suffering so deeply, Egypt needs all the friends it can get.
Yet, it is likely that the international scene will be the most aggravating for Morsi’s government. He has sent diplomats, and gone himself, to try and gather funds and investments from different countries around the world. He has come back relatively empty handed, and part of the reason for that is the attitude in general from the European Union and the United States. The feeling among many in different European capitals is that because Egypt is “too big to fail”; the Muslim Brotherhood is banking on the idea that their organisation, as the ruling organisation of the country, is “too big to fail”. In discussions with different European officials, it is clear that the impression being given by the Brotherhood is that if they do not succeed, Egypt will fail as a result. Thus, the Europeans ought to support the government financially and economically. One European diplomat put it quite bluntly: “This is blackmail.”
Will that work? Is the Muslim Brotherhood’s assessment correct? Not entirely. The reality is that, indeed, Egypt is too big to fail for Western powers; the repercussions would be substantial for the regional economy and security paradigms, with consequences stretching far beyond Egypt. But does that mean that the Brotherhood itself is too big to fail? For European governments, this is not a foregone conclusion at all; they are already becoming impatient, as is apparent, with the government’s inability to set the country onto a more sustainable path, economically and politically. The American government and different European administrations have expended a great deal of energy in trying to assist Egypt break the political deadlock and assist in the construction of a more durable economy, before it is too late to escape an economic meltdown. They have not been entirely impressed with the results thus far, and as the major political partner in the Egyptian political scene, the Brotherhood is considered to hold the most responsibility in that regard.
The million dollar question being asked on national, regional and international arenas, however, is the same: If not the Muslim Brotherhood and this government, who else? It is a question no one seems to want to answer with full transparency and honesty, because the likely scenarios are hardly optimistic. It directs any revolutionary fervour to build a new, progressive and prosperous Egypt to a determined resistance movement that is holding out for the long haul. President Morsi has the ability and the option to turn things around, and avoid further deterioration, or at least benefit from a wide array of expertise and technical know-how, if he wants to. In the absence of his taking that option, which would be met with severe resistance from within his own camp, Egypt seems set to get a lot worse before it gets better, and the path ahead seems increasingly likely to involve a non-civilian intrusion into the country’s political affairs.