Whatever happened to Egypt's spring?

It is two years to the day since the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak began. But far from heralding a bright new dawn, for many things are worse than ever

Cairo

The pyramids emerge serene from the morning mist in Giza. It is a majestic and awe-inspiring sight. But there is one thing missing: tourists.

Tourism is Egypt's economic lifeline. But after two years of political turmoil following the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, and with Tahrir Square once again the scene of protests as Egyptians mark the second anniversary of the revolution, the economy is in freefall. After the heady euphoria of the people's revolt, Egyptians are disillusioned with their Islamist rulers and waiting in vain for their lives to improve under President Mohamed Morsi, accused of failing to fulfil the goals of the revolution: bread, freedom and social justice.

There is the question of real justice, too. More than 800 people were killed in the ultimately doomed attempt to crush the uprising that swept Mubarak from power. Yet no one from his government has been brought to book.

The former President himself was jailed for life last year for ordering the killings, but his sentence was overturned and he now languishes in his cell, his health failing. More than $700m in Swiss bank accounts linked to his entourage has yet to be returned to Cairo. His sons, charged with corruption, have been cleared because their alleged crimes took place more than 10 years ago. The list goes on.

This week Amnesty International lamented the inaction, saying that "by not ensuring the perpetrators are punished, President Morsi is doing little to distance himself from decades of abuses".

A small group of mainly Egyptian tourists is waiting outside the entrance to the pyramids. Aziz abu Aziz stands disconsolately outside his souvenir store. Under Mubarak, he employed 12 people. Today he has only four. Several of the shops on his street are shuttered. The visitors have gone. "If things calm down, this year could be very good," he says. But these days only "two to four" tourists show up for a guided tour of the pyramids, compared to 100 to 150 before the revolution.

Abdul, a tourist guide who shows visitors round in a carriage drawn by a scrawny horse, says: "There used to be good money. But not now. Morsi has done nothing for the people. We got rid of Mubarak because he did nothing for the poor people. Now Morsi is like Mubarak."

Mr Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood in last June's presidential election, triggered a new wave of street clashes last November by granting himself unchecked powers to ensure the passage of a draft constitution. Although he quickly backed down, he was able to ram through in a referendum the controversial document put together by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly. The constitution has been widely criticised for its failure to reflect fundamental freedoms, and for the lack of broad support from Egypt's political elite which would have ensured a consensus.

The President's actions have led some commentators to brand him a "new pharaoh". But "that's not a word in our dictionary any more," said a seasoned Egyptian observer. "That could only happen if the police and army joined up with the Muslim Brotherhood to take the country down an authoritarian path again. But I don't think the Muslim Brotherhood has that intention."

Ali, a doctor, sees things differently. "We are under occupation by a group of ideologues," he says.

Political scientist Mostafa-Elwi Saif says the Muslim Brotherhood is good at winning elections thanks to years of grass-roots organisation while the movement was banned, but incompetent in government. "They lack experience in decision-making, they have never had any experience in running the regime," he says in his spartan 2nd floor office in Cairo university. But he, and others, are equally critical of the liberal opposition, now grouped in a National Salvation Front, founded by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Front has vowed to compete in the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for the spring, as a coalition to challenge the machine of the Muslim Brotherhood. But Egyptian observers all suggest that because of its nationwide appeal, particularly in conservative rural areas, the Muslim Brotherhood – and the extremist Salafists who could number seven million in a country of 82 million – would win any election.

"One of the biggest problems is that the opposition is completely fragmented," says Mahmoud Karem, who was secretary-general of the country's human rights council from 2010 until his resignation last month. He was kept in his post by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dr Karem remains concerned about the lack of clear human rights provisions in the constitution. "There's a great deal of worry about the rights of women, children, and Copts [the Christian minority which has fallen victim to a series of sectarian attacks].

He says that "the key to the survivability of the regime" is whether Mr Morsi will agree to amend the constitution in response to the political furore it generated. The continuing unrest reflects what Mr Karem calls the "horrible polarisation" of society, between the Islamists and the secular liberals. "There is a lack of trust."

But there have been concrete economic consequences from the uncertainty: in addition to the collapse of tourism, the Egyptian pound has sharply declined in value. Five billion dollars in foreign investments have been pulled out of Egypt over the past six months.

The government is still trying to negotiate a $4.8bn loan with the International Monetary Fund, but Egyptians know that any deal will result in higher prices, and the reduction of state subsidies, affecting the majority who live under the poverty line. One of Mr Morsi's more notable U-turns was to announce tax increases on commodities and services last month only to annul them hours later. "The government doesn't know the right course to correct the economic policy," says Dr Saif. Some Egyptians who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood believe that the government's economic policy is not Islamic enough. The movement was originally opposed to an IMF loan then changed its mind. "It's business as usual," complains a former supporter of the movement, who declined to be identified. "They won't challenge American hegemony. They talk about Sharia but the policies don't follow. They just have slogans."

What happens next? Right now, they are worried about the next two days, with fears rising about further violence. With the once-hated police now described by Egyptians as being "on holiday", people have taken security into their own hands.

Ali, the doctor, keeps a Browning automatic in his house in a gated compound in a wealthy Cairo suburb. "Everybody's armed to the teeth," he says. Where do the weapons come from? Libya, of course.

Egypt's key players

Hosni Mubarak

The deposed president was sentenced to life imprisonment in June last year for ordering the killings of pro-democracy protesters during the uprising, but the ruling was overturned earlier this month. A new trial is expected to commence in April.

Habib al-Adly

Mubarak’s former interior minister was also sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the bloodshed, but the ruling was similarly overturned. He is also serving a separate 12-year jail sentence for corruption.

Alaa and Gamal Mubarak

Corruption charges against Hosni Mubarak’s sons were dropped in June 2012. The judge said “the case had lapsed” because the alleged crime took place more than 10 years ago. 

Safwat al-Sharif

The former secretary-general of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) was accused of masterminding the assault on Tahrir Square protesters on 2 February 2011 which left several protesters dead. He was acquitted in October, along with 23 other former senior officials. He faces separate corruption charges.

Anas al-Fiqi

The former information minister and close Mubarak aide has been blamed for the spread of false information about protesters in the early days of the uprising. He was convicted of misusing public funds in 2011 and sentenced to seven years in prison. The ruling was overturned, and an appeal is underway.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst - Application Support - Central London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst (App...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Investigo: Finance Analyst

£240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Server / Infrastructure Engineer (Exchange, Windows, VMware)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Serv...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum