Whose Voice Speaks for Egypt?

Article Summary
Mustafa El-Labbad discusses the four “pillars of authority” in Egypt to explain its current dilemma. He warns that if the conflict between the Islamists and the secularists takes center stage, it will re-legitimize the military authority, as it "will no longer be seen as the opponent, and instead will become a referee between conflicting sides."  

The demonstration that took place in Cairo, Egypt on April 20 brought glory back to Tahrir (Liberation) Square, following a running conflict between the “legitimacy of the square” and the “legitimacy of the parliament.” One million Egyptians from different backgrounds and ideologies packed into the square, in a stark contrast with the makeup of the Egyptian parliament. This demonstration revived the memory of those blessed 18 days — from January 25 to Febrary 11, 2011 — which started with a popular uprising and ended with the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Many developments have taken place in Egypt since the end of this uprising. Egyptians witnessed a shift in the balance of power and the formation of new alliances — some successful, some not so much. More than a year after Mubarak was toppled, the revolution’s harvest continues to be significantly lower than expected. Although the popular uprising managed to overthrow the head of the regime, it was able to survive without its villain. In order to grasp the importance of the Friday protest dubbed “Saving the Revolution and Self-Determination,” we must first analyze the main pillars of Egyptian authority — or any authority, for that matter. Then, it is necessary to contrast this analysis with the events taking place on the ground in Egypt to get a clear picture of the revolution’s achievements to date, and to understand the secondary disputes currently taking place.

The authority of any state is founded on four main pillars. The first pillar is represented by the political institutions and the legislative and executive bodies, the second pillar is the economy, the third is the security and military apparati and the fourth is the media. The political and legislative institutions in Egypt have witnessed some important changes. The parliamentary and Shura Council elections resulted in the Islamist movement — namely the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists — winning a majority of seats. However, this group lacked the ability to actually influence the course of politics. The reason lies in the constitutional declaration of March 2011, which drew out an uncertain path for the transitional stage. The election of parliamentarians took place before the presidential elections, and both of these were given precendence over the drafting of a new constitution.

Last March, the ruling authority, backed by supporters of the Islamic movement, rallied Egyptians in favor of the the referendum. The authority wanted to gain time and protect its control over the four pillars, which had been allowing it to avoid change. Meanwhile, the Islamist movement had put high stakes on winning a parliamentary majority, as it saw this as key to gaining a strong position from which to negotiate the distribution of power. The Islamist movement did not notice that the constitutional declaration — which includes more than 60 articles — had its pros and cons. For the Islamists, one of these cons was Article 60, which stipulates that the parliament can neither overthrow the transitional government nor form a new government on its own. This means that the Islamists’ majority in parliament is a joke.

Article 28 of the constitutional declaration stipulates that the Supreme Committee of the Presidential Elections is immune from any appeal against its decisions. This includes its decision to exclude the presidential candidate nominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, and allows the committee to largely control the upcoming presidential elections. The election of the parliament and the Shura Council — which required months of preparations and procedures — did not lead to fundamental amendments to the balance of power.

The socioeconomic structure (the second pillar of authority) that had been governing Egypt has remained unchanged. The structure is not even being challenged or scrutinized by most parliamentary political forces. The dynamics, production processes and consumption patterns are still the same, as is the way profit is being distributed in Egypt. Senior businessmen still assume the same posts and continue to manipulate Egyptian markets. Only a few were affected by the revolution’s events: those in support of a succession of power and who had geared up economically in support of toppled successor Gamal Mubarak. The prominent elites have continued to influence Egypt's economy and remain in their monopolizing positions of past. They sustained the parasitic activities which have transformed Egypt into a society based on services, consumption, loans and the sale of state assets. Actual production is absent. There is a huge disparity between the profits of the minority, which comprises no more than 20 families controlling a great segment of Egypt’s economy, and that of the majority, who is trying hard to make a living. Since the revolution, the mechanisms that were used to drain the country’s economic surplus under Mubarak's rule remain, siphoning away resources at an even higher rate than before. The monopolists and the capitalists have fled Egypt to seek refuge elsewhere, leading the government to take took foreign loans to cover its basic needs due to a lack of state revenues. What’s more, Egypt is suffering from high interest rates and premium payments, which are straining the national budget. Meanwhile, Egypt is witnessing a decrease in its official monetary reserves and a decline in the value of its national currency as capital continues to leave the country. These dynamics are characteristic of a devastating cycle of corruption and foreign dependency that still persists to this date.

