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Omar Dahi: Cities along the Suez canal are revolting against the betrayal of the revolution by Morsi and the lack of meaningful economic reform

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

In Egypt, cities along the Suez Canal continue to have mass protests against the presidency of Mohamed Morsi.

Now joining us to discuss the events there is Omar Dahi. He’s an assistant professor of economics at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He’s also editor at the Middle East Report.

Thanks again for joining us, Omar.


JAY: So what is happening in these cities? Morsi not that long ago won an election. But where is that popular support and what’s happening around the Suez?

DAHI: Well, what’s happening in Suez and other parts of Egypt shows how much has changed since the January 25 Revolution and how much hasn’t changed. What has changed is the level of popular mobilization, the refusal of large numbers of Egyptians to obey the diktats of the presidency, and the mass mobilization that continues among labor groups and other groups that predates the January 25 Revolution but has picked up ever since.

What hasn’t changed is the perception of the illegitimacy of the major institutions within the Egyptian government. Many people view Mohamed Morsi’s presidency as being ridden with the same level of authoritarian behavior that Mubarak had. So the very way in which the president went about declaring the constituent assembly that wrote the Constitution, which was viewed to be one that was dominated by Islamists, that was not inclusive; the vote on the Constitution itself, the referendum, which had a very low turnout, around 35 percent; all that has made the people very wary and resentful of the Muslim Brotherhood authoritarian tactics.

The latest violence comes, at least in Port Said, as a result of the violence that came after the court order which sentenced 21 football fans to death. And this came in the aftermath of a very violent clash which took place last year, in which supporters of a Cairo football team visiting Port Said were cornered and were attacked. But the death sentence that was meted out was basically a final straw of what has been accumulating grievances against the Egyptian government.

At the same time, you’ve seen rising economic problems. There is increasing bread and fuel shortages, increasing unemployment, and a real sense that Egypt may not be able to finance its basic expenditures.

They have been negotiating with the IMF, but that negotiation itself between Morsi and IMF has been very problematic. It’s been very secretive. And all points indicate that it will be a continuation of the neoliberal policies that really fueled the Egyptian uprising to begin with.

JAY: Now, why is the situation seem so different along these cities in the Suez? I mean, there have been protests in Cairo, but nothing on this scale.

DAHI: Sure. I mean, part of it is a long history in many of these cities of mobilization, resistance. This year they commemorated one of the first martyrs of the January 25 Revolution. But there’s been also a strong labor presence. There’s been also a sense that these cities are particularly marginalized, they’re particularly alienated from the economic growth that has been happening in Egypt for many years.

The declaration of curfew in those cities, which in my opinion was mainly meant to make the Muslim Brotherhood appear as if it’s a responsible governing body that will protect the Suez Canal and won’t allow the Suez Canal to be blocked or be threatened, ironically had the countereffect which triggered the more massive protest, because it reminded everyone there of the Mubarak days, which they definitely are not going back to.

JAY: And do you have some sense of who’s leading this?

DAHI: Well, it’s hard to say. There have been lots of reports coming out that mention a lot of labor groups, that mention a lot of activists that were involved in the demonstrations that were two years ago in the January 25 Revolution. And there was just a report today coming out of Egypt that in fact in Suez there were some members of Salafi groups who were split over what to do. There are some of them who joined the breaking of the curfew, and they were roundly condemned by others.

So at this point it’s very hard to say exactly who’s making it up, but it seems to be mostly groups that took part in the January 25 Revolution two years ago.

JAY: And what are the demands of these protests? I know one of them is more or less for Morsi’s head—they want him to step down. But how—what can I say?—politically evolved, conscious is this protest, in the sense—are they trying to challenge the very elite rule of Egypt, how things are owned, how income is distributed?

DAHI: Oddly, since the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, they have not reformed the Mubarak-era institutions. They’ve basically taken them over and allied themselves with remnants of the old regime and made a tacit alliance, or, actually, open alliance with the army. And basically what they seem to have learned is that if you please the West, if you make an alliance with the army, and if you have enough people to basically win the majority or a plurality of these elections, then you can do whatever you want. But they have not really addressed any of the main demands of reforming the core economic, judicial, bureaucratic institutions to make them more representative.

JAY: Okay. Well, we’re going to be following this story in Egypt very closely. Thanks very much for joining us, Omar.

DAHI: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Omar S. Dahi is an associate professor of economics. He received his B.A. in economics from California State University at Long Beach, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of economic development and international trade, with a special focus on South-South economic cooperation, and on the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa.