March 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

EgyptWho lives there?: Around eighty million people, making it by some distance the most populous country in the Middle East. Almost all are ethnically Egyptian, and speak Arabic. Egyptian Arabic is the dialect spoken by around 60% with the rest (in the south) speaking Sa’idi Arabic. Whilst there were once thriving Greek, Italian, and Jewish communities, all three have now almost entirely dissapered.

Most Egyptians identify as Sunni Muslim. There is a denominational split with the north following Hanafi, the south Maliki, and the east Shafi’i Islam but as the non-Hanafi areas are virtually unpopulated, this does not have much effect. Somewhere between 5% and 18% of the population is Christian and most of these are Coptic Orthadox.

Around 3 million Egyptians live abroad (mostly in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates) and they bring in about $3 billion a year in remittances. Around 3 million refugees live in Egypt: mostly Sudanese, but some Palestinians as well.

Almost all people in Egypt live within a couple of miles of the Nile, or in the delta, and these regions are amongst the most densely populated on earth. A few more live along the coasts or along the Suez canal, and apart from that Egypt is almost entirely empty (safe for maybe a million or so nomadic Bedouin, Beja, and Dom) giving these areas some of the lowest population densities on earth.

Egypt population density

How does the system work? (the theory): The system doesn’t work; there was a revolution this last month about that very thing. Currently the legislative is suspended, as is the constitution; the executive is made up of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces acting under temporary powers for a maximum of six months; and only the judiciary remains intact.

Previously of course Egypt was a presidential republic in name, and a dictatorship in practice. There are two different schools of thought as to how to proceed: one is that any elections held under effectively the same system will have the same result – and so radical overhaul of the constitution is needed before elections can happen. The more minimalist school suggests that as this government is transitory it does not have the authority to make sweeping changes, and should instead just introduce some minor amendments and then leave the rest to whoever wins the next elections.

In a previous article I went through what the major issues with the constitution are, but I think its worth doing so again – and flagging up some new ones – before setting out what the military government are suggesting.

Firstly the primacy of the President, and how hard they are to remove. In the hope of preventing another situation where the president is effectively unremovable, reformers want constitutional article 159 (the powers of the VP) and article 82 (the powers the president can delegate) considerably strengthened.

Most reformers also want the president’s powers clipped considerably so that never again can so much power be concentrated in one man. They also want a return of strict term limits so that there cannot be another 30 years of one-man-rule. This involves reforming article 76 (powers), 77 (term limits), and 136 (president’s powers over parliament).

Then there is the question of the running of Presidential elections: the draconian requirements for nomination which make it so difficult for opposition parties and independents to run for election; and the requirements for registering a new political party: under which so many parties (including the Muslim Brotherhood) have been excluded for so many years. This involves changing Article 76 (how to get on the ballot) and changing or even repealing completely Election Law 177 of 2005 (requirements for new political parties). It also involves repealing a subsequent Election Law 1 of 2011, which prevents any new political parties from being registered before 2017 and amending constitutional article 5 which explicitly forbids the Muslim Brotherhood, and all religious political parties, from competing.

Conversely (and arguably in direct contradiction to article 5) article 2 of the constitution defines Egypt as an explicitly Muslim and Sharia based state – a wording which has been used in the past to bar non-Muslims from high office. Many reformers want article 2 amended. That would be a momentous change in theory, although in practice the issue of the secularity of Egypt has tended to depend more on whether the government of the day find it in their interests to accentuate article 2 or article 5.

Then there is the issue of the police’s extraordinary powers of arbitrary arrest, detention, search and wire-tapping. These are legal in two ways: Article 179 of the constitution explicitly makes them legal, something reformers want revoked. They also are legal under the state of emergency: Egypt had been in a state of emergency for all but 18 months of the last 43 years and reformers want Law 162 of 1958 modified so that one cannot be declared again so easily.

Finally, and most contentiously, is the return of the repealed Article 88 of the constitution which gave control of elections to the judiciary. Reformers claim it was the repeal of this article which gave Mubarak the ability to so utterly rig the last elections.

In addition there are some arguably more minor issues: at one stage former Vice President Suleiman offered to amend articles 93 and 189. Article 93 allows the lower house of parliament to boot its own members out, subject to court ruling. Article 189 deals with the way constitutional amendments can be passed. Then at one point he was thought to have announced plans to abolish article 181 (national service) although it is thought this may have been a typo (and he meant 189 or 179).

