Egypt recently experienced its most serious round of violence since the election of President Mohammed Morsi in June 2012. (...). Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in various parts of Egypt decried the government's failure to fulfill the promises made during the revolution and even called for the resignation of the Muslim Brotherhood regime and Morsi.
The most violent riots took place in Port Said, at the northern terminal of the Suez Canal, after a death sentence was imposed on 21 people for their roles in the violence leading to the deaths of 74 soccer fans last year. (...) The demonstrations continued the following weekend, with thousands of demonstrators in Cairo, Port Said, Alexandria and Ismailia returning to the streets. (...)
The degree of violence in these clashes reflects the extreme tension that developed over the past few months between the Muslim Brotherhood government and the opposition regarding the drafting of a constitution and its ratification by referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood's determination to draft a constitution without the opposition's approval, including the president's attempt to assume certain absolute powers, galvanized the opposition's resolve.
The violent street demonstrations, however, are of economic and social origin. Since his election, Morsi has dedicated most of his time to reinforcing the Muslim Brotherhood regime rather than attempting to reach some agreement with opposition forces that would enable him to cope with Egypt's most pressing problems. (...)
The extended upheaval in the streets and the lack of legitimacy ascribed to the Muslim Brotherhood regime prevent Morsi's government from taking the necessary economic steps to stabilize the Egyptian economy, which is burdened by poor growth and a massive budgetary deficit.
Egypt needs loans from international bodies that would require it to cut subsidies and increase taxes. Such loans are not granted under conditions of internal instability. If no means of compromise is found between the Muslim Brotherhood government and opposition forces, public protests may well intensify and turn into "bread riots." (...)
The outbreak of violence all along the Suez Canal raises several pointed questions. At this stage, it is uncertain whether any deliberate attempt has been made to deny Egypt access to its only major strategic asset: the link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
This strategic target was the focus of interest of the great powers, at times demanding their military intervention. From the day the canal was opened in 1869, any attempt at a hostile takeover — especially if it were to succeed — would alter the balance of power in the Middle East and block the passage of third-party warships and merchant vessels, including Israeli ships.