A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

With the Canal in Revolt and Tourism Directly Thretened, General Sisi Speaks

General Abdel Fattah Sisi', Egypt's so-far sphinxlike Defense Minister and Armed Forces Chief, has spoken. Well, not exactly spoken; he's posted on Facebook, but it's the best we're likely to get from him. He has warned that the growing conflict between President Morsi and his Islamist supporters and their secularist opponents "on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations." "Collapse of the state?" Not exactly mild commentary from the man who controls the tanks.

Delphic in a sense, but also stronger than anything we've heard from the Army since they retired to the barracks in August. Is this an explicit hint of a coup? Not yet. Is an implicit one? Well, duh.

Over the past several days the deteriorating security situation has threatened two of Egypt's major sources of hard currency: the Suez Canal and tourism. The attack Monday night on the Intercontinental Semiramis Hotel saw some LE7 million (over a million US dollars) in damage to the hotel lobby and the looting of the elegant shops in the lobby; the hotel was evacuated as guests checked out not only there but from other hotels along the Nile Corniche. Egypt's tourist industry has been moribund; this may have taken it off life support.

Of even greater concern is the virtual open revolt of the Suez Canal Cities. Beginning with the violence in Port Said over the verdicts in last year's football riot case, and fueled by demonstrations in the (often dissident) Suez, President Morsi ordered a State of Emergency in the Canal Governorates, and this included a curfew.

Plate reads "Republic of Port Said"
Port Said, Ismailia and Suez responded to the curfew by turning out in huge protests, staging football games and other public events, and sending President Morsi a very big raised finger in response. The Canal cities have often been harbingers of change in Egypt (as Ismailia was in 1952 and Suez in 2011), and this collective revolt along Egypt's economic lifeline may have had more to do with Sisi's response/threat/hints than the Semiramis affair. The Army has moved the Second and Third Field Armies, based along the Canal, into position to protect the Canal and if necessary restore order in the cities.

Morsi has shown signs of backing off a bit: pledging to create a mechanism to amend the controversial new constitution, and allowing the Canal Governors to reduce the curfew if they feel it is justified. A new outburst of pragmatism, or military pressure?

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