The EU and its aid to Egypt

#SOSEgypt - Save our Spring

This is a petition urging the EU to show greater scrutiny in dishing out pledged aid to Egypt:

On the 15th of November, only a week before President Mursi issued a dictatorial decree granting him immunity from law, the EU pledged €5 billion financial support to Egypt. This is European taxpayer’s money.

President Morsi is following the same policies of Mubarak in repressing his opponents, in just the first 100 days of his presidency; Egyptian police were behind at least 88 cases of torture, seven cases of sexual assault and the deaths of 34 people. Outspoken media personalities are being intimidated protesters violently attacked and killed, and religious freedoms constrained . In the absence of constitutional safeguards, violations of basic human rights and civil liberties may well get worse. Europe can't turn a blind eye to the abuses that the Egyptian government is responsible for.

Despite requests from European members of Parliament and GOs the EU - to date- has not made clear how it will condition its support to the Egyptian government on the respect of internationally agreed human rights and liberties. The EU must monitor laws in the making, and condition development aid to the Egyptian government on the respect of rights and liberties, such as social justice, rule of law, gender equality, labour rights, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of association.

Of the EU aid package most if handled by the EIB and EBRD in terms of project finance and specifically earmarked loans. But at least €700m of the remainder is EU-administered aid that is directly contigent on two broad sets of conditionalities:

1. Economic reform measures, broadly defined as those agreed to under the forthcoming IMF agreement;

2. "Good governance" — an ill-defined term.

The EU missed the ball completely in December when it chose, largely because of lack of interest of member states and the personal preference of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, not to say much about Morsi's legal coup and the rush over the constitution. Yet EU officials had previously pledged to abandon the old Mubarak-era approach and to be vigilant towards the new Morsi administration. It's what they said, yet they've repeatedly failed to even speak out beyond meaningless bromides such as urging "an inclusive constitution" — meaningless because there was no attempt to actually do that, or even buy time for negotiations by delaying the referendum. And then there are concerns over future human rights issues where the recently adopted constitution constrains them and ongoing ones regarding police violence, Islamist groups (including the MB) use of violence against protestors, concerns over media freedoms, etc. We've had more silence since then.

Once the IMF deal is approved (and perhaps before it) the EU will be under great internal pressure to deliver this aid because of Egypt's dire economic predicament. While it continue to flout its own promises of conditionality?

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

On Egypt's new cabinet lineup

Some notes about Egypt’s new cabinet, appointed yesterday, seem in order. The shuffle had been expected but postponed several times, and despite Prime Minister Hisham Qandil’s pledge to make the shuffle a purely technocratic one, the presence of new Muslim Brotherhood figures in cabinet posts and the absence of any opposition politician suggests a consolidation of the Morsi administration’s grip on the government. For months, Brotherhood officials had complained of resistance in the administration, including from cabinet members. Of course, the previous cabinet had been appointed jointly by SCAF and Morsi — at the time a necessary compromise.
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Bassem Youssef gets the NMA treatment

This morning I wrote about the Bassem Youssef case — I have a couple of updates about it. One is so funny it deserved its own post — the above NMA.tv rendition of the case. I particularly love the conspiracy theorizing bit.

Also, from Moftasa, a worthwhile post on President Morsi's foreign policy advisor's move to distance the presidency from the lawsuits being filed left and right to defend Morsi — in some cases by third parties, but also by officials themselves. And that this may only be coming because the State Dept. is raising the Bassem Youssef issue.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Faultlines and Pelham on Sinai

Our friend Anjali Kamat of al-Jazeera has a terrific new documentary on Sinai that was released a week ago — you can watch the whole thing above. It looks at some of the issues regarding the armed militants operating in the territory, whether their threat is exaggerated, continuing heavy-handed repression of local populations by security forces, international interest in the area, and more.

After you watch it, you might want to read Nic Pelham's latest NYRB piece on the peninsula, on the uprising of the Bedouin. Here's what's at stake:

Enriched and empowered by the tunnel economy, Gaza’s Islamists and Sinai’s Bedouin obtained the means to protect their assets, and by 2011 the tribes had stashed sufficient quantities of weapons to arm defense squads large enough to outgun Egypt’s policemen, who are limited by the Camp David Accords to carrying light arms. When Egyptians rose up against Hosni Mubarak’s rule in January 2011, armed Bedouin tribesmen turned on the Egyptian security apparatus, ransacking their bases and chasing them from the peninsula. Freed from the grip of the regime, they enjoyed their first taste of autonomy and regional power in the land bridge linking Africa and Asia.