A careful look at the third pillar of authority — the security apparatus and military — reveals that they have largely remained unchanged, only witnessing a slight shift in leadership within the Ministry of Interior, which counts more than three-quarters of a million official employees. These official employees receive fixed salaries from the government. Then, there are the non-official employees. Without any hesitation, we can say that the security and military institutions have continued to exercise the same duties and impose the same policies without any significant change.

The authority's fourth pillar — the media — has also played an undeviating role, as no change took place in its ranks. The official media is still directly owned by the authorities, while "private media" is owned by small groups of prominent businessmen who are in one way or another allied with the authority based on their common interests. These media organizations were careful in measuring out their opposition to the authority. After the official media lost its credibility during the popular uprising, the "private media" stepped in to skillfully re-package and re-market "acceptable" personalities from the elite and former regime to speak on behalf of the revolution. These figures have taken over the media platforms by appearing on TVs and in newspapers to discuss topics of only secondary importance. They have been careful not to cross the line and mainly discuss topics related to the ruling authority and its regional and international allies, as well as the interests of the owners of these media platforms. The main task of the "private media" should be to turn Egypt’s primary issues into topics for discussion, not magnify secondary conflicts between the different political components in order to divert attention away from the country’s real goals with a clamor of TV ads.

The Muslim Brotherhood has once again taken to the streets in an attempt to regain the popular "legitimacy of the square," with which they hope to supplant the "legitimacy of the parliament,” where the Brotherhood realized its powerlessness and ineffectiveness. It is important to note that the representatives of this religious movement, who won the majority of the seats in the elections that took place few months ago, had fervently stressed the supremacy of the parliament. They contended that the "legitimacy of the square" expired with the holding of the parliamentary elections. On April 20, more than 2 million Egyptians without anything in particular in common gathered at the square. All of those who went to Tahrir Square were marching to the beat of his or her own drum. The Salafists, who had supported the now-disqualified presidential candidate Hazim Salah Abu-Ismael were in Tahrir to show their solidarity with him, while the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated to show that they are incensed by the exclusion of their candidate, Khairat al-Shater. Other groups went to Tahrir square to voice their concern over the possibility that the military council might not fulfill its promise and hand over power on June 30, 2012. Liberal and leftist groups demanding a balanced approach to the formation of the constitution-drafting committee and consensus over a revolutionary candidate to run for the presidency had the same demand: the military’s departure from power. The absence of the binding link between the demonstrators stems from the reluctance of the ruling authority to meet the demands of the public. In short, the fact that demonstrators turned out in such great numbers does little to cover up the fact they there were clear political rifts between the groups in the square. This reveals a significant and perilous issue.

The Muslim Brotherhood is losing sleep over the content of the Constitutional Declaration. The Brotherhood had previously called on Egyptians to support the declaration under the pretext of preserving the Islamic Sharia, even though this was not the topic of the referendum in the first place. The Muslim Brotherhood has not fulfilled any of its promises to the Egyptians. The Brothers promised not to monopolize the parliamentary seats, not to control the constitutional assembly and lastly, not to nominate anyone for the presidential elections. They broke all of these promises, but their candidate, Khairat Al-Shater, was disqualified. However, the Brotherhood still has a secondary candidat, Muhammad Mursi, running in the presidential race. The main conflict between the military and those forces calling for change rages on. The secondary conflict between the religious and civil and revolutionary forces continues as well.

Betraying the trust of the people, violating national agreements to pursue deals and breaking promises for political expediency behind closed doors are dangerous moves. They might result in secondary conflicts evolving into central struggles. Once this happens, the ruling authority will no longer be seen as the opponent, and instead will become a referee between conflicting sides. This mixing of primary and secondary struggle heralds an uncertain situation. This will create turmoil in Egypt that may invite foreign intervention into the country’s affairs.

Will the Muslim Brotherhood take on the historic responsibility for this critical stage by withdrawing their second candidate as a sign of goodwill, agree on one presidential candidate for the revolutionary forces and accept a constituent committee for the constitution that reflects the principles of partnership, not dominance? The upcoming days will unveil the answer to this question. However, history has proven to us that the legitimacy of Egypt's political forces can be only derived from the great Egyptian people. The place to be is Al-Tahrir Square. Those who join the square will triumph, but those who do not will be let down.

Found in: scaf, muslim brotherhood, muslim, leftists, khairat shater, islamists, constitutional assembly, abu ismael

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