Current Situation in Egypt

What is the current situation happening in Egypt?

 

Human Rights 

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power after the July 2013 coup that led to the removal of President Mohammad Morsi. His authoritarian manner of rule has not helped the country's already abysmal human rights record. Public criticism of the country is banned, and according to Human Rights Watch, "Members of the security forces, particularly the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, continued to routinely torture detainees and forcibly disappeared hundreds of people with little or no accountability for violations of the law."

Political opposition is practically nonexistent, and civil society activists can face prosecution--possibly imprisonment. The National Council for Human Rights reports that inmates in Cairo's infamous Scorpion Prison suffer abuses "at the hands of Interior Ministry officers, including beatings, forced feedings, deprivation of contact with relatives and lawyers, and interference in medical care."

Leaders of nongovernmental organizations are being arrested and detained; their assets are being frozen, and they are banned from traveling outside of the country--presumably so that they don't receive foreign funding to pursue "acts harmful to national interests."

There is, effectively, no check on the harsh government of Sisi.

Economic Woes

Freedom House cites "corruption, mismanagement, political unrest and terrorism" as reasons for Egypt's severe economic issues. Inflation, food shortages, soaring prices, cuts to energy subsidies have all harmed the general population. According to Al-Monitor, Egypt's economy is "trapped" in a "vicious cycle of IMF debts." 

Cairo received a loan of some $1.25 billion (among other loans) from the International Monetary Fund in 2016 to support Egypt's economic reform program, but Egypt has not been able to pay all of its external debts. 

With foreign investment in some sectors of the economy prohibited, regulatory inefficiency, Sisi and his cash-poor government are trying to prove they can save a sputtering economy with mega projects. But, according to Newsweek, "while investing in infrastructure can create jobs and jump-start economic growth, many in Egypt question whether the country can afford Sisi's projects when so many Egyptians are living in poverty."

Whether Egypt can hold back discontent over soaring prices and economic woes remains to be seen.

Unrest

Egypt has been in a state of unease since Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled during the Arab Spring uprising in 2011. Militant Islamic groups, including the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, operate in the Sinai Peninsula, as do anti-establishment and revolutionary groups such as the Popular Resistance Movement and Harakat Sawaid Masr. Aon Risk Solutions reports that the "overall terrorism and political violence level for Egypt is very high." Also, political discontent within the government is likely to grow, "increasing the risk of sporadic, and potentially more sustained, protest activity," reports Aon Risk Solutions.

Brookings reports that the Islamic State rose within the Sinai Peninsula due to the "failure of securitized counterterrorism as a strategy. The political violence that has transformed Sinai into a conflict zone is rooted more in local grievances festering for decades than in ideological motivations. Had such grievances been meaningfully addressed by past Egyptian regimes, as well as their Western allies, the violence debilitating the peninsula arguably could have been prevented."

Who Is in Power in Egypt?

Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Executive and legislative power is divided between the military and an interim administration hand-picked by the generals after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi's government in July 2013. In addition, various pressure groups connected to the old Mubarak regime continue to wield considerable influence from the background, trying to preserve their political and business interests.

A new constitution is to be drafted by the end of 2013, followed by fresh elections, but the timetable is highly uncertain. With no consensus on the exact relationship between key state institutions, Egypt is looking at a long struggle for power involving the military and civilian politicians.

Egyptian Opposition

Protesters outside Egypt's Constitutional Court
Egyptians protest the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court to disolve parliament, June 14 2012. Getty Images

Despite successive authoritarian governments, Egypt boasts a long tradition of party politics, with left-wing, liberal, and Islamist groups challenging the power of Egypt’s establishment. Mubarak’s fall in early 2011 unleashed a new flurry of political activity, and hundreds of new political parties and civil society groups emerged, representing a wide range of ideological currents.

Secular political parties and ultra-conservative Salafi groups are trying to block the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood, while various pro-democracy activist groups keep pressing for radical change promised in the early days of the anti-Mubarak uprising.