Two years on, the Bedouin have acquired real power across the peninsula. They have launched raids on Israel, hobbled and threatened to oust the multinational force that is supposed to protect the Egyptian–Israeli peace treaty, and disrupted the region’s supply of gas, which passes via pipeline through their terrain. The Suez Canal on their western borders, through which 8 percent of the world’s sea-borne trade sails, falls within the range of the Bedouins’ antiaircraft missiles; so do shipping lanes in the Mediterranean and Red Sea.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

That Yasser Borhami video

As I'm clearing old tabs I didn't get around to reading/posting in December when I was traveling, this Jadaliyya piece on Salafi Sheikh Yasser Borhami's take on the constitution — and his explanation of why the text of Article 219 in particular is a triumph for hardliners — is worth reading. They've also translated a video that made the rounds last month and earned a rebuke from al-Azhar itself. Worth watching to catch up on this issue, and read this and this for context on al-Azhar.

The most dangerous 18 minutes that Borhami said about the Eg from nahdaproject1 on Vimeo.

Note also that Borhami uses the word "Nasareen" — "Nazarinthians" — to refer to Christians, which in Egypt is considered quite rude.

"It's time for Bassem Youssef"

I was at a very nice Zamalek dinner party on Friday evening (thanks HS!). As the sumptuous meal (which included what I am reliably told are the best warrraq 3einab in town) reached its end, the guests began to agitate. It was 11pm. "It's time for Bassem Youssef!" exclaimed one of them.

Everyone got up from the dinner table and made their way to the coach to watch Egypt's answer to Jon Stewart launch the 2013 season for his "The Show Show", whose late 2012 performances have already gotten him into trouble with the authorities — he is being sued for showing insufficient respect to President Morsi in his, er, satire. To this pretty anti-Morsi crowd, Bassem Youssef has become an icon — as the NYT picked up upon in a recent piece. Youssef has already done some great satire on the Muslim Brotherhood's apparently meaningless Nahda program and occasionally stops the jokes to say some quite serious things, such as telling Salafi sheikhs that they are not religious figures in the eyes of many outside of their followers. (Indeed, most of them are clowns, albeit dangerous clowns.)

Abu Jamajem has some translated segments for those who don't speak Arabic, but follow this YouTube account for someone going through the trouble of subtitling every episode. If there's one place to get the pulse of the liberal view in Egypt, Bassem Youssef's show is it. I wonder how long it will be, though, when like Jon Stewart he starts taking occasional aim at his own side — after all political satire only keeps its edge when it accords equal ridicule to all who deserve it. Although of course one must note that even in the US there is no conservative Daily Show — only a fake conservative spinoff in the Colbert Report. The Salafis, like the Tea Party, are simply too naturally ridiculous to be intentionally funny.

Morsi and the deep state, cont.

Egypt: The president, the army and the police - Egypt - Ahram Online

This is a new line of attack in the anti-Morsi media — apparently grounded in some truth — regarding changes to regulations on buying land in Sinai. The conspiracy theory version is that there is a grand scheme to allow Palestinians from Gaza to resettle in Sinai or render permanent Gaza's division from the West Bank and turn Sinai into Gaza's hinterland. The more interesting aspect of this, however, are the lingering signs of tension between the military and the Morsi administration. As this report shows, on some issues it's clear who calls the shots:

A recent decree issued by Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi restricting the right to buy property in Sinai to second-generation Egyptian citizens had come against the wish of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a military source.

The decree, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity, was issued after the minister became aware of a Palestinian-Qatari scheme to buy territory in Sinai “supposedly for tourism related projects."

The source added that the minister “informed” the president before taking he took the decision “with  unprecedented support from within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the wider military community.

"Many of us [officers and soldiers] died to retrieve this land; we did so not knowing that Morsi would one day compromise the country's right to Sinai - for whatever reason. Whatever the reason, Sinai is a red line. We will support our Palestinian brothers in every way possible but Sinai is not for sale," the source said.

Of course the presidency is denying this, saying the new orders came from Morsi. Read on from some acid quotes on intelligence and security from a presidential aide.

Gaza blockade eased - not lifted

Israel eases Gaza blockade following truce deal | Egypt Independent

This is good news to be sure, but an interesting detail: construction material and other critical types of goods for Gaza's reconstruction must still go through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, and not Egypt:

Israel is easing its blockade of Gaza to allow construction materials and other goods into the enclave under the terms of a truce deal mediated by Egypt.

