Saudis to Muslim Brotherhood: Drop Dead
"The uneasy modus vivendi between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military most likely will fail, and probably sooner than later," I argued this July 9, and the aftermath of the terrorist execution of sixteen Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai peninsula supports this conclusion. The funeral service for the dead soldiers erupted in rage against the Brotherhood, Al Ahram reports today from Cairo:
In a tense scene, hundreds of Egyptians gathered at Al-Rashdan Mosque in Cairo's Nasr City district around midday on Tuesday to attend the funeral service held for the 16 Egyptian guards killed at the Egypt-Gaza border on Sunday. Security forces were heavily deployed around the mosque, and several of the surrounding streets were blocked off.
Getting close to the mosque, Ahram Online found families of the killed soldiers, as well as some public figures, mourners and many angry protesters. The group was split between those who had made it inside the mosque to pray for the killed soldiers and the rest who waited outside in anger, chanting almost without pause, and at times fighting with each other.
Protesters mainly chanted against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, describing them as "betrayers of the country" and claiming that the Brotherhood collaborated with Hamas, which they accuse of involvement in the killing of Egyptian soldiers. “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood” and “The Brotherhood are agents and betrayers” were among the slogans that were chanted. The infuriated protesters also kicked out any citizen whom they suspected to be a member of the Islamist group. Most bearded men were labelled as members of the Brotherhood and were forced to leave.
Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, didn't show up. His prime minister did and was savaged by protesters: "Inside the mosque the atmosphere was also electric. Hisham Qandil, Morsi's newly-appointed prime minister, was present at the prayers and was physically assaulted by protesters. Several protesters threw their shoes at Qandil when he was inside the mosque."
Crucial to understanding Egypt's internal wrangling between the Brotherhood-dominated elected government and the military in the wings is the harsh reality of Egypt's economy: the country is nearly dead broke, and close to the point where it no longer can finance its $36 billion annual trade deficit. Egypt imports half its food, and is the world's largest wheat importer. Wheat and other food prices went through the roof due to the American drought and poor harvests elsewhere. Egypt is almost out of money. It also has trouble financing its enormous internal budget deficit (around 12% of GDP). The most likely outcome will be a substantial currency devaluation before the end of the year, with a sharp rise in food and energy prices, all of it laid at the door of the Muslim Brotherhood. The military will consolidate its grip over Egyptian politics in one fashion or another. As I wrote in the cited July 9 post: "The economic context is necessary to make sense of Egypt’s politics: it points to an important conclusion, that no path exists to stable rule by the Muslim Brotherhood."
The most important news to come out of Egypt in the past several weeks was yesterday's central bank announcement that foreign exchange reserves fell sharply during July. Liquid reserves fell by a quarter, from $7.8 billion to $5.9 billion. Al Ahram reported:
Egypt's net international reserves fell in July after inching up for three months in a row. Figures from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) published on Tuesday showed that Egypt's foreign currency reserves stood at some $14.42 billion by the end of July, down from $15.53 billion in June.
The CBE said on its website that the fall was due to maturing Egyptian bonds and payment of the Paris Club member countries' debt totaling some $1.64 billion.
Source. Central Bank of Egypt
Saudi Arabia, that is, didn't peel off a single dinar for the flailing Egyptians during the month of July, despite Prime Minister Morsi's high-profile trip to Riyadh during the middle of the month. With liquid reserves below $6 billion (the rest is gold, credits at the IMF, and a few other illiquid items) Egypt can pay for another two months of its trade deficit. The Saudis do not want to feed the mouth that bites their hand.
A great deal of wishful thinking arose from Morsi's visit about a new Saudi-Egyptian rapprochement, supposedly motivated by common opposition of the two Sunni Muslim countries to Iran. An example of this type of thinking came from Prof. Fouad Ajami in Tablet. The Saudis fear the Muslim Brotherhood, though, as much as they fear Iran: the Brotherhood's updated Islamism combines traditional religious authority with the organizing methods of modern totalitarian parties, and represents the most credible internal challenge to the Saudi monarchy. Saudi Arabia supported deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and bitterly rued his overthrow.
Evidently the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and its Saudi backers intend to let the Morsi government take the blame for Egypt's impending economic disaster. The assault on Egypt's prime minister at the soldiers' funeral may mark the decline of the Islamist organization. The only friend the Muslim Brotherhood has left is the Obama administration, which cannot -- in an election year -- give the Morsi government what it needs the most: enough money to get through the next few months.