CAIRO — The streets seethe with protests and government ministers are on the run or in jail, but since the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi, life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt: Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the street.
The seemingly miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Morsi.
And as the interim government struggles to unite a divided nation, the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s supporters say the sudden turnaround proves that their opponents conspired to make Morsi fail. Not only did police officers seem to disappear, but the state agencies responsible for providing electricity and ensuring gas supplies failed so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts fed widespread anger and frustration.
“This was preparing for the coup,” said Naser el-Farash, who served as the spokesman for the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade under Morsi. “Different circles in the state, from the storage facilities to the cars that transport petrol products to the gas stations, all participated in creating the crisis.”
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Working behind the scenes, members of the old establishment, some of them close to Mubarak and the country’s top generals, also helped finance, advise and organize those determined to topple the Islamist leadership, including Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire and an outspoken foe of the Brotherhood; Tahani El-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court who is close to the ruling generals; and Shawki al-Sayed, a legal adviser to Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister who lost the presidential race to Morsi.
But it is the police returning to the streets that offers the most blatant sign that the institutions once loyal to Mubarak held back while Morsi was in power. Throughout his one-year tenure, Morsi struggled to appease the police, even alienating his own supporters rather than trying to overhaul the Interior Ministry. But as crime increased and traffic clogged roads — undermining not only the quality of life, but the economy — the police refused to deploy fully.
White-clad officers have returned to Cairo’s streets, and security forces — widely despised before and after the revolution — intervened with tear gas and shotguns against Islamists during widespread street clashes last week, leading anti-Morsi rioters to laud them as heroes. Posters have gone up around town showing a police officer surrounded by smiling children over the words, “Your security is our mission, your safety our goal.”
“You had officers and individuals who were working under a specific policy that was against Islamic extremists and Islamists in general,” said Ihab Youssef, a retired police officer who runs a professional association for the security forces. “Then all of a sudden the regime flips and there is an Islamic regime ruling. They could never psychologically accept that.”
When Mubarak was removed after nearly 30 years in office in 2011, the bureaucracy he built stayed largely in place. Many business leaders, also a pillar of the old government, retained their wealth and influence.
Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and a titan of the old establishment, said Wednesday that he had supported an upstart group called “tamarrod,” Arabic for “rebellion,” that led a petition drive seeking Morsi’s ouster. He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through his popular television network and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper. He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on his network.
“Tamarrod did not even know it was me,” he said. “I am not ashamed of it.”
He said he had publicly predicted that ousting Morsi would bolster Egypt’s sputtering economy because it would bring in billions of dollars in aid from oil-rich monarchies afraid that the Islamist movement might spread to their shores. By Wednesday, a total of $12 billion had flowed in from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. “That will take us for 12 months with no problem,” Sawiris said.
Gebali, the former judge, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that she and other legal experts helped tamarrod create their strategy to appeal directly to the military to oust Morsi and pass the interim presidency to Hazem el-Beblawi, a former chief of the constitutional court.
“We saw that there was movement and popular creativity, so we wanted to see if it would have an effect and a constitutional basis,” Gebali said.
Farash, the trade-ministry spokesman under Morsi, attributed the fuel shortages to black marketers linked to Mubarak who diverted shipments of state-subsidized fuel to sell for a profit abroad. Corrupt officials torpedoed Morsi’s introduction of a smart-card system to track fuel shipments by refusing to use the devices, he said.
But not everyone agreed with that interpretation, as supporters of the interim government said the improvements were a reflection of Morsi’s incompetence, not a conspiracy. State news media said energy shortages occurred because consumers bought extra fuel out of fear, which appeared to evaporate after Morsi’s fall. On Wednesday, Al Ahram, the flagship newspaper, said the energy grid had a surplus in the past week for the first time in months, thanks to “energy-saving measures by the public.”
On Wednesday the government accused Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of a campaign to incite violence against their foes before and after his ouster as president, offering a new explanation for the week-old takeover and hinting that the group might be banned once again.
The new explanation appeared aimed at adding to the justification for a broadening crackdown, including new arrest warrants issued Wednesday for the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, and eight other well-known allies.
The government prosecutors accused all nine of inciting Morsi supporters into a lopsided clash with soldiers and the police Monday morning that led to the death of one soldier and two police officers; the security forces killed 51 of Morsi’s civilian supporters and wounded more than 400, almost all with gunfire.
Witnesses said the forces had fired with little or no provocation, but government spokesmen charged Wednesday that the Islamists had deliberately sought to instigate the deadly retaliation for propaganda purposes. “To mark this as, ‘the army is trying to kill civilians,’” one said.
Security forces are still holding about 200 of about 650 protesters they chased down in the streets during the fighting, as well as many prominent Islamists. Morsi is being held in an undisclosed location.
“For his safety, for the safety of the country,” said Badr Abdelatty, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.
The crackdown appeared to meet little international resistance Wednesday. The Pentagon put out a statement saying that, “given the events of last week, the president has directed relevant departments and agencies to review our assistance to the government of Egypt.” For now, however, plans to continue with the delivery of four F-16 warplanes would not be halted, officials said.
Outlawed for six decades under Egypt’s military-backed autocracy, the Brotherhood was legalized after the ouster of Mubarak in 2011, becoming a legitimate religious and charitable group, an accepted part of the social fabric, and the sponsor of the political party that won the presidency and led the Parliament.
In the past two years, Brotherhood leaders have routinely met with ambassadors, foreign ministers, U.S. congressional delegations, and one even met President
Obama in the Oval Office. Brotherhood spokesmen said the new government was concocting charges to justify repression.