Shatz on Egypt seen from Alexandria

Adam Shatz, writing in the London Review of Books, after a recent reporting trip during the presidential elections:

In Cairo, the old, narrow politics of self-interest – or self-defence – seemed to be crowding out Tahrir Square’s expansive visions of a democratic future. I wondered whether Alexandria, a port city with a rich history of political independence, would be any different. It had dazzled Cairene intellectuals by voting for a charismatic socialist politician, Hamdeen Sabahi, in the first round of the presidential elections, while the rest of the country went for either Morsi or Shafiq, as if people couldn’t see beyond the old regime and the old opposition. Alexandria, they said in Cairo, was a city that made up its own mind, a city where the revolutionary spirit lived on. Alexandrians basked in the admiration. ‘The sea makes us braver,’ one activist told me. True or not, it certainly makes the place feel more open than Cairo, where you can hardly see the sky. The cafés have charming names that ‘read like a Levantine requiem’, as David Holden wrote of old Alexandrian phonebooks. From the terrace of the fish restaurant where I had lunch, I watched children playing on the beach; a few women were in bikinis, a rare sight in a city where more and more women wear full niqabs, including black gloves. Alexandria, once known as the queen of the Mediterranean, may no longer be the city of ‘unsurpassable sensuality’ described by Cavafy, but it seems more serene than Cairo. Maybe that was an illusion: the only difference between Alexandria and Cairo, someone said, was the weather.

The story has some great vignettes on Alex (an Islamist's reaction to novelist Youssef Ziedan's classist map of the country is priceless, for instance) and I agree with the conclusion, in that things are not sealed at all in Egyptian politics:

This reconfiguration, however, is far from stable, and may be a prelude to yet another shake-up in the Brotherhood's favour, rather than a consolidation of the military's authority. Though Morsi is a cautious man, a party bureaucrat rather than a popular leader, he has begun to adopt a more confrontational posture vis-à-vis the military. Not only has he vowed to challenge the constitutional amendments that limit his power, but he has reconvened parliament in defiance of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the SCAF; at a brief session held on 10 July, lawmakers approved a proposal to refer parliament's dissolution to a higher appeals court. The military and the court are digging their heels in, but Morsi is raising the stakes as an elected president, with considerable popular support – and in the knowledge that the Americans will not allow the SCAF to exercise the ‘Syrian option’ of massacring its opponents. Any attempt by the army to reverse Morsi’s victory, or prevent him from governing, could ignite another uprising. The SCAF may not have the upper hand for long.