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Egypt's Identity Crisis

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
September 19, 2011
Foreign Policy


It may be hard to believe -- with the weekly Friday protests, last week's teachers strike, student sit-ins, and the Sept. 9 storming of the Israeli embassy -- but there is something languid about Cairo these days. Perhaps it was the long, hot, and very tense summer, but the creativity and positive energy that marked Egypt between January and June seems sapped. Whatever is going on in the streets, and recently at the campus of the American University in Cairo, seems forced -- a strained effort to do something, anything, to once again capture the lightning in a bottle that was those 18 days in Tahrir Square. It is not working, though. Last Friday's protest (dubbed, "No to Emergency Law") only drew only hundreds to the square.

It is not so much that one group is ascendant at the expense of others. Everyone seems to be struggling with the complexities of the present moment. Egyptian liberals are despondent over what they fear will be a Muslim Brotherhood rout in the November elections; revolutionary groups are having trouble gaining traction with a fatigued population; Islamists are confident, but have flailed tactically in an unfamiliar political environment; Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's government is a non-factor; and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seems to be staggering under the pressure of a political role for which they were never trained. This bleak atmosphere is a stunning turnaround from the post-uprising mantra of "Anything has got to be better than the Mubarak regime."

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