In Focus: Fears in 2009

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CAIRO: I’m not optimistic about the advent of the New Year. All issues, domestic and regional alike, don’t portend well. As 2008 ends with many negative events on both levels, we can hardly expect the situation to improve in 2009. Indeed it may even get worse.

As regards the situation in Egypt, I expect the rate of disasters to rise as was the case in 2008. This year, the Shoura Council building was gutted by fire, the Duweiqa landslide claimed tens of lives, road accidents increased and bread demonstrations erupted in many governorates.

2009 could witness an increase in these disasters because there is no real strategy to deal with Egypt’s dilapidating infrastructure. Moreover, the government is busy increasing its foreign investments and improving economic development figures without this necessarily reflecting on basic sectors like education, health, utilities, bridges and roads.

On the political reform level, I don’t expect anything new. I can, further, confirm that democracy in the country will erode and retreat and no change will be introduced to the regime’s vision for the future of democracy.

For example, the new terrorism law may put new restrictions on political life making it even worse than the emergency law. It is also expected that a new law on civil society organizations will be issued to put more pressure and restrictions on the activities of these organizations. The elections law could also be changed to the detriment of more fair representation.

Furthermore, in 2009 the regime will seek to block opposition attempts to contest legislative elections slated for 2010. The siege imposed on the Muslim Brotherhood group will be tightened, and I expect next year to be the worst in terms of confrontations between the group and the regime. I also expect clashes between new opposition movements such as the 6 April Youth Movement, bloggers and security forces.

Egypt could also witness violent clashes either due to the increased political oppression of the opposition and ordinary people or because of the Egyptian government’s shameful role in the Palestinian issue, which reached unprecedented levels. The recent Gaza massacre has shown that the regime is no longer interested in the suffering of the Palestinian people.

What fuels my fears the most is having to live the same negative atmosphere we went through some 30 years ago when late President Anwar Sadat signed the peace accords with Israel in 1979. I don’t also rule out the possibility that some jihadist organizations will carry out acts of violence against Israelis in Sinai.

I’m also wary of rising religious tension between Muslims and Copts, particularly that frictions between the two sides in 2008 were rough and unprecedented and that it doesn’t appear that the government has an effective strategy to put an end to these frictions.

On the regional level, we will witness volatile states whether inside Arab countries or between them. I don’t expect a breakthrough in the Palestinian issue, or for the standoff between Iran and other countries in the region, particularly Egypt, to ease. Likewise, I don’t expect negotiations between Israel and Syria to lead to any real results. They will probably be a waste of time.

Finally, it seems that our happiness with Barak Obama’s election as US president will turn to a big shock in 2009, especially since he defends Israel’s right to kill Palestinian civilians.

Happy New Year.

Khalil Al-Anani is an Egyptian expert on political Islam and democratization in the Middle East and is a senior fellow at Al-Ahram Foundation. E-mail: [email protected].

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