The military council are currently minded to go down a  minimalist road, which would see them presenting only minor constitutional reforms to the public in a referendum and then holding fresh elections. This isn’t universally popular, but at the moment they seem pretty set on this path. They have so far proposed only eight, fairly controversial, amendments as follows:

The removal of article 179 (anti-terror powers) and the return of article 88 (judicial oversight for elections) should prove popular, as should the amendment of article 77 (the introduction of four year terms with a two term limit). The proposed new constitutional amendment on the State of Emergency seem to make sense too: from now on it will be in the constitution that any state of emergency must be approved by parliament within 30 days and any renewal in the state of emergency must be subject to a referendum.

Then it gets more controversial: the new article 93 gives the constitutional court the right to overturn fraudulent elections. This sounds potentially positive in theory but the lack of resources available to the court may result in them cherry-picking cases politically. Article 76 needed reform badly but the suggested new wording has come in for a lot of criticism: to get on the ballot for president one will now need either 30,000 signatures (quite a big ask), or to be from a parliamentary party (so currently only the NDP, Wafd, el-Ghad, and Taggammu, or the absolutely tiny Social Justice, Democratic Generation, or Democratic Peace parties could run), or the signatures of 30 independent MPs (the idea being that this would have allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to be nominated 2005 – but that was an unusual situation which one would hope was going to be avoided in future any case). The suggested new article 189 gives whoever wins this next election the power to revamp the constitution more drastically – but this is hugely controversial as reformers wanted this to be a duty, not a right. In other words they argue this gives a conservative victor the option of not giving the constitution a  further overhaul – which they feel is unacceptable. Finally and most controversially, the suggested new article 75 is already being termed “article ElBaredi”. One of the strictest articles of its kind anywhere in the world, it says that all presidential candidates must be Egyptian, Egyptian born, of parents who are Egyptian and Egyptian born, and married to a person who is Egyptian, Egyptian born, and of parents who are Egyptian and Egyptian born. ElBaredi is married to an Iranian, and it appears the amendment is largely for the purpose of precluding his presidential bid.

And of course what was left out was even more controversial – not least the fact there was no mention of article 5 – and so it appears the Muslim Brotherhood still cannot run for election.

How does the system work? (the practice): Everything is in flux. A fierce battle for control is being waged: partly on the streets, and partly in the committee rooms. We live in very very interesting times.

How did we get here?: At over 5,000 years old Egypt has a reasonable claim to the fairly meaningless title of world’s oldest country. It all depends on your definitions: Egypt’s claim is hampered by a certain lack of continuity not shared by the slightly younger (c.4,000 years) but more continuous China; whilst Sumeria/Iraq is older still (arguably 28,000 years old, certainly 7,000 years old) but only a tenuous and very dotted line connects ancient Sumeria to modern Iraq. Basically what I’m trying to say is that Egypt is very old.

Ancient Egypt was – of course – independent, but for a few millennia Egypt was ruled by foreign empires: the Greeks, Romans, Caliphs, Ottomans, French, and British. Then in the chaos following the collapse of the Napoleonic empire an Armenian adventurer called Muhammed Ali got lucky and emerged as sultan of a newly independent Egypt – although it did latterly become a puppet state of the British government.

Dissatisfaction with both his dynasty and British (and French) interference led to a rise in nationalist sentiment and so the Sultanate became a Kingdom (in 1924), the Kingdom became a Junta (in 1952), and the Junta became a Republic (in 1954).

The architect of these last moves was Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it was he – more than anybody – who shaped modern Egypt, deserving both all the kudos and all the censure that implies. His rule was cemented when he defeated (strategically if not tactically) Britain, France, and Israel over the Suez crisis and achieved an unparalleled feat in the cold war: getting the USA and the USSR to agree about something (that Anthony Eden was a bloody idiot).

A key factor in Egypt’s development is that Nasser himself was an Arab nationalist – not an Egyptian nationalist – and so Egypt developed as an Arab state, not an Egyptian one. And so at various points Egypt was part of  pan-Arab entities – the UAR (Egypt, Syria, and North Yemen) from 1958 to 1961, and the FAR (Egypt, Syria, and Libya) from 1972 to 1977 – but none of them worked out. I wrote an essay about the effect that had – although one could argue it is now academic as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relative reduction in Egyptian power, and the rising power of the “Oil Monarchies” meant that Egypt had to turn sharply nationalist around 1990.