The decision allows private companies and individuals to import construction materials that were previously restricted exclusively to international aid groups under the terms of Israel's blockade, AFP reported.

The truce between Israel and Gaza's leaders Hamas ended more than a week of Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket fire last month.

This is the first time Israel has allowed such goods into Gaza since 2007, said Palestinian customs official Raed Fattouh.

Starting on Sunday up to 20 trucks carrying gravel will be allowed into the strip daily Sunday through Thursday via the Karem Abu Salem border crossing in southeast Gaza, Fattouh said. Karam Abu Salem is the only commercial crossing open to the transport of goods and fuel and is closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

In other words, these Egypt-brokered talks are still steering away from lifting the blockade as Palestinians have called for along with Egypt-based activists. Whether this amounts to the ruling Muslim Brotherhood's recognition of the complexity of the border issue (including the fear that if the Rafah crossing is fully opened to commercial traffic Israel will simply dump the Gaza problem onto Egypt) or that General Intelligence, which is running the talks, has a veto power on this issue over the Morsi administration is not clear. 

On freedom of the press in Egypt

What future for free speech in the new Egypt? - Index on Censorship

Ashraf Khalil writes: 

Aside from the occasional journalist prosecution, there’s a disturbing new trend emerging in the past few months: direct intimidation of and violence against journalists in Egypt. Hazem Abu Ismail — a charismatic ultraconservative Salafist preacher has repeatedly rallied his slightly fanatical followers (known locally as the Hazemoon) against journalists who criticise him. They recently held a noisy several day-long sit-in outside Media Production City — where many of the most popular satellite talk shows are broadcast — openly intimidating the hosts and station employees as they came to work. Even more disturbingly, Abu Ismail’s followers were alleged to have recently attacked the offices of a heavily anti-Islamist opposition newspaper with petrol bombs, though the preacher took to Facebook to deny any involvement.

It’s not just the Islamists who are targeting journalists they dislike. Egypt’s secularist protestors are guilty of the same crime. The anti-Islamist forces absolutely despise the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel, regarding it as completely biased towards the Brotherhood. That antipathy came to a head in late November during a string of violent protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The anti-Islamist protestors firebombed a street-level studio of Al Jazeera Live Egypt — an offshoot Al Jazeera channel devoted to 24/7 Egypt news.

Another thing to note, just in the past week, is that the presidency has been very rapid to launch lawsuits against journalists it deems have insulted President Morsi. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The problem(s) with Egypt's new constitution

The new Egyptian constitution: an initial assessment of its merits and flaws | openDemocracy

By Zaid al-Ali, who was recently a guest on our podcast. It's a very fair and balanced take that refutes both the unwarranted alarmism of its opponents and the ridiculous "best constitution evah" line of the MB:

The debate surrounding the new constitution has been acrimonious to say the least.  Many of the constitution’s most ardent critics have been scouring the text for evidence that the country’s Islamist movements are preparing to create a morality police or that the legal age of marriage is about to be lowered to 9.  Many of these accusations are either baseless or merely leftover provisions from the 1971 constitution and were never applied in any meaningful sense, which will likely to continue being the case under the new constitution.  The reality is that, when measured against Egyptian constitutional tradition, the new text brings a number of improvements to the protection of certain rights and to the system of government and is not the catastrophe that many have been so determined to identify. 

However, if the measure is changed, there are perfectly valid reasons to be opposed to the new constitution.  For example, considering recent developments internationally in the field of constitutional law, particularly in many African and Latin American countries, or considering even the aspirations that were expressed through the Egyptian revolution, the text leaves the reader disappointed. 

Apart from the fact that much of the drafting is vague, a number of important rights are also lacking, which has driven many activists to ardently oppose the text.  It also does not present a convincing vision in many areas, including decentralization, the role of independent agencies and civil/military relations.

The major question left unanswered in my view is the extent to which Articles 2, 4 and 219 will together change the way Sharia impacts the legal system and how they might be used by Islamist activist lawyers to force Azhar and the government to adopt retrograde measures.

