I spent a two-week vacation in Cairo listening to the worries of Egyptians regarding the country s future. I met intellectuals, economists, university professors, writers, policy-makers and opposition activists from different groups, as well as friends and family, and all our discussions revolved around one issue: where is the country heading?
Despite the different backgrounds – social groups, socio-economic classes and political orientations – the consensus was that the future of Egypt is rather gloomy and uncertain.
Most were worried about the deteriorating economic conditions that put the average Egyptian in an ongoing struggle to meet basic living needs such as rent for a small run-down room to accommodate a five-person family, a small portion of bread every day and water to drink.
The cost of these meager staples has almost doubled over the past couple of years while income remained the same, hence crushing more Egyptian families and pushing them further beneath the poverty line. As a few people pointed out; Egyptians are suffering now more than ever before. This suffering was highlighted in several TV programs, yet failed to instigate any official response, let alone corrective action.
Others were worried about increasing tension arising due to widespread social injustice and corruption. Such tensions manifested themselves in a number of workers strikes that took place over the past year, the last one saw hundreds of government employees walking out of their offices and refusing to work, protesting significant disparity in salary rates between employees in different government authorities. Civil servants complained that after several years of service, monthly incomes for most remain less than $ 70 a month.
Writers and political activists expressed serious concern regarding the government crackdown on newspaper editors and media outlets over the past couple of months. Most see this as a speeding up of what has become famously known as “the hereditary succession plan , which will allegedly see Gamal Mubarak taking over the presidency from his 79-year-old father.
The plan requires that opposition voices, including independent and opposition newspapers, are silenced in order to secure a smooth transfer of power.
Needless to say, the plan also requires incarcerating and restricting opposition groups so as not to resist this illegal transfer of power. Forty Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Deputy Chief Khayrat El Shater, are standing before a military tribunal to face terrorism and money laundering charges despite being acquitted of the same charges no less than four times by a civilian court.
The military trial continued for 10 month despite the lack of validity of many witness statements and lack of major documents. Imprisonment verdicts are expected today, while the country s strongest opposition group is still denied legal recognition with the government deeming their formation of a civil political party “a red line not to be crossed. Popular political parties like Al Wasat and Al Karama are still struggling for legal recognition to no avail, while officially recognized parties suffer eroding popularity and public support.
Political despair is leading to both violence and political apathy; the latter being manifested in very low election turnout (according to independent judges and international observers and human rights activists, only three percent of registered voters participated in the constitutional amendments referendum last March) while violence takes shape in less moderate stands being adopted by mainstream politicians of varied ideologies and affinities.
A few are working towards overcoming ideological differences and uniting against the regime s corruption, tyranny and authoritarianism, while most have taken a step back, and become less prepared to working with others.
Intellectuals I talked to were extremely worried about the causes and consequences of the mounting number of cases of torture by police officers.
Over the past few months, more than 20 cases of torture were reported, some leading to death. The victims were not only political adversaries as one would expect, but average non-political citizens from different backgrounds and age groups, including children and teenagers.
Intellectuals are concerned that torture is now a widespread phenomenon that proves the psychological instability of police officers. Others take it a step further, asserting that the country is now lawless, and that the law of the jungle rules. Therefore, they argue, police officers tend to exploit their unchecked powers knowing that their acts will pass unnoticed, and if noticed, unaccounted.
One intellectual linked that phenomenon to increasing crime rates, arguing that criminals realize that the regime ranks its political security as a higher priority than security from crime, hence theft, rape and murder might pass unnoticed while spreading rumors about the president s health lead to journalists being put in jail.
All those I met had different problems and concerns, but they all shared the common uncertainty regarding the way out; most couldn t see one under the current regime and had no clue how it will change.
Mubarak has been in power for 26 years and not a single person I met knows what will happen after him. Everyone is certain that his son plans to step in, despite his unpopularity amongst the ruling elite as well as the masses.
Some argue that the young Mubarak will inevitably (albeit unfortunately) be the next president, others argue that this scenario is far from being signed, sealed and delivered. There is a theory that the regime is on the verge of collapse, having gone all out in waging war against the average citizen, while another states that Egyptians have become incapable of collective action.
Other think that the regime will collapse from within, as corruption has reached unprecedented levels and conflicts are flaring up between business cronies, and there is still the dream that hungry Egyptians will finally stand up and demand real change, as they did in 1977.
No one knows what will happen, but no one is optimistic; everyone awaits an uncertain future to unfold. Ibrahim Al-Houdaiby is board member of ikhwanweb.com, the English website of the Muslim Brotherhood group.