Of longer-lasting import was that Nasser institutionalized the rule of the NDP (originally a secular Arabist left-wing party, latterly merely a party of power) and paved the way for similarly authoritarian dictators: Sadat and Mubarak.

And then, everything changed.

A lot has been written about the revolution, some of it by me. It all started on January the 25th, Mubarak finally quit on February the 11th, and lets just break tone for a moment and admit it was glorious. It is far from over.

Egypt Jan25

Egypt Jan25

Egypt Jan25

Egypt Protest Jan25

Egypt protest Jan25

egypt protests jan25

Who’s in charge?: Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi as chair of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. It is a sad but perhaps inevitable consequence of  the revolution that temporarily Tantawi has far more theoretical power than Mubarak ever had. As for real power – it is too early to say, but it exists somewhere in the triangle between the overlapping groups of the new military junta (who have access to the instruments of state), the old regime stalwarts (who still have a powerful capacity for violence), and the revolutionary movement (who can still call on mass support).

The Supreme Council consists of the leadership of the armed forces and is a rather shifting group consisting of whoever Tantawi sees fit. At the moment it contains:

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi – Chairman – Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Anan – Deputy Chairman – Armed forces chief of staff (thought to be a shrewd politician, and a potential future political candidate). Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish – Navy commander in chief. Air Marshal Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed – Air Force commander. Lt. Gen. Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen – Commander of air defense. General Hassan al-Rwini – Commander of the Military Central Zone. Staff General Ismail Atman – Director of the Morale Affairs Department. General Mohsen al-Fanagry – Assistant Defense Minister. Staff General Mohammed Abdel Nabi – Commander of the Border Guard. Staff General Mohamed Hegazy – Commander of the Second Field Army. Staff General Sedky Sobhy – the Commander of the Third Field Army. Staff General Hassan Mohammed Ahmed – the Commander of The Northern Zone. Staff General Mohsen El-Shazly – the Commander of The Southern Zone. Staff General Mahmoud Ibrahim Hegazy – the Commander of The Western Zone.

It is possible that they may seek – Bashir like – to make their stay permanent. It is also possible that either Tantawi or Anan might run for the presidency and, given that the military and the interim government are bringing much needed peace to the streets, it is not out of the question that they could win. The military occupy a curious and ambiguous role in Egyptian society: as a conscript force they are quite literally of the people, and tend to be far closer to the people than the regime – especially when compared to, say, Algeria. That said at the higher level the leadership is NDP through-and-through and many of the senior generals have links to the notorious and rapidly crumbling former state security apparatus.

There are those that therefore worry that the revolution will be stolen from them in this way. But as Dr Makeen Makeen said, “if nothing else, this last month has taught the Egyptian people a healthy disrespect for authority, and that will not rapidly or easily be undone.” The military’s best bet is therefore probably to co-opt some of the more conservative members of the revolutionary movement, such as some members of the so-called “wise men” (of whom more later) and hope, through them, to turn radical change into mere moderate change.

This is broadly the rationale behind the constitutional committee the military have set up. The constitutional committee consisted of eight people. Some of them are close to the old regime – others considerably less so. None of then have yet voiced specific political aspirations but potentially any one of them could emerge as a quasi-conservative candidate – if they haven’t blotted their copybook too much but proposing such unpopular constitutional changes. They are:

  • Tariq al-Bishri – chair – a former judge thought to walk the line evenly between the religious and secular worlds.
  • Sobhi Salih – a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, thought to be a rather tokenistic inclusion.
  • Atif al-Banna – Professor of Constitutional law at Cairo University, thought to be reasonably independent
  • Hassanayn Abd-al-Al – Professor of Constitutional law at Cairo University, thought to be reasonably independent
  • Muhammad Bahi Yunus – Professor of Constitutional law at Alexandra University, thought to be reasonably independent
  • Mahi Sami – member of the Constitutional Court, thought to be fairly close to the old regime
  • Hassan al-Badrawi – member of the Constitutional Court, thought to be fairly close to the old regime
  • Hatim Bagato – member of the Constitutional Court, thought to be fairly close to the old regime

The old guard themselves will no doubt run some sort of candidate. The NDP might be hugely unpopular but they are, for all that, the largest political force in Egypt by some distance and they could still come through against a divided field of opposition candidates. For one thing they still have a large “payroll vote” of hired thugs and, until recently, the entire police force. The problem for the NDP is the lack of a viable presidential candidate: Mubarak was a little too successful at eliminating rival power bases. Mubarak’s sun Gamal is universally hated and has quit the NDP; it remains to be seen if he will be back at the head of some other political vehicle. Former Vice President Omar Sulleman‘s chances were probably blown away by Mubarak’s disastrous February 10th speech and his final, pathetic, 24 hours in power. But that doesn’t leave anyone else.