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What Islamists want vs. what liberals want

Politics: Distinct camps find little common ground - FT.com

From the FT:

“In a public place, the greater public benefit is much more important than individual freedom,” says Gehad Haddad, a spokesman and strategist for the Muslim Brotherhood. “If a girl wearing a bikini is offensive to 100 people who are not, then the 100 have the say; she should not wear it on the public beach. At the same time, she can wear it on the private beach. She has the right. At the end of the day, there has to be a rule toward the public benefit. We all wear seat belts.”

1. No, in Egypt you certainly don't all wear seat belts.

2. This kind of argument and the fatuous examples chosen are really depressing. Same could be applied to the veil — "most want women to wear it so they have to respect it, they can always not wear at home". And this is from a smart guy who represents the elite of the MB. Soon enough this line of thinking can turn into "everyone believes prayer is a duty, so everyone has to do it, so shops have to close during prayer time and those who don't want to pray have to wait it out or prove they are not Muslim etc." This is exactly what Salafis have been trying to do in parts of Egypt.

Another good quote in the same piece, from the other side:

“It’s a polarisation between Islamist forces who are after a highly defined identity-based project to see a more Islamised Egypt,” says Lina Attalah, editor of the English-language Egypt Independent. “The other camp is a revolutionary camp that wants to see a democratic Egypt that allows multiple identities to exist.”

This is turning to be a pretty obvious basic difference: Islamists want to impose their way of life on everybody else. Liberals want to give everyone an individual choice about their lives, and will not restrict the Islamists from doing what they want to do. But not vice-versa. That so many outsiders have a difficulty grasping this and are defending the Islamists in Egypt out of a bizarre sort of multiculturalism gone mad is deeply troubling (looking at you, Grauniad).

German minister calls for Egypt aid suspension

Egypt's opposition calls for new protests on | tagesschau.de

From a German press report, machine-translated below :

German Development Minister Dirk Niebel feared in his own words that Egypt slips under President Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood in a dictatorship. There was a risk that the dictatorial Mubarak system auflebe with other people, he said, the "Berliner Zeitung". Given the uncertain conditions in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, an unstable Egypt is a huge security risk beyond the region.

According to Niebel, the German government restricted until further notice, the government contacts with Egypt. So, he wrote about the government canceled negotiations on development co-operation that should take place in mid-December. The planned partial debt relief of up to 240 million euros would be postponed, announced the Minister. "It is in the hands of the Egyptian government," said the FDP politician.

Meanwhile, complete silence from the EU, Catherine Ashton and most member states.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Don't count too much on fraud investigations in Egypt's referendum

Egypt opposition demonstrates over constitution; Justice Ministry probes vote irregularities - The Washington Post

On Tuesday, Egypt’s Justice Ministry says it will assign judges to probe allegations of voting violations.

“This is the first time in the history of Egypt that judges are assigned to investigate vote violations,” a ministry spokesman said at a news conference.

Judge Mahmoud Abu Shousha, a member of the commission overseeing the referendum, rejected the charges of voting irregularities.

He said it was impossible to replace judges with court officials during the supervision, and that all stations stayed opened for four extra hours to accommodate the long lines, dismissing claims that some closed early. He said more staff will be recruited for the second round to speed up the process.

“We don’t know what to do with those who spread these lies,” he said at a news conference.

So without the investigation having even started these MB-friendly judges who sit on the commission are drawing conclusions? I'm guessing this investigation will be over pretty quickly. More on the violations here.

The Brotherhood's spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, is setting the tone about these fraud violations:

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan dismissed the rights groups' allegations as politically motivated to sway public opinion.

"These organizations are funded by Western countries. Just like the Westerners hate the Islamists, so do these groups. They are seculars and they hate the Islamists and have foreign agendas," Ghozlan said.

The Muslim Brotherhood is partying like it's 2005.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Baheyya on Morsi and his opponents

On Morsi's Opponents

 

She's back (also with this piece on Morsi) and this bit of vitriol for the NSF:

My point about the NSF isn’t that it’s infiltrated by feloul or that it’s an alliance of convenience. It’s that its notion of opposition is sophomoric at best and putschist at worst. The sight of politicians refusing to negotiate with an elected president but then agreeing to the military’s “we’re all family” shindig is beyond pitiful. How much more effective to have negotiated with Morsi a cancellation of his decree and a postponement of the referendum. If he refused the latter, the NSF could’ve called his bluff and walked out triumphant, revealing the MB’s bullying to the public while proving themselves to be responsible problem-solvers. Instead, by acting militant in a situation that required hard bargaining, the NSF is left to accept the fact of the referendum while saving face by grandstanding about conditions already in place.

