CAIRO, Egypt — Liberals and other opponents of the Islamist government in Egypt have called for the military to resume control of the country if its dire economy continues to worsen amid ongoing political turmoil.
On Tuesday, a coalition of leftist and liberal parties known as the National Salvation Front announced it would boycott upcoming parliamentary elections, claiming President Mohammed Morsi is driving through an Islamist agenda and breaking a promise to govern on behalf of all Egyptians.
Without the NSF’s participation, many fear Islamist parties led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the more conservative Salafist parties will sweep the elections and dominate the House of Representatives. This would give them near complete control of the executive and legislative branches of government.
Amid the political strife, Egypt’s economy is on the brink of economic collapse — the government announced earlier this month it had run out of money to continue to pay for fuel subsidies.
Former United Nations nuclear agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who now leads the moderate Dustour party, was recently quoted by Foreign Policy magazine as saying that if “Egypt is on the brink of default [on its international debts], if law and order is absent, [the army] has a national duty to intervene.”
"I am sure they are as worried as everyone else. You cannot exclude that the army will intervene to restore law and order," he told reporters.
'Act of deception'
Referring to the forthcoming election, ElBaradei also said he would "not be part of an act of deception" in a message on Twitter.
"Absence of law & order, due process & cascade of Fatwas & 'legal' investigations vs opposition fast tracks Egypt towards a Kafkaesque state," he wrote in another tweet.
While liberals supported the revolution against former strongman Hosni Mubarak, some now see the idea of a military regime as a lesser of two evils if the alternative is the country's collapse.
Opposition newspapers, including el-Dostoor and el-Masry el-Youm, have highlighted the failures of Morsi's government with several pundits suggesting the military may have to intervene if the situation continues to deteriorate.
And on Monday, dozens of people rallied in Cairo at the tomb of former President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamist soldiers in 1981, to demand the military reassume control of the country and remove the Muslim Brotherhood from power.
The demonstration may have been relatively small, but the call for a return to military rule has created waves of anxiety across the country.
In the past few weeks, Morsi and his office have constantly sought to reassure the public that there is no tension between him and the military.
The president has denied local press reports that he was on the verge of sacking his defense minister.
But the military has fueled some of the tension by issuing warnings of collapse and statements of tacit disapproval of the current political stalemate.
Even the dates of the parliamentary election — to be held over three months — have been cause for controversy.
The date of the first round of voting originally fell on Easter weekend. In a country with nearly a 10 percent Christian population, the dates seemed at best bizarre, at worst offensive. The presidency quickly retracted the election announcement and declared new dates.
Islamist parties have dismissed the opposition’s election boycott, saying because they can’t win at the ballot box, they are boycotting the process and thus are jeopardizing Egypt’s fragile democracy.
All this adds to the pressure on its equally fragile economy.
Egypt has been desperately seeking to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which would give it a cash injection that would only Band Aid the problem, not solve it.
So far, the IMF has refused, citing the need for economic reforms. But the government has struggled to get the political backing it needs to take such drastic steps as cutting subsidies that could trigger broad street protests among those who would be affected the most.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the country experienced one of its worst tourist accidents on Tuesday when 19 people were killed when a hot air balloon caught fire.
The accident near the ancient city of Luxor raised fears that the country’s decimated tourism industry would be dealt another blow because of increased concerns about safety standards as well as the security of foreigners visiting Egypt.
In a country once beaming with hope and optimism, where its revolution was celebrated for its unity, a newly divided and tumultuous reality has now firmly taken root.