During President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign, Egypt’s politics were in a coma and suffocated by the state’s executive branch, security apparatus and antiquated bureaucracy.
It’s true that the three decades had been politically stable, but that stability was not the fruit of a balance between the state’s institutions and society, a balance that reflected society’s acceptance of the state while society retained the ability to influence the course of politics and decision-making. Rather, the stability was because politics — as a constructive, influential and positive force — was frozen and supplanted by emergency laws and security organs that monitored all politics, starting from student and trade union elections, to infiltrating political parties and co-opting their leadership, and sowing discord inside them to paralyze and discredit them publicly.
That’s how most of Egypt’s elite became captive and dependent. Some joined the government looking for personal gain. Others joined it with an intent to reform it but lost their voices amid the authoritarian hypocrisy and political corruption. Others remained in the opposition, which was suppressed. They subsequently lost hope and turned into political clients of the ruling party. They obeyed its orders and remained within the boundaries drawn for them. They got stuck between a hammer and the anvil: control and obedience.
The state’s encroachment worsened. The state’s success in fabricating, temporarily, a new and artificial base made up of corrupt businessmen at the expense of the middle class led to a dearth in leaders who naturally emerge from society. That process spanned the liberal era, passed through the era of President Anwar Sadat and through the beginning of the Mubarak era, leading to the death of politics. Egypt thus became a large body with no brain.
So it was not surprising that the Jan. 25 Revolution came from outside the political system, both government and opposition. The revolution was inspired by youth movements, as an alternative to the corroded elite.
But Egypt soon paid a big price when the revolution embraced the elite’s role as the country was in the process of rebuilding its political system. The old politics hid behind the revolution. And during stressful times, it hid behind the chaotic manifestations that wore the cloak of freedom and claimed the right to speak in the revolution’s name.
Before Mohammed Morsi became president, politics was practiced in the streets, where there were many revolutionary groups. All of them were on the right side of history because they were composed of strugglers who were baptized by the holy fire of freedom. Every “revolutionary” went all the way in demanding all he wanted and in rejecting all what the others wanted.
Each one among the masses heard only his own voice and shut his ears to the voices of those around him. The people started screaming at each other rather than debating. They were neighbors in the squares, but they never got close to each other. The instinct of control has gotten hold of them. The urge for revenge and for marginalizing and excluding others grew until the whole thing ended with a populist dictatorship.
Most of the elite — starting with the presidential candidates, the traditional parties, and even the myriad media channels — started dancing to that populist dictatorship’s rhythm, rather than try to rationalize it, guide it through a serious and responsible dialogue, and help it agree on specific programs and a road map to the future.
In that atmosphere, conspiracy theories flourished. The revolutionaries became suspicious of each other and of the political parties. And both of those became suspicious of the military council. All sides traded accusations. The best figures and those most able to lead the country were morally assassinated. The Muslim Brotherhood used that weakness to reach power. Even after Morsi became president, politics didn’t return to the state’s institutions except for a few months. It quickly returned to the streets in the shape of which side can gather the bigger crowd. Those crowds surged from the Constitutional Declaration in November 2012 until June 30, 2013.
During these long months, it was not possible to put forth a list of demands or a vision by an “opposition” to a “ruler.” The two sides had no serious discussions to reach an agreement. There were neither compromises nor even inducements that would lead one party to acquiesce to another. Normal “politics” was absent.
The Egyptian political arena looked like a barren desert with no leaders or channels for interaction and dialogue. That lasted until the June storm, when the revolutionaries took to the streets. No one was able to negotiate with another. No one was able to imagine the fate of that discordant crowd had the army not intervened to resolve the situation.
The army intervened and ended the volatile situation. But the problem remained because the army must eventually return to its barracks. And when it returns, it will leave behind a void that no one can fill.
So many public and private citizens, even former presidential candidates, felt the danger of the impending vacuum if the army departed the scene. So they all started singing the praise of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s team. The man who acted as a highly competent military commander is now being asked to be a political savior, in the hope that he would be just as competent in that role, too.
Although he seems to prefer staying behind the scenes as he engineers the transition operation, he has nevertheless been making continual proclamations. Attempts to put him in front of the camera have not stopped. The masses want a hero. They don’t want a president, but a savior, a king who would give them freedom from heaven and save them the trouble of having to build that freedom’s foundations here on earth. But they seem unaware that miracles have stopped happening on earth, and that something without deep roots doesn’t last.
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