She's right about this, of course, although I think the NSF has made some subtle improvements in its strategy even in the last few weeks. I agree with her profile of its leaders, too, although I'm always dumfounded by her admiration for the execrable Hamdeen Sabahi, particularly considering what we know about the financing of his presidential campaign and his former admiration for Muammar Qadhafi.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

An analysis of the Egyptian crisis

The European Council on Foreign Relations | Navigating Egypt's political crisis

I put this out on Twitter a few days ago, but this is a long analysis of the current Egyptian crisis I wrote last week, which takes things to more or less where they are now. It's long, also with a quick take on the draft constitution.

I'm still traveling but will be back in Egypt tomorrow and hope to write more in transit.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Morsi, the MB and the deep state

Morsy past the point of no return: Part 2 | Egypt Independent

Interesting argument by Hesham Sallam — I'm still mulling it over:

Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have characterized the clashes at Ettehadiya Presidential Palace as a manifestation of its conflict with the deep state and remnants of the Mubarak era. But in reality, the Brotherhood is not fighting against the alleged “deep state” and Mubarak remnants within the opposition and inside the courts, as it claims, but rather the deep state within the ranks of its sponsored government.

The Brotherhood’s decision to escalate its standoff with the opposition, and the seemingly irrational ferocity with which it has begun to antagonize its opponents must not be understood merely as an attempt to eliminate challengers. Equally important, the Muslim Brotherhood-initiated escalation is a strong message to the deep state that the Brotherhood-controlled presidency is fully capable of erecting a political arena in which its decisions and commitments are supreme. The Brotherhood and its sponsored political order, the message goes, is here to stay, and you would be better served to jump on this bandwagon and come to its defense before it is too late. Whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to make this case convincingly remains to be seen.

Read part one here.

From Cairo to London to DC: Please, knock it off

This commentary was contributed by Dr H.A. Hellyer, non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and ISPU, who previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer. Had I not been traveling in the last few days I might have written something very similar.

There are times that myths circulate so fast; it is hard to keep track of them. In the midst of an extraordinary amount of coverage on Egypt, I was asked for my evaluation of a particular piece, recently published in what I considered to be a respectable media outlet. As I wrote my assessment, I realised that I’d seen those same problems – the same narrative – time and time again in different places. Rather than keep my assessment private, I thought I would turn it into a plea to my colleagues and friends in the media and the think-tank/policy arena.

The plea reads: please knock it off when it comes to your Egypt coverage, and check your sources and facts before you publish in the interests of being ‘balanced’. Believe me: in the long run, you’ll be grateful you did. In the short-run, you probably will too: these Egyptian folks are not tameable, as a friend put it. When they’re misrepresented, except immediate and full retaliation with the full force of the Egyptian wit, sarcasm, and scorn. Trust me: you do not want to be on the other side of that.

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It really is the #referendumb

Concerns loom over referendum's legality | Egypt Independent

Nothing to see here, move along:

Hours before the referendum kicks off in Cairo, concerns are looming about the legality of the process. Unlike other referendums, it is taking place over two rounds staged a week apart, and there is also controversy surrounding the judicial oversight of the voting process.

Legal disagreements on conducting the referendum over two phases started after President Mohamed Morsy issued a law last Wednesday that allows the referendum to be held in multiple rounds of voting. Introduced at the request of the High Elections Commission (HEC), the law was intended to address the shortage of judges willing to participate in the process.

Morsi's Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back | Mixcloud

ECFR - Morsi's Egypt: from Tahrir to Gaza and back | Mixcloud

This is my talk this morning at the European Council on Foreign Relations, on the present crisis.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

More on Morsi's tax u-turn

Mursi’s tax U-turn casts doubts over government's competence

Yup:

A dramatic U-turn by Egypt’s embattled president Mohammed Mursi over a proposed tax hike has raised serious questions about the decision-making process within the government, casting doubts over the administration’s competence and ability to craft a coherent economic policy. It has also brought into question the fate of a crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan Egypt is awaiting, set to be ratified by the fund’s board next week.

Experts derided both the government’s unilateral decision to raise taxes at a time of political crisis and the president’s swift retraction of the measures in the face of public uproar.

Some feared the president’s volte-face indicated a desire to pass the Islamist-penned constitution first and then subsequently institute a tax hike. Others said his quick retraction undermined his leadership and exposed a lack of political maturity.