An Egyptian Public Frets Over Prices and Politics

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An Egyptian protester holds a flare during a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square on 19 October 2012 (Photo: AFP - Ahmed Mahmoud)

By: Muhammad al-Khouli

Published Saturday, December 15, 2012

On the streets of Cairo, Egyptians speak alternately of a power-crazy Muslim Brotherhood and an opposition infiltrated by remnants of the old regime. There’s no clear agreement as to the cause of recent clashes, only that most Egyptians are concerned that they will spread.

Cairo – Many ordinary Egyptians are nervous. Any word of a new demonstration arising from the conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition brings the words “God help us” to most people’s lips.

On the underground Metro, passengers discuss the dangers of marching through the streets during the opposition’s million-man demonstrations. Rumors circulate in cafés about the weapons and money being given to demonstrators to create chaos.

The majority of the Egyptian street is fearful, despite the huge number of people participating in marches. President Mohamed Morsi’s equivocation, apparent in his latest decisions, has given rise to trepidation and uncertainty. This was exacerbated by his latest decision to introduce changes to sales taxes. Although implementation of this decision has been postponed, many Egyptian families have started to stockpile the basics in anticipation of a price hike.

Ahmad Abdul-Hamid, who works in a small supermarket, says that in the past few days there has been an unusual rush. “I work in Dokki, a rich area, and people usually buy their month’s supplies in one go, but now there are more people coming in and instead buying one of something, they are buying three.”

Abdul-Hamid does not know exactly why this is happening, but he adds: “There are some people who are worried about the latest rise in prices even though the president backtracked on his decision.”

On the Metro, Sameh Abdullah, a university student, says that he heard his parents discussing whether they should get a loan to buy and store some basic supplies since “no one knows how high the prices will be in the coming period.”

In the same train car, Mohamed al-Sayyed says that the fear is not just of the prices rising, but “we are worried about not being able to obtain stuff at all.” He maintains that after the news of the latest price hike, he couldn’t find cigarettes in several stores. “The owners of the shops knew there was going to be a rise and they hid the cigarettes to sell them at the new price.”

Food is being stockpiled not just because of a potential price hike, but also because of the increased political polarization at the moment. Not a single day passes without demonstrations against the president, only to be countered the next day by demonstrations in support of the regime. After last week’s clashes at the Ittihadiyya presidential palace north of Cairo, there is concern that these types of events will spread.

Shaban Abdul Sattar, a retired government employee, says, “The Ikhwan want to inflame the country.” He accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of being the main cause of the state of fear that has overcome the Egyptian street, but also cites the media as a source of this fearful atmosphere.

Some believe that the media’s focus on such incidents creates a state of fear among ordinary people. Al-Hussein Ibrahim is a government employee who has not taken part in any demonstrations on either side. “It’s got nothing to do with me, let them finish each other off,” he says.

“The last thing people need is for everything to stop,” he says. “We wanted things to get better after the revolution and for all politicians to sit down together and find solutions for the problems faced by the Egyptian people.”

Ibrahim does not blame either side. However, Ahmad Abdul-Hamid believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is the movement that most exploits ordinary people, using them in elections and referendums, making them aware of their needs and the Brotherhood’s ability to provide for them.

“They succeed through oil and sugar,” says Abdul-Hamid, who thinks that the other face of the Brotherhood was revealed after they won the presidency.

Hussam Badr, a university student, blames the crisis on the political parties that he believes have allied themselves with remnants of the old regime to bring down the country’s first legitimately elected president.

Badr maintains that accusations of the Brotherhood instilling fear in people are baseless. “The Ikhwan is the political movement closest to the Egyptian people. They understand their concerns and problems,” he says.

Badr believes that the political parties and some of the ex-presidential candidates are trying to thwart Morsi’s efforts. “They spread fear among people, claiming that the Ikhwan have strongmen and militias on the street and other such lies.” Badr does not hide the fact that he belongs to the movement, but he says, “Away from all that, the country needs to work. The wheels have to turn.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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