Where Does The Dream Of Democracy Stand In Egypt?

Three years ago, the popular uprising in Egypt was considered a democracy movement. But now the military is in control of the government and the freely-elected president is in jail. To discuss the state of Egypt, Steve Inskeep talks to Issandr El Amrani of the International Crisis Group.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's get some analysis now from Issandr El Amrani. He is a longtime observer of Egyptian politics and is currently the North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group. Welcome back to the program, sir.

ISSANDR EL AMRANI: Glad to be here.

INSKEEP: Americans will know that Egypt has been troubled for years but itself, at least from this distance, the things that substantially worse than the last several days. Does it feel that way where you are?

AMRANI: Absolutely, does feel that way. We're reaching the three-year anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the country is facing massive political tension, campaign of terrorism, a lot of violence by the police, by people blowing up police stations in response. It's a very sad atmosphere compared to the quite uplifting mood of three years ago.

INSKEEP: Is the dream of democracy dead?

AMRANI: Democracy just doesn't seem to be in the cards for the near future. I mean, there may be procedural democracy there will be elections, there has just been a referendum. But the mood in Egypt for now tolerates very little dissent from the line put out by the current government. Obviously an entire, quite important part of Egyptian politics, the Islamist side, is simply barred from competing - the Muslim Brotherhood. But more than that there's very little tolerance for any criticism of the current regime.

INSKEEP: As we were hearing in that report from Leila Fadel, is the government going to have an excuse, if you will, to take that attitude because there have now been these bombings in this group, Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis, claiming credit for them?

AMRANI: The government is absolutely worried when it points to the terrorism campaign conducted by Ansar Bayt Al Maqdis in the Sinai Peninsula, initially, but increasingly in the Nile Valley in a quite a spectacular attack against the Cairo security director a few days ago, that this is a growing problem. And it's not a question of trying to blame the government for what's happening, as some are trying to do. It's a question that this government does not seem to want to dampen the tensions. They are encouraging this type of violence from growing.

INSKEEP: I know you get an opportunity to talk with players on different sides of the divide in Egypt. And I'd like to know if you hear from anyone on any side who sits down with you and says: Look, there is a way out of this and here's the way.

AMRANI: It's very difficult to see the way out of this. After President Morsi was overthrown last July, there was a hope that some kind of mediation/reconciliation talks could take place that would find a middle ground, accept his overthrow but still leave a place for the Muslim Brotherhood to play a role in the countries politics. That seems to now not be a possibility, especially after last December's decision to label the Muslim Brotherhood good as a terrorist organization, even though there's no proven link between the terrorist attacks that the country has seen and the group.

So right now, the Muslim Brotherhood is sticking to its demands, which is reinstating President Morsi, reinstating the 2012 constitution. And the government, on its side, is also being extremely inflexible. And, of course, by designating the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization, has closed doors to any negotiations. So it's hard to see a way out of this anytime soon.

INSKEEP: We've talked as though the problem here is terrorism and the role of Islam in the state. But is the economy part of the trouble here, the troubled economy in Egypt?

AMRANI: The economy is may be the overarching issue that makes the future of Egypt, in the medium term, look quite bleak. Right now, the government has support from Gulf Arab States - $12 billion in the last six months - that keep the economy afloat. If there is no job creation, if people can put food on the table, the talk is either a third revolution of the hungry or just the government that simply cannot address the very deep problems that have been on the table for the last three years and before, because the government is just stuck in defensive mode.

INSKEEP: Issandr El Amrani is the North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group. Thanks very much.

AMRANI: My pleasure.

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