David Ignatius
Opinion writer November 13, 2013

Ayear ago, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders in this region of the Nile Delta seemed confident that they owned the future. But then came the military coup on July 3 that toppled President Mohamed Morsi and killed hundreds of his supporters.

David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. View Archive

The story of this tumultuous counterrevolution is clarified by a visit to this town in the heart of the delta. You encounter an odd combination of a bottom-up popular rejection of the Brotherhood and a top-down military putsch. I was happy to hear demands for citizens’ rights, even amid the cheers for the generals. But it’s fair to say that the basic problem of this region — not enough jobs for a rapidly expanding population — hasn’t improved at all.

The Muslim Brotherhood leadership here has disappeared, into prison or hiding. Their headquarters on Nasser Street has been converted into a commercial day-care center. A few blocks away, the offices of the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, have been taken over by an interior design firm. There’s a spooky feeling that Brotherhood members have become “unpersons,” not seen or discussed.

Mohammed Mansour, a 21-year-old business student whose cousin is a Brotherhood supporter, explained why Morsi has so little support now: “The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization that operates in the dark. When they were given the opportunity to operate in the light, they failed.”

To get a sense of what political activists here think, I contacted local members of a leftist group called the April 6 movement, which helped power the 2011 Tahrir Square revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. A year ago, they talked loudly outdoors along a Nile canal, denouncing Morsi. This time, they asked to meet inside a cafe on Talaat Harb Street. But they proved to be as outspoken as ever — especially in warning against continued military rule.

“Most people here hated the Brotherhood and Morsi,” argued Mohammed Kamal, a computer teacher at a local high school. But he’s worried that Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who led the coup (spoken of here as a popular “revolution”), will decide to run for president next year and “a military uniform will enter the presidential palace again,” in a reprise of Mubarak. “We appreciate what Sissi has done in getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the army is there to protect, not to rule.”

Mostafa Ibrahim, a 49-year-old lawyer who heads the local chapter of the liberal al-Dostour Party, said he had recently gone to the local governor and admonished him: “Nothing will change unless you change the people under you.” The “faloul,” or remnants of the Mubarak regime, still hold many key positions.

These activists conceded that they were in the minority and that, if Sissi decided to run, he would get 90 percent of the vote. “People are tired of disorder,” said Kamal. “They want to get on with their lives.”

What happened during the year of Morsi’s rule helps explain why the Islamists lost support. The Brotherhood tried to install a member as governor late last year, but he lasted only three months. There was an interim period of no governor, and then they tried again to install their own man in June. He never could get to his office because of daily protests outside. Meanwhile, Brotherhood members began using local services such as distribution of butane gas to win political patronage.

Under the Brotherhood, “There was no clear plan for development of Menoufia. There was no investment, no visits by ministers, no opening of new factories. You could feel a sense of stagnation,” said Mohammed el-Shamy, a reporter for Akhbar el-Yom newspaper.

When I visited here a year ago, Badr el-Falah, a local Brotherhood member of parliament, talked of economic development — but without any specifics. He disappeared after June 30 and “nobody has heard of him,” said Shamy with a shrug.

As discontent with Morsi increased last spring, the Tamarod movement began circulating petitions calling for Morsi’s removal. According to Ibrahim, the petition was signed by 2.6 million people, or more than half of Menoufia’s 4.5 million residents. The group claims it obtained 22 million signatures across Egypt.

Since the generals stepped in, security here is better and “people are happier and more relaxed,” said Kamal. But there are no new jobs — and that’s the core problem.

Mansour said he has no idea what to do when he graduates, except try to emigrate: “The person who graduates in Menoufia doesn’t get a job in Menoufia. He gets on a bus.”

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