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Egyptian upheaval creates uncertainty

Update: July, 05/2013 - 10:30

Nguyen Kieu Van

A new political crisis in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous state and currently going through a period of change, will badly affect the country's economy which is already on the brink of collapse.

Late on Wednesday, the Egyptian army unseated and detained Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, after a week of deadly clashes and mass protests calling for him to resign.

Warrants have also been issued for the arrest of 300 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the state media reported yesterday.

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, came under massive pressure in the run-up to last Sunday's anniversary of his maiden year in office.

His opponents accused him of failing the 2011 revolution by placing too much power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood.

His year in office has been marked by a spiraling economic crisis, shortages in fuel and regular deadly opposition protests.

With government debt rising, cash reserves melting away and unemployment and inflation rising, the administration's solution has been to seek more loans to pay for, amongst other things, subsidies on food and fuel that help millions of Egyptians.

The country's economic indicators are not in a better shape. The national budget was revealed only days ago, showing a deficit in excess of US$27 billion. Moreover, external debt has increased from $34 billion at the end of June 2012 to over $42 billion, as a result of ousted President Mohamed Morsi‘s borrowing sprees over the past few months.

Internal debt increased by almost $14 billion during the first six months of Morsi's reign, causing total internal debt to rise over $191 billion.

The price of oil neared $102 a barrel on Wednesday for the first time since May last year as Egypt's political crisis intensified, raising the risk of disruptions to fuel supplies.

Egypt's defence minister, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, laid out the details of the roadmap for a political transition.

The Islamist-drafted constitution would be frozen and presidential elections held very shortly, according to the military head.

Egypt's chief justice Adly al-Mansour will serve as interim president until new elections are held, according to the army's plan.

Egypt is not an oil producer but its control of the Suez canal, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes which links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, gives it a crucial role in maintaining global energy supplies.

So what is the future for the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's economy ?

The fall of the first elected leader to emerge from the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 has raised questions about the future of political Islam, which had seemed triumphant.

Deeply divided, Egypt's 84 million people find themselves again a focus of concern in a region already traumatised by the civil war in Syria.

Straddling the Suez Canal and key to Israel's security, many powers have a vested interest in Egypt remaining stable.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a swift return to civilian rule, restraint, and respect for civil rights.

At least 50 people have died in classes between the Islamist president's supporters and opponents in the week leading up to his dethronement.

US President Barack Obama, whose administration provides $1.3 billion a year to the Egyptian military, expressed deep concerns about Morsi's removal and called for a swift return to a democratically elected civilian government. But he stopped short of condemning a military move that could block US aid.

"During this uncertain period, we expect the military to ensure that the rights of all Egyptian men and women are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, due process, and free and fair trials in civilian courts," he said.

Russia yesterday called on all of Egypt's political forces to remain calm and refrain from resorting to violence, following the toppling of the Islamist president by the army.

"We consider it important for all political factions in Egypt to exercise restraint, consider the broader national interests of their actions and to prove that they are striving to solve the brewing political and socio-economic problems. This must be done within a democratic framework, without violence, and take in the interests of all social groups and religious persuasions," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Forcing Morsi out of his position will not ensure that the protests in Egypt will stop and the process of transferring power will happen peacefully.

Lying behind the former president is a strong Brotherhood movement, supported by a large amount of the people, and a backlash is not unexpected.

Insiders are worried that the two ousted presidents Mubarak and Morsi will create a precedent for political instability and economic losses in the Middle Eastern country, whose economy depends on tourism and foreign investors, and many say removing Morsi from office could push the country into a worse political scenario. — VNS

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