Cairo — Muhammad has had it with the Muslim Brotherhood.
From the moment we meet, it takes the 30-something Egyptian three minutes, tops, before he expresses his crashing disappointment with his government.
“The Muslim Brothers,” as he and others here call them, “have craved power for 85 years. Now they have it, and they cannot run anything. We were happy to be rid of Mubarak, but right now, we would take him back.” Egyptians rallied for 18 days in early 2011 until their autocratic president stood down. Now 85, Hosni Mubarak is on trial for corruption and complicity in killing protesters during the uprising.
Muhammad is in the tourism industry. (Like others in this article, his identity is obscured for his protection.) “I used to work four days a week,” Muhammad laments. “Now, I work four days a month.”
Thanks to President Mohamed Morsi’s economic mismanagement, Egyptians have seen unemployment rise from 8.9 percent when Mubarak got booted to 13.2 percent today. Annual GDP growth, which was 5 percent in 2010, slowed to 3.3 percent in 2012 (although it was just 2.2 percent last quarter), according to TradingEconomics.com. Foreign-exchange reserves have plunged from $36 billion in December 2010 to $16 billion last month. No surprise, the Egyptian pound, which was 5.5 to the U.S. dollar when Mubarak resigned, now is 7.0. While this exchange rate dazzles visiting Americans, Egyptians wilt beneath this 27 percent loss in buying power.
Egyptians also are coping with energy shortages. These include rolling blackouts and gasoline lines that Deya Abaza describes in Ahram Online as “a recurring feature of Egypt’s post-revolutionary landscape.”
“My best year was 2010,” Muhammad says. “I was saving money to buy a house. Now, I have lost one third of my savings. My dreams have been crushed.”
One educated Anglophone Egyptian considered her prospects so grim that she recently used Craigslist to seek someone to marry her and whisk her overseas.
“Very big. Very big,” one cabbie predicts about June 30 as we fight rush-hour traffic. He continues in what one observer calls Earth’s lingua franca: Broken English. “Morsi out! Mubarak no good. Morsi no good. Same same.”
The U.S. embassy will close that day, “in anticipation of demonstrations that may turn violent.”
The self-described Rebel movement declared this day of protest. It says it has secured 15 million signatures calling on Morsi to quit, just one year after he took power, and yield to early elections. If the count is accurate, these signatures outstrip the 13.2 million votes (51.7 percent) that Morsi received on June 17, 2012, when he defeated Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, who won 12.3 million votes (48.2 percent).
(Photos by Deroy Murdock)
Morsi’s critics argue that his victory was less a triumph of the Muslim Brothers’ Islamist agenda than a narrow rejection of someone seen as Mubarak’s stunt double. Now, atop Morsi’s original detractors, these tepid Morsi supporters are aching from buyers’ remorse.
Thus, posters glued onto building walls just blocks from Tahrir Square urge Egyptians to “Rebel.” Each shows Morsi with a big red X through his face.
“Withdraw trust from the Muslim Brothers regime,” the placards demand. “Down with the Muslim Brothers. Go to the Presidential Palace on the 30th of June.”
On Tahrir Square, a large, misspelled sign reads: “Opama Supporte Dictator Morsi.” Nearby, a red X sits on Obama’s face.
Other communications are even more blunt.
“F*** Morsi” says one graffito in English, in bright red letters. Also spray-painted in red and in English:
Dear Morsi + MB [Muslim Brothers]
An adjacent wall showcases painted images of people killed in protests. Beside one of them appears another anti-Morsi complaint. In Arabic (translated for me), it calls him “the man who killed my brother.”
“I don’t care if someone is a Muslim, or a Christian, a Jew, or agnostic,” Muhammad says. “I want someone who can provide solutions to our problems. . . . Our country is sick,” he regrets. “We just want it to get better.”
At the spectacular Pyramids at Giza, a brilliant sun beats down on a few cars and two minivans in the adjacent parking lot. During my two-hour visit, I marveled at this remarkable venue along with perhaps three or four dozen people. This suggests maybe 200 or so visitors that day. Asked how many people would have been there exactly three years ago, before the revolution, one guide said scores of buses would have brought perhaps 4,000 tourists to the pharaohs’ final resting place.
Tourism and the economy are so bad, one sightseeing-van driver tells me, he had to sell his personal car and wife’s jewelry last September just to pay his bills.
“Why does the United States support the Muslim Brothers?” a local merchant named Omar asks me in astonishment. “They are very bad. All they care about is authority. They don’t care about 90 million Egyptians.”
Omar owns a couple of gift shops. His roughly three dozen employees mainly serve tourists. A sign on his desk quotes Thomas Edison: “There’s no substitute for hard work.”
But Omar is no secular critic of the Muslim Brothers. Indeed, a mark above his eyebrows resembles the dark spot that some Christians temporarily exhibit on their foreheads after receiving the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday. For decades, Omar has bowed his head all the way down to the floor during Islamic worship. This has created a sort of permanent prayer bruise below his hairline. This indicates deep devotion in Islam.
“Message to Mr. Obama: A majority of the Egyptian people doesn’t like the Muslim Brothers,” Omar says from behind his desk. “I am a Muslim. The Muslim Brothers are using religion to advance their politics. What about our Christian brothers and friends?” Omar alludes to the post-Mubarak repression that Egypt’s Copts and other Christians are enduring. “They have the right to live in this country. Christians and Muslims are woven together here, like this piece of fabric,” he says, tugging at his plaid shirt. “They are Egyptian citizens.”
“The Muslim Brothers kidnapped the revolution,” Omar says. “They got all the benefit. Their campaign slogans promised bread, social justice, and freedom. Nothing has been achieved. . . . The whole country — we’re all losing,” he says. “We’re all suffering. . . . After Mubarak, we expected a better president, not a worse one.”
After nearly 30 years in business, Omar does not want to abandon employees in bad times who stuck with him in good times. He currently operates at a loss and pays his staff out of personal and professional loyalty.
Omar surveys his shop. “I can stay around, if there is some hope,” he shrugs. “A little light.” He beseeches me: “Tell America that you are supporting the wrong ones. A majority of the Egyptian people hates the Muslim Brothers.”
About ten minutes away, another shopkeeper defends Morsi and the Muslim Brothers.
“Morsi is the legal president,” Hisham states matter-of-factly. “He was elected. If people don’t like him, they should wait three more years, and then vote him out.”
This argument will appeal to most Americans. After all, one year into his term, Ronald Reagan looked like a loser. On January 20, 1982, he presided over a recession even deeper and more painful than the Great Recession of December 2007 through June 2009. Reagan finished his first term, of course, in the middle of which his tax cuts and other reforms ignited robust economic growth, chopped unemployment, ended inflation as we knew it, and spurred his landslide reelection in 1984.
That said, Mohamed Morsi is no Ronald Reagan. The less time he has to infect his country with Sharia, the better off Egyptians will be — even if securing personal liberty requires a setback in procedural democracy.
“We shouldn’t turn our back on democracy, but must recognize that the house needs a firm foundation that may take time to build,” author Ralph Peters wisely advised in the June 19 New York Post. “Instead of prodding ruptured societies to hurtle into elections . . . we should stand for the rights of individuals and minorities, for guaranteed freedoms first.”
Muhammad, the young tourism professional, puts it well. “Imagine you want to take a northbound train from Cairo to Alexandria. You suddenly realize that you are on the wrong train, heading south to Luxor. Do you stay on that train, all the way to Luxor, or do you get off as soon as you can and start heading in the other direction?”
On Sunday, Egyptians will tell the world how much longer they wish to remain aboard the Muslim Brothers’ Express.
— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.