As for the opposition, whilst it was something of an exaggeration to describe this as a leaderless revolution, it is true that its spontaneity and speed did not leave much time for leaders to emerge. It is not clear which leaders will stand the test of time and who will be a viable electoral candidate. But here are some of the names that have been bandied around thus far, and if you have your own views I urge you to join in my experiment into the wisdom of crowds.

A group of moderates emerged who were willing to compromise, to a certain extent, with the regime. They became known as the “wise men” after a petition they circulated calling for a phased transition. They appeared for a time to be the face of the protest but in the end it was not their efforts, but more mass protests, that forced Mubarak to go and so there is a certain feeling that they are slightly out of step with the Egyptian people. However they are not a homogeneous group and range from the fairly conservative (Moussa and Al-Malt) to the fairly radical-liberal (Zewail and Sawiris). None of these have yet made their political ambitions known, but potentially any of them could be candidates, and some people are already talking up Moussa or Sawiris as the next President of Egypt. In full the “wise men” were:

  • Dr. Ahmad Kamal Abul Magd – a highly respected lawyer, Former Minister of Mass Communication (but a long time out of the regime) and the President of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights
  • Dr. Ahmed Zewail – won the 1999 Nobel Prize for chemistry, a well respected academic who until recently was working at the California Institute of Technology. He is seen as a close political ally of Ayman Nour, of whom more in a second
  • Mr. Naguib Sawiris – perhaps the most controversial wise man. He is a multi billionaire, and his claims to being part of the intellectual or civil elite are somewhat tenuous. Moreover he made his money out of mobile phone start-ups in North Korea, Tunisia (under the old regime), and Iraq (both sides of the war). So his money is not squeaky clean.
  • Mr. Ambassador Amr Moussa – leader of the Arab League and seen, until recently, as being quite close to Mubarak. He is a very highly respected international diplomat and a big hitter.
  • Mr. Gawdat Al-Malt – one of the few supposedly popular members of the old regime and the only current NDP member in the group. He was chair of the audit commission and is supposed to have done a good job tacking corruption.
  • Dr. Usama Al-Ghazali Harb – Editor in chief of the Arab world’s most read and oldest political science magazine/journal: Al-Siyassa Al-Dawliya; and also a prominent political scientists with academic chairs at various Egyptian institutions.
  • Dr. Amr Hamzawy – a senior associate with the international think-tank: The Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
  • Mr. Muneer Fakhri Abdul Nur – a “leading businessman” and – until he too lost his seat last year – one of the only Coptic MPs in Parliament.
  • Mr. Mahmoud Saad – I’m sorry to say I still don’t know which Mahmoud Saad is the wise man. There was a popular Egyptian TV host of that name who came under fire from Mubarak’s regime very early in the day for praising the Tunisian people  – I think it is him that is the Wise Man. however there is also the coach of Zamalek SC – one of the best football clubs in all Africa – is called Mahmoud Saad, and unless he is a very busy man this is not the same guy. He too is a fairly prominent figure in Egyptian culture so it is not out of the question that it is this Mahmoud Saad that is the Wise Man. I’m sorry about this. If anyone knows which one it is, please tell me.

Other political parties and institutions also took this moderate line, and gave implicit or explicit support to the wise men. These included the nationalist liberal Wafd (previously the largest opposition party with 6 seats – although wiped out along with all opposition in last year’s “election”), and the liberal socialist Tagammu, or National Progressive Unionist Party.

Then there is Ayman Nour, leader of the fairly new secular centrist Waft splinter group: El-Ghad. He came second to Mubarak in the last (2005) presidential elections, and so can legitimately claim to be the most popular opposition voice – although some would argue this is largely because so many others boycotted or were not allowed to run. Since then he’s spent a lot of time in prison on trumped up charges. He was rather devastatingly described in the Totonto Star as “credibility without charisma” – and that could yet be his political obituary.

Also in this group (if arguably a bit more radical and uncompromising) is Wael Ghonim, a senior Google executive whose star is rising fast thanks to his bravery following a short but incredibly uncomfortable spell in the regime’s custody for his part in the protests, and for this extraordinary heart-on-sleeve interview performance (if the English subtitles don’t appear you might have to press the CC button to turn them on, and you need to see parts 2 and 3 as well):

He hasn’t yet voiced any political ambitions, and may let prove too young and lacking in gravitas to mount a serious bid.

Perhaps the most schizophrenic attitude to the old regime has been displayed by the Muslim Brotherhood. I think there must be some in the brotherhood that miss the good old days: it was all so easy back when legitimate protest was impossible and everyone was scared of the regime – they were the only show in town. In 2005 the even managed to sneak 90 odd MPs into parliament. Now that they are competing in an open market they are having to come up against some uncomfortable realities – not least the fact that whilst they may be the largest, most developed, and best organised opposition movement, Egypt is clearly a far more secular place than they thought and polls suggest only about 25% of the Egyptian population would vote for them under any circumstances; and they are still constitutionally barred from running for the presidency.

The variety of responses emanating from the Brotherhood shows both what a broad umbrella-movement they are and how little coherence they have. At various points they have said they will run in elections, and then they say that they won’t, and then that they will again. At times they have utterly refused to have anything to do with the regime, at other times they have been happy to meet with Suleiman and the like. They appeared to be moving towards a more confrontational position, but they then take a place on the constitutional committee!

At very least their rapid oscillations between extreme opposition and extreme entryism make for a nice segue into talking about the final group of political leaders: the militant opposition.  These people and groups attempt to speak for the people who led the revolution – the voices of Tahrir Square: they want nothing to do with the old regime save that they be utterly stripped of power and be prosecuted for their crimes, and they want a paradigm shift to a totally new, democratic, political system.

By far the most prominent of these is Mohamed ElBaradei. As I said before, a lot of rubbish is talked about ElBaredi. He is not anti-western, he is not an Islamist, he is not a puppet for the Muslim Brotherhood. He is a moderate secular liberal academic democrat with fairly balanced centrist views, and is to all intents and purposes a New Yorker.

However it is this last point which forms the basis for a far more valid criticism of ElBaredi: he is a johnny-come-lately. He espoused virtually no interest in Egyptian domestic politics until fairly recently, and even then he largely fired in his criticism from the safety and comfort of his New York home. For those who have survived decades of detention and torture, seeing ElBaredi swan in very very late in the day and presume to speak for the demonstrators did not impress. ElBaredi has sought to counter this perception by adopting a radical hostile and uncompromising attitude to the forces of the old regime, and a position of humility and willing servanty-ness towards the demonstrators. However an almost total lack of domestic political experience also counts against him and he is by no means universally popular amongst those that took to the streets.

However he may be the best they can do as, besides him, there is a deficit of major personalities. However it is still early days and new leaders may emerge. A potential source for leadership is the “April 6th movement” and  a potential (if possibly slightly too young) candidate is their leader Mohamed Adel. They are a pro-democracy, pro-social justice youth movement based upon the Serbian Otpor. They were founded, as the name suggests, on April 6th (2008 as it happens) when they organised a strike at a textile factory in El-Mahalla El-Kubra. They therefore have impeccable revolutionary credentials and did take a leading role (insofar as anyone did) in organizing and co-ordinating the protests. And then there are various underground democracy movements like Kefaya, who have been trundling along in a very small way since the early 2000s, but are now ballooning in size.

Another potential source for leadership is a brand new organisation which is only just getting off the ground. The Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions emerged towards the latter stages of the protests as an attempt to unionise the workforce (previously only a small number of Oil workers and hospital technicians had been unionised) and throw out the “mini-Mubaraks who run every factory”. It is very early days but they also plan to develop some form of labour based political party to  called something like the “broad left” or “pan-Egypt labour movement”. It remains to be seen with what speed and momentum this is established.

So any one of those 46 men or movements could become one of the major new forces in Egyptian politics. And I haven’t yet mentioned a single woman. The fact that there isn’t yet a single woman in any position of potential political prominence has not gone unnoticed by the thriving and growing Egyptian feminist movement. However they do suffer from some serious structural problems. One is that the Mubarak regime did not create a political space in which women could thrive – instead for much of the last ten years they polarised politics into two camps (NDB and MB), neither of whom had much time for women. Moreover the Egyptian feminist movement strongly resisted being co-opted into regime-friendly groups in the way, for example, large parts of the feminist movement in Bahrain have been. Whilst this was undoubtedly the right call in the long term, it does mean that at the moment there is rather a dearth of women in leadership roles.

