Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi
CAIRO — The streets seethe with protests and government ministers are on the run or in jail, but since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt: Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the street.
The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi.
And as the interim government struggles to unite a divided nation, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mr. Morsi’s supporters say the sudden turnaround proves that their opponents conspired to make Mr. Morsi fail. Not only did police officers seem to disappear, but the state agencies responsible for providing electricity and ensuring gas supplies failed so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts fed widespread anger and frustration.
“This was preparing for the coup,” said Naser el-Farash, who served as the spokesman for the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade under Mr. Morsi. “Different circles in the state, from the storage facilities to the cars that transport petrol products to the gas stations, all participated in creating the crisis.”
Working behind the scenes, members of the old establishment, some of them close to Mr. Mubarak and the country’s top generals, also helped finance, advise and organize those determined to topple the Islamist leadership, including Naguib Sawiris, a billionaire and an outspoken foe of the Brotherhood; Tahani el-Gebali, a former judge on the Supreme Constitutional Court who is close to the ruling generals; and Shawki al-Sayed, a legal adviser to Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, who lost the presidential race to Mr. Morsi.
But it is the police returning to the streets that offers the most blatant sign that the institutions once loyal to Mr. Mubarak held back while Mr. Morsi was in power. Throughout his one-year tenure, Mr. Morsi struggled to appease the police, even alienating his own supporters rather than trying to overhaul the Interior Ministry. But as crime increased and traffic clogged roads — undermining not only the quality of life, but the economy — the police refused to deploy fully.
White-clad officers have returned to Cairo’s streets, and security forces — widely despised before and after the revolution — intervened with tear gas and shotguns against Islamists during widespread street clashes last week, leading anti-Morsi rioters to laud them as heroes. Posters have gone up around town showing a police officer surrounded by smiling children over the words “Your security is our mission, your safety our goal.”
“You had officers and individuals who were working under a specific policy that was against Islamic extremists and Islamists in general,” said Ihab Youssef, a retired police officer who runs a professional association for the security forces. “Then all of a sudden the regime flips and there is an Islamic regime ruling. They could never psychologically accept that.”
When Mr. Mubarak was removed after nearly 30 years in office in 2011, the bureaucracy he built stayed largely in place. Many business leaders, also a pillar of the old government, retained their wealth and influence.
Despite coming to power through the freest elections in Egyptian history, Mr. Morsi was unable to extend his authority over the sprawling state apparatus, and his allies complained that what they called the “deep state” was undermining their efforts at governing.
While he failed to broaden his appeal and build any kind of national consensus, he also faced an active campaign by those hostile to his leadership, including some of the wealthiest and most powerful pillars of the Mubarak era.
Mr. Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and a titan of the old establishment, said Wednesday that he had supported an upstart group called “tamarrod,” Arabic for “rebellion,” that led a petition drive seeking Mr. Morsi’s ouster. He donated use of the nationwide offices and infrastructure of the political party he built, the Free Egyptians. He provided publicity through a popular television network he founded and his major interest in Egypt’s largest private newspaper. He even commissioned the production of a popular music video that played heavily on the network.
“Tamarrod did not even know it was me!” he said. “I am not ashamed of it.”
He said he had publicly predicted that ousting Mr. Morsi would bolster Egypt’s sputtering economy because it would bring in billions of dollars in aid from oil-rich monarchies afraid that the Islamist movement might spread to their shores. By Wednesday, a total of $12 billion had flowed in from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. “That will take us for 12 months with no problem,” Mr. Sawiris said.
Ms. Gebali, the former judge, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that she and other legal experts helped tamarrod create its strategy to appeal directly to the military to oust Mr. Morsi and pass the interim presidency to the chief of the constitutional court.
“We saw that there was movement and popular creativity, so we wanted to see if it would have an effect and a constitutional basis,” Ms. Gebali said.
Mr. Farash, the trade ministry spokesman under Mr. Morsi, attributed the fuel shortages to black marketers linked to Mr. Mubarak, who diverted shipments of state-subsidized fuel to sell for a profit abroad. Corrupt officials torpedoed Mr. Morsi’s introduction of a smart card system to track fuel shipments by refusing to use the devices, he said.
But not everyone agreed with that interpretation, as supporters of the interim government said the improvements in recent days were a reflection of Mr. Morsi’s incompetence, not a conspiracy. State news media said energy shortages occurred because consumers bought extra fuel out of fear, which appeared to evaporate after Mr. Morsi’s fall. On Wednesday, Al Ahram, the flagship newspaper, said the energy grid had had a surplus in the past week for the first time in months, thanks to “energy-saving measures by the public.”
“I feel like Egypt is back,” Ayman Abdel-Hakam, a criminal court judge from a Cairo suburb, said after waiting only a few minutes to fill up his car at a downtown gas station. He accused Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to seize all state power and accused them of creating the fuel crisis by exporting gasoline to Hamas, the militant Islamic group in the Gaza Strip.
“We had a disease, and we got rid of it,” Mr. Abdel-Hakam said.
Ahmed Nabawi, a gas station manager, said he had heard several reasons for the gas crisis: technical glitches at a storage facility, a shipment of low-quality gas from abroad and unnecessary stockpiling by the public. Still, he was amazed at how quickly the crisis disappeared.
“We went to sleep one night, woke up the next day, and the crisis was gone,” he said, casually sipping tea in his office with his colleagues.
Regardless of the reasons behind the crisis, he said, Mr. Morsi’s rule had not helped.
“No one wanted to cooperate with his people because they didn’t accept him,” he said. “Now that he is gone, they are working like they’re supposed to.”