Egypt’s interim rulers welcomed on Thursday remarks from the US State department describing the rule of toppled leader Mohamed Morsi as undemocratic, clearly hoping they signaled Washington would not cut off its $1.5 billion in annual aid.
In a stark illustration of the desperate state of Egypt’s economy, a former minister from Morsi’s ousted government said Egypt has less than two months’ supply left of imported wheat, revealing a far worse shortage than previously disclosed. The army’s removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader last week, after millions took to the streets to protest against him, has left the Arab world’s most populous country polarized by divisions unseen in its modern history.
Violence between supporters of Morsi and soldiers at a military compound this week has deepened the fissures. Washington has been treading a careful line. US law bars aid to countries where a democratic government is removed in a coup. So far Washington has said it is too early to say whether the Egyptian events met that description.
Nevertheless, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, Morsi’s government “wasn’t a democratic rule”. “What I mean is what we’ve been referencing about the 22 million people who have been out there voicing their views and making clear that democracy is not just about simply winning the vote at the ballot box.” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Badr Abdelatty, said the comments “reflect understanding and realization … about the political developments that Egypt is witnessing in the recent days, as embodying the will of the millions of Egyptians who took to the streets starting on June 30 to ask for their legitimate rights and call for early elections”. In the days before Morsi’s downfall, the US ambassador in Cairo attracted sharp criticism from Morsi’s opponents for a speech that stressed that Morsi was democratically elected and discouraged street protests against him.
The White House on Monday refused to label the ouster of Egypt’s president a military coup and said there would be no immediate cut-off in US aid to Egypt. US officials have since said they are still reviewing the matter.
VIOLENCE: Two and a half years of political turmoil has left Egypt on the brink of economic collapse, scaring away tourists and investors, shriveling hard currency reserves and threatening its ability to import food and fuel for its 84 million people.
Speaking to Reuters near midnight in a tent at a vigil by thousands of Morsi supporters, the ousted president’s supply minister, Bassem Ouda, revealed that government stocks held just 500,000 metric tons of imported wheat.
Egypt, the world’s biggest buyer, usually imports about 10 million metric tons of wheat a year, half of which is given out by the state in the form of subsidized bread sold for less than one US cent a loaf. The imported wheat stock figure, previously a closely-guarded secret, means Egypt will need to urgently start spending a $12 billion financial aid lifeline it has been given in the past two days by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, rich Gulf states that welcomed Morsi’s downfall. Egypt had not bought any imported wheat since February, its longest absence from the market in years, until the eve of Morsi’s downfall when it bought 180,000 metric tons.
ROAD MAP: Adli Mansour, the interim president named by the general who removed Morsi, has moved briskly to implement an army “road map” to restore civilian rule. This week he announced a temporary constitution, plans to amend it and a faster-than-expected schedule for parliamentary elections in about six months.
He also named 76-year-old liberal economist Hazem el-Beblawi as interim prime minister. Beblawi held his first meetings with political leaders on Wednesday and told Reuters that he expects the transitional cabinet to be in place early next week. Negotiations are difficult, with the authorities trying to attract support from groups that range from secularists to ultra-orthodox Muslims, nearly all of whom expressed deep dissatisfaction with elements of the interim constitution.
Egyptian photographer ‘films his own death’ during army firing
Footage has emerged which suggests a photographer captured his own death at the hands of Egyptian army on camera. The 26-year-old photographer for Egypt’s Al-Horia Wa Al-Adala newspaper was among at least 51 people killed when security forces opened fire on a large crowd. The people were camping outside the Egyptian army’s Republican Guard officers’ club in Cairo, where ousted president Mohammed Morsi was believed to be in detention. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Ahmed Assem had been on the scene as the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters knelt for prayer shortly before dawn on Monday. News of Assem’s death filtered through after his bloodied camera and mobile phone were found at the site of the makeshift camp. Ahmed Abu Zeid, the culture editor of Assem’s newspaper, who was working from a facility set up next to the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, said that a man came into the media centre with a camera covered in blood and said that one of our colleagues had been injured.