The more things change, the more they stay the same

The state of Egypt

Old ways return

The new regime, underpinned by the army, is taking back old state powers

Egypt’s state may have a new, milder face, but since a populist coup on July 3rd toppled Muhammad Morsi it has shown sharp claws. By independent estimates nearly 2,000 Egyptians have died in the ensuing violence, most by police gunfire. The Muslim Brotherhood to which Mr Morsi belonged is being hounded; daily reports gleefully recount the capture, imprisonment and trial of dozens of its leaders. Even as Mr Adli proclaimed that Egypt would never again be a police state and civilians would never be tried in military courts, 11 Muslim Brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment—by a military judge.

Ironically, they were briskly tried under rules enshrined by a now abandoned constitution put in place during the Brothers’ own brief year in power, when Mr Morsi had hoped to woo the army. And, sadly for his supporters, the government’s harshness is generally backed, even enthusiastically, by Egypt’s weary people. Opinion polls suggest that most of them blame the Brotherhood for the violence and want the organisation banned. Efforts to mount protests by foes of Mr Morsi’s ejection have attracted dwindling numbers. They have been met not only with blunt police power but with widespread indifference and even hostility from passers-by.

It helps that, for most Egyptians, normal rhythms have returned after two months of disruption. A night-time curfew imposed in cities has been shifted from dusk to 11pm. Generous aid from rich Gulf countries thrilled by the Brothers’ demise has ended fuel shortages and is stemming Egypt’s currency slide. Except on the internet, voices critical of the new order have been silenced, sometimes by force. The government has had half a dozen pro-Brotherhood television channels shut down, even as the pro-army media have continued their vilification of dissenters.

Even mosques will soon be affected: the ministry of religious affairs has announced it will vet an estimated 40,000 unlicensed preachers and purge those deemed “unqualified”. Such moves have been backed by al-Azhar, the state-run university that is Egypt’s seat of Islamic orthodoxy, and have so far raised only muted protest from Islamist rivals of the Brotherhood, such as the powerful, arch-puritan Salafist movement. Instead, with an eye to rewards in future elections, leaders of the Salafists’ Nour party publicly blame the Brothers for wrecking the Islamist project.

The government is meanwhile steaming ahead with an army-drawn “road map” back to democracy. A 50-person board is to recraft the suspended constitution within 60 days. The panel includes some independent figures and a smattering of Islamists, in contrast to Mr Morsi’s overwhelmingly Islamist constituent assembly. Yet most of its members are civil servants or represent state-approved institutions. After Egypt’s revolutionary upsurge, an overbearing state is taking back the powers it briefly ceded to the people.

 

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