For all that, women played an enormous, and arguably a determining, role in the revolution and are now rightly demanding their share of the spoils. However they did experience a setback on Tuesday (International Women’s day) when a “million woman march” to Tahrir square demanding greater rights attracted considerably fewer than a million women – and was almost entirely overshadowed by sectarian fighting that overran the square after a church was burned down.

Finally, we cannot talk about political movements in Egypt without talking about the importance of Islamic clerics. Whilst it is very very easy to overstate the role they play, they cannot be ignored either. The excellent (if poorly titled) 500 most influential muslims gives a very good guide to the major schools of thought in Islam in Egypt (and for that matter the rest of the world). The TLDR version goes like this:

Egypt was the birthplace of both Islamic modernism, Islamic radicalism, and their venn-child: the Muslim Brotherhood. However all of these political Islamic movements are tiny and of far greater import is the Egyptian clerics’ impact on the vast majority of Sunni Muslims who imbibe their religion and their politics separately.

One of the key elements that makes Sunni Islam distinct from Shia is the lack of a leadership structure; practice is therefore based upon what came before: the “orthodoxy” or, in Arabic, “Sunna”. However the highest authority on questions of orthodoxy – and thus the highest power in Sunni Islam – is the al-Azhar University in Cairo. Al-Azhar is the second oldest university in the world and is both a university and a mosque. The Grand-Imam of the mosque and the Grand-Sheikh of the university are invariably the same person and are thus the highest authority in Sunni Islam (although again it must be stressed that Sunni Islam does not work through direct power relations). The fact that the Grand Imam/Sheikh is appointed by the President of Egypt also makes the President of Egypt one of the most powerful figures in Islam.

For many years the Grand Imam/Sheikh was Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy. He was a controversial figure: his pro-Mubarak, pro-authority views did little for Egyptians domestically; he did speak out in favour of moderation on some issues (like the full Niqab), and fought in a half-hearted way against the politicization of Islam and against the encroachment of Salafism (so earning himself an enemy in Saudi Arabia); but others claim that by not being reforming and modernising enough, he allowed traditional apolitical Islam to drift into irrelevance and so make radical political Islam more appealing to the young (a trend which was exacerbated by the gradual shift in Arab political power from Egypt towards Saudi Arabia). Others suggest he simply wasn’t very good at his job – issuing judgments with sloppy wording and poor logic – and this allowed the Saudis to walk all over him.

Anyway he died about six months ago and his successor is just starting out in the role. He is Ahmed el Tayeb, and whilst having a somewhat vague reputation as a moderate, he is mostly renowned as a Mubarak and an NDP man through and through, who will say whatever the old guard need saying and has waged what virtually amounts to a crusade (apologies for the appallingly inappropriate metaphor) against the Muslim Brotherhood. Now what is interesting is how many staff and students from al-Azhar took part in the protests – suggesting that his authority is questionable, and his stay may be brief.

What does it look like?: River, desert, pyramids, camels. Plus some very modern cities, a sizable area of slums and some Mediterranean-style resorts. I’m going to try and avoid putting an obvious picture up.

Pyramids Egypt

I’m going to fail.

What are the issues?: There are bread-and-butter issues but they stem from systemic problems. The price of food trebled in two years and unemployment is in double digits. Frustration is building over the fact that whilst growth has been steady or good for over a decade, quality of life for the majority has not improved. But this happened as a result of a political and social structure which did not allow for the feedback of grievances, and which did not allow for dissent. In short, the political system did not work.

Those that thrive in the new political climate will be those who offer bread-and-butter results through systemic change. Those who just concentrate on the system will appear out of touch, whilst those who just concentrate on the price of grain will appear to be missing the bigger picture.

A good source of impartial information is: Online Al Jazeera have been peerless and the Guardian have been pretty good.

On twitter you’ll find a lot by searching #jan25 or occasionally still #sidibouzid. I also recommend @ajenglish for news, @aslanmedia also worth a follow and has had some scoops. @dilma_khatib is an Al Jazeera journalist who often tweets before AJ themselves do and indulges in the occasional editorial comment. @nefermaat, @jan25live (warning, this translates Arabic reports tweets and rumours, not all of which have been independently authenticated, and some of which are clearly a way off the mark) and @jan25voices are also worth a follow.

A good book is: A good book will be written about all this some day; it is currently too early. In a way high theory like The Foreign Policies of Middle East States never really dates and is well worth a read in any case. The Alexandria Quartet is only tenuously about Egypt.

When are the next elections?: A good question. Soon.


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