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Double or quits

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Philip Whitfield

Philip Whitfield

By Philip Whitfield

You get the best odds when the runners and riders are still in the paddock.

So it’s not surprising to get 1,000:1 gambling ante-post on a race without a finish: the 2013 Egyptian General Election. I’ve bet a steak dinner the result won’t be declared this side of Ramadan.

I’ve even chosen my menu from the Oak Grill restaurant. For starters the tiger prawn ravioli watercress coulis, fire roasted red bell peppers, then on to shellfish bisque, morsels of seafood and saffron, moving to the tenderloin with escalope of foie gras in a cognac sauce.

Sides will be shoestring pommes frites; gratin of truffle, scented macaroni cheese and steamed imported asparagus.

I’ve asked Chef Michael to keep the 8 July free and order up Kobe beef from Japan in time to be hung just as I like it; 11 days at 2 degrees centigrade in 85 per cent humidity.

Maybe I’m refusing to recognise senescence, but like all gamblers, I believe I’m on a racing cert.

The sceptics will have scrutinised the field. Egypt’s éminence grise Hani Shukrallah runs over the formbook in Foreign Policy magazine.

He proffers three reasons for the Muslim Brotherhood postponing the race indefinitely. Though Hani, a poker-face non-gambler, doesn’t put it that way.

He says the revolution’s signature demands for bread, freedom and social justice remain unfulfilled. Egyptians find themselves governed by a regime deeply rooted in class privilege and pursuing the self same social and economic policies as Mubarak, favouring the rich at the expense of the poor.

Hani remarks how Muslim Brotherhood leaders, not least the president, have continued to ignore demands for progressive taxation, a fair minimum wage, and the need for sweeping reform of the bloated, inefficient, and corruption-ridden bureaucracy.

By the by, what do they get up to while the middle class joins the breadline? Simony, the trading of favours between birds of a feather.

They’re expending their energy and power signing a protocol to supplement Palestinian Airlines’ two noisy turboprops, the Fokker airplanes that do quick there-and-backs twice a week for up to 62 passengers between El Arish and Amman.

Under the deal, Egypt Air’s silky smooth turbofan-powered A320 Airbuses will make 124 trips to transport 19,716 Palestinian pilgrims to Jeddah, 132 at a time.

Fat chance alchemy puts bread on the table, creates jobs, or straightens out the economy. Prospering economies are founded on Adam Smith. It is the luxuries that ought to be taxed, not the necessary expense of the inferior ranks of people.

However, Morsi and his gang aren’t going to go give up succouring sycophants flying high in their Rolls Royce-powered luxurious presidential Airbus A340.

Shukrallah says the profound cleavage at the heart of the revolution remains in place. Egypt experienced an almost strictly urban revolution, with more than 40 per cent of the population in the countryside experiencing it glued to the TV.

The new election rules have been tailored to perpetuate the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi-jihadi allies’ dominance, gerrymandered the electoral system so that it’s very far from one man, one vote.

Under the new law the blue collar Cairo suburb Qalyubia gets 18 parliamentary seats, while the Brotherhood-dominated Upper Egypt governorate of Sohag gets 30. The number of voters in Qalyubia exceeds the number in Sohag by 300,000.

The Brothers ape Mubarak. He made winning ineluctable. The fix is set.

My punt that there won’t be a result anytime soon rests on the Muslim Brotherhood neither winning nor losing. Either is abject humiliation.

Just as they don’t recognise their seismicity, they can’t or won’t prevent Egypt’s spiral to junk bonds, they’re deaf to women’s issues and the crying pleas from parents to give kids a gainful education.

They’re supremely arrogant. They’re blind to being turfed out. Winning a fixed race forebodes a shivaree. Losing heralds bloodletting.

Locked up for 60 years, they’re hardly minded to return to gruel and ignominy. Instead they play footsy with the Salafis in a game: A Government of National Unity.

The Brotherhood’s betrayal has been factored in by the IMF, the Americans and the Europeans. The IMF is being held to ransom by the Salafis. The Americans sent token aid: four F16s instead of 20 ordered and none of the promised 200 Abrams tanks now mothballed at the Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio.

Britain’s David Cameron flitted round North Africa, avoiding a pit stop in Egypt. Remember when he moved heaven and earth to be one of the first leaders photographed in Tahrir Square? With Morsi? Not with a 10-foot bargepole.

Morsi is reviled at home and snubbed abroad, with the exception of Iran. I wonder why? Whatever we might disagree on, surely we can agree that Iran is a failed pseudo theocracy?

The criteria for joining the failed state list prepared by the Fund for Peace are threefold.

Social: Mounting demographic pressures and massive displacement of refugees, creating severe humanitarian emergencies. Egypt isn’t there yet, but it does qualify under the heading of widespread vengeance-seeking groups.

Economics: Uneven economic development and severe economic decline. Tick the box.

Here’s the odds-on clincher for my bet.

The political conditions of a failed state: Criminalisation and/or delegitimisation of the state; deterioration of public services; suspension or arbitrary application of law; widespread human rights abuses; security apparatus operating as a state within a state; rise of factionalized elites and the intervention of external political agents.

Typing those words, I feel like a scriptwriter for Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Egypt.

Iran stands at Number 34 on the failed state list, just below Pakistan, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Kenya. My guess is Egypt will join the list somewhere between Yemen, Iraq, the Central African Republic and Cote d’Ivoire. All make a mockery of free elections, democracy and justice.

Fancy a flutter? Let’s make it for dessert. Mine’s banana and mocha cheesecake with hazelnut ice cream, coffee and Camembert cheese oven-warmed with spiced plum compote and crisp bread.

Yours? Bombe surprise: hot air, beaten up eggs and orange peel topped with raspberries.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.


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