As the fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square protests that overthrew Hosni Mubarak approaches, Egypt’s government is worried about unrest—and isn’t taking any chances. The Wall Street Journal reports:
[T]he state is taking no chances. At a recent communal Friday prayer in his suburban Cairo neighborhood, Hisham Abdel Razek admitted he was nearly dozing through the sermon being delivered by the mosque preacher when the imam’s words jolted him.
“He began speaking about protests and how they undermine security,” said Mr. Abdel Razek, who is 32 years old. “Then he said security and patriotism were as important to worship as air and water are to human existence. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
The imam was following a script published earlier in the week by Egypt’s ministry of religious endowments, the body tasked with regulating mosques and their leadership.[…]
Since December, Egyptian authorities have arrested administrators of 47 Facebook pages accusing them of inciting protests, while shuttering several cultural spaces where activists were known to gather, according to interior ministry statements.
This week, police raided thousands of apartments near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising, according to local residents and activists familiar with the area. They have questioned residents and carried out searches at more than 5,000 homes in central Cairo, the Associated Press reported Thursday, citing security officials.
The Egyptian Army has one of the world’s most effective internal security forces, though not one of its nicest. Suppressing Islamists has been the army’s core competence going back to the 1950s. But repression isn’t enough, by itself, to build a stable and enduring power base. There are two sets of problems in Egypt: the short-term problem of Islamist violence (and its deleterious effects on the vital tourism industry) and a long-term problem of failure of development. The Egyptian army has been in power since 1952, but Egypt doesn’t have the kind of development track record that East Asian tigers like Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea can point to. It can’t even match the achievements of Turkey and Malaysia. Alongside the failure of economic development, and related to it, is the failure to build key institutions of a modern society—the Egyptian educational system is a glaring weak spot, for example.
These long term problems have been made worse by the recent turbulence. Foreign and Egyptian investors have been spooked by the country’s instability since Mubarak fell, and the low level campaign of violence by Islamist regime opponents has disrupted tourism (a major driver in the Egyptian economy).
This is worth keeping an eye on. Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen are getting all the attention these days, but if Sisi fails in Egypt, the Middle East goes to a much different and worse place.