Magazine article The Middle East

Letter from Cairo

Magazine article The Middle East

Letter from Cairo

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

NOW THAT EGYPT HAS A NEW PRESIDENT, Cairo feels relieved. It's still insanely hot, humid and polluted but there is a sense that something has been accomplished and people can get on with their lives. The election run-offs offered a choice between Ahmed Shafiq, a staunch member of ousted Hosni Mubarak's regime, and Mohammed Mursi, a relatively unknown Muslim Brother, i.e. the devil or the deep blue sea as far as most Egyptians were concerned. A little over 13 million chose Mr Mursi to lead this county of 85 million. Such is the power of democracy.

In Egypt, however, there are greater powers at work. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces, for example, but also society itself. How will people conduct themselves as the country moves forward? With their customary forbearance? With energy or indifference? What will it mean to Muslim Brothers supporters, a group repressed for decades, to find themselves on the winning team? Will they lord it over (as it were) the (secular) losers? And will the latter continue to trust in their county's possibilities? Will a spirit of unity prevail--or will economic pressures turn sectarian and class fault-lines into destructive seismic shifts?

At a dinner party the other night, everyone was talking politics. The hostess, an oriental dancer of Iranian origin, is leaving Egypt. Work has been slow for years as the deteriorating economic situation forced many entertainment venues to close. An Islamist president, she figures, is unlikely to improve business. She's moving back to London, and fears that Egypt will become 'another Iran', the country her parents fled in the 1970s when it became the Islamic Republic.

One of the guests was a woman member of Egypt's recently founded Social Democratic Party. "You're giving the country to the Islamofacists! …

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