Middle East

Egypt's new government struggles amid Tahrir clashes

Bus alight in Cairo protest. 12 Oct 2012

Was this the day Egypt began to turn against its new, Muslim Brotherhood-led government ?

A year and a half after Egyptians united, in Tahrir Square, to bring down Hosni Mubarak, they gathered again in Tahrir Square. But this time the rival political forces joined battle, supporters versus opponents of President Mohammed Mursi.

The wags in Egypt were saying that the Muslim Brotherhood staged a demonstration... against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The joke is telling. There's a sense that the Brotherhood are still acting like the opposition force they have been for many decades, not the government in power.

It's just over 100 days since President Mursi took office. Many Egyptians say he has done little, if anything to sort out Egypt's many problems.

There is no sign of any improvement in the economy. And there is mockery for the president's pledge to provide an instant solution for Cairo's notorious traffic.

So when supporters and opponents of the president converged on Tahrir Square, for simultaneous demonstrations, trouble was always possible.

Image caption Demonstrators are unhappy about a wide range of issues, from the constitution to the economy

It soon degenerated into a series of scuffles. Two buses that had brought Brotherhood supporters to the square were set on fire.

And in the industrial town of Mahalla in the Nile Delta - famous for its opposition to President Hosni Mubarak's government - the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters was attacked.

When confrontations break out in Egypt, it's difficult to tell whether it's just rival political groups fighting for power, or an expression of a wider feeling in Egyptian society.

The battleground for political activists is the new constitution. A draft is nearly completed, ready for a referendum. Opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood say it is too heavily weighted towards Islam.

For most Egyptians, it's everyday survival that is their prime concern, with the tourist trade in the doldrums, foreign investment down, and food prices up.

Perils of power

What's most worrying for President Mursi is that his popularity seems to be plunging, even before he has made the really difficult decisions that seem unavoidable.

Specifically, Egypt's budget will continue deeper and deeper into the red, unless the vast fuel subsidy is reduced. Egypt will also have trouble winning a big loan from the IMF. Many experts fear the currency could be in for a big fall.

Even after the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood were reluctant to put up a candidate for president.

They realised the huge difficulties ahead.

Now after decades when they could only dream of running the country, the Muslim Brotherhood are learning very quickly about the perils of power.