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Can Cairo's calm be sustained?

Curfews and a heavy security presence have restored a degree of normalcy to much of Egypt's capital.

Last Modified: 23 Aug 2013 15:52
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The army has imposed a state of emergency following the violent dispersal of protests on August 14 [AFP]

Cairo, Egypt - Tense as the situation might be, there is a air of ordered calm in Egypt’s capital.

Gone are the sit-ins and accompanying marches in support of reinstating deposed president Mohamed Morsi, which were cleared violently on August 14.

Subsequent large protests, such as the one last week in Ramses Square, were likewise dispersed with gunfire, teargas and the eventual storming of a mosque where many protesters had taken shelter.

Since then, a vague sense of normalcy has returned to life here. It has been achieved with the help of a massive security presence, guarding and blocking access to many government buildings and landmarks, coupled with a curfew keeping people off the roads from 7pm until 6am.

Shops are mostly open and traffic roars through the streets until 7pm, when the city that usually doesn't know the meaning of rest looks abandoned. Only the odd taxi or emergency vehicle drives on roads that are ordinarily congested around the clock.

There are, of course, still some protests and outbreaks of violence in the form of reported prison breaks or attacks on churches.

However, the rhythm of daily life has returned, even if in a somewhat more concentrated form and in abbreviated hours.

Given that this state-of-emergency curfew is not sustainable - at least for economic reasons - how maintainable is Cairo's current sense of calm and to what extent has stability actually improved in the capital?

"Nothing has been done to improve the situation," said Mostafa Bassiony, a risk analyst with the Signit Institute.

"[The] economy is suffering already, and I don't think [the] curfew can last for two more weeks," he said, adding that some demonstrations will eventually fade away, but the release of toppled president Hosni Mubarak would "trigger more protests".

The Mubarak factor

The prospect that Mubarak might be cleared of corruption charges and released on bail (he still faces charges in connection with the deaths of protesters in 2011) might complicate Cairo’s security situation.

"The decision to free him is going to enrage people and fuel protests," said strategic analyst Talaat Musalam, who thinks that the army will be able to control the situation but the timing of the judge's order to free Mubarak was bad.

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Follow our ongoing coverage of the political crisis in Egypt

Despite this, Musalam said that the military "can sustain security for long periods of time", citing the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel as examples of the Egyptian military's endurance.

The coalition of pro-Morsi "anti-coup" movements has been calling for daily protests, although recent marches have been smaller and far more sedate than what was seen previously in Ramses Square or at the sit-ins in Nasr City and Giza.

But it is also unlikely that the original revolutionary youth movements that spearheaded the January 2011 uprising against Mubarak will quietly accept his release.

"Of course we are calling for more protests," said Mohamed Adel, co-founder and spokesperson of the April 6 Youth Movement. "We are mobilising to get people to the high court building to get Mubarak back to jail."

Adel links the current "security solution" for keeping Cairo calm to the Mubarak era, and believes there are better ways to solve the political impasse.

"We reject the army and security solution - we see it failed during the last 30 years, " said Adel. "We see that more violence from any group - the government or Islamists - will move us toward more violence on the street."

Long-term stability

With a political solution currently out of reach, how long can and will the Egyptian security forces maintain the state of emergency and all the watchfulness it requires?

Stability in Egypt requires first of all that forces of political Islam prove their loyalty to Egypt not to external entities

Abdul-Monem al-Mashat, national security expert

"According to the 2012 constitution - the Muslim Brotherhood one - it is possible to extend it [the state of emergency] for another month," said Abdul-Monem al-Mashat, a national security expert and dean of the faculty of economic and political science of Future University in Egypt.

"However, my feeling is that with the defeat of the MB regime and the arrest of many of their terrorist leaders, real thugs, I believe that we will not need any extension of emergency law," said al-Mashat.

"In case terrorist attacks operated by fanatics in Sinai, we might need an extension. However, the success of the Egyptian army in eliminating these elements - enemies of the Egyptian people - [means] there will be no need for emergency law," he said.

But stability in the country will ultimately require that all parties share a certain set of goals; al-Mashat believes the political umbrella of nationalism could serve this purpose.

"Stability in Egypt requires first of all that forces of political Islam prove their loyalty to Egypt not to external entities," he said. Some Egyptians fear that Islamists are more loyal to their faith, he said, and this could bind them to foreign groups rather than the nation.

What is needed now, he said, is the “transparent implementation of the future road map agreed upon by all national forces - including the Egyptian army.”

Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @dparvaz

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Al Jazeera
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