Such aid is vital at a time when Egypt’s economy is caught in a post-revolution slump. Its budget deficit and domestic debt are soaring, and the tourism industry, once a pillar of Egypt’s economy, has partially collapsed. As such, Cairo has come to rely even more heavily on external support from the United States, the International Monetary Fund and others.
Ever the polarizer
It is the economy, more than any other area, where Mr. Morsi’s domestic and foreign-policy challenges intersect. The first pillar of the Egyptian revolution’s unofficial slogan, “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice,” refers to the affordability of basic goods. As with most political leaders, Mr. Morsi’s job security ebbs and flows with his country’s economy. In fact, one of the most beneficial side-effects of Mr. Morsi’s success on the Gaza file will likely be the extent to which his resulting goodwill with Washington will translate to aid money. But just as quickly as U.S. officials were praising Mr. Morsi earlier in the week, they found themselves forced to express “concern” over his decrees a day later.
Even as Mr. Morsi and his staff worked out the details of the ceasefire, the Gaza crisis seemed to generate relatively fewer headlines within Egypt. Local media covered the violence closely, but focused instead on a series of domestic calamities: More than 50 people, the vast majority of them children, were killed when a train plowed into a school bus in a town 350 kilometres south of Cairo; a military pilot died after his jet crashed in the southern city of Aswan.
In addition, a group of protesters had started a week-long and sometimes-violent demonstration on Mohammed Mahmoud Street in downtown Cairo to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a clash on the same street that left dozens dead.
Rather than help him, the President’s quick action on the Gaza file in some ways left him vulnerable to criticism domestically. On one of the country’s popular late-night TV news shows, which tend to frame living-room conversations in Egypt, a commentator asked: Why does Mr. Morsi show so much empathy to the victims in Gaza, but not to the martyrs of the revolution?
The day after brokering the ceasefire, Mr. Morsi addressed that issue. He pre-empted his spokesperson’s announcements later that evening by saying his decrees would be in support of the revolution. And when the spokesperson began listing off the orders – which included more compensation for those injured during the revolution, and a promise to retry those accused of killing demonstrators – it seemed Mr. Morsi kept his promise. But the decrees granting Mr. Morsi extended powers nonetheless sparked outrage.
So again, Egyptians are protesting on a Friday.
Which Morsi will prevail?
In the months and years following the revolution, residents of Cairo have evolved an ability to live with cataclysm. On a Friday afternoon, families and tourists gather at the foot of Qasr El Nil bridge to chant support for a massive wave of protesters crossing the Nile to reach Tahrir Square. Street vendors sell Egyptian flags, Oreo cookie knockoffs and facemasks to protect from tear gas. Nearby, down a street on the other side of the square, a phalanx of bored-looking officers in riot gear stands behind a chest-high line of barbed wire, protecting the road that leads to the American embassy. There have always been officers near the embassy, but there are more of them now.
But slowly, the economic malaise and lack of political consensus are taking their toll on President Morsi’s Egypt.
“You can feel it on the street,” says Mr. Soheim, the investment firm research director, his desk littered with research reports on the state of Egypt’s economy and newspaper clippings of articles about the Brotherhood. “It’s unpleasant, what’s happening to the economy, but when you start to hear the taxi driver talk about it, you know it’s spilling onto the whole country.”
Ultimately, Mr. Morsi faces an urgent challenge to convince a large and diverse portion of the country – including the throngs of people who chanted for his downfall in Tahrir and elsewhere on Friday – that he has a grand vision for Egypt.
“There’s an issue of clarity, frankness, of establishing rapport between him and the rest of society,” says Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University of Cairo. “People want him to present an inventory – what are the main problems he’s trying to fix? We don’t know. We don’t know how he sees the world around him.”