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Egyptian Path Darkens

[UPDATED to reflect breaking news]

The situation in Egypt continues to darken; President Morsi has just declared a state of emergency and announced a curfew in three provinces following widespread riots. Hundreds of Egyptians have hit the streets in recent days to protest against President Mohamed Morsi and the death sentence handed down to 21 people for rioting at a soccer match. Forty-five people have died since the protests began on Thursday. Reuters reports:

Three people were shot dead and hundreds were injured in Egypt’s Port Said on Sunday during the funerals of 33 protesters killed at the weekend in the city.

Gunshots had killed many of the 33 who died on Saturday when residents went on the rampage after a court sentenced 21 people, mostly from the Mediterranean port, to death for their role in deadly soccer violence at a stadium there last year.

Elsewhere in Egypt, police fired teargas at dozens of stone-throwing protesters in Cairo in a fourth day of clashes over what demonstrators there and in other cities say is a power grab by Islamists two years after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

Egypt’s recent struggles are often portrayed as a conflict between Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal groups in the Cairo street. But while the MSM has given much attention to the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasing infringement on civil liberties, the truth is that these policies, while important, will not determine the future of Egyptian politics. This latest wave of violence and those that are certain to follow, stems largely from the sorry state of the Egyptian economy.

Most Egyptians these days are poor, unemployed, and frustrated with both the current and the past leadership of the country. And since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Egypt has seen its currency plummet as investors flee. Unless these trends are reversed, the restlessness and violence is only likely to get worse.

The latest outbreak of violence and the draconian measures now being taken to contain it only highlight the reality that neither Egypt’s government, its liberal opposition or its military guardians have any idea what to do. So far, Egypt hasn’t really seen a revolution. It’s seen faction-fighting and a change of regime, but society itself remains largely unchanged. Will that persist as the Muslim Brotherhood government is seen increasingly as unable to solve the country’s problems? It is much too soon to tell, but the government of Egypt is not standing on solid ground.

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