More of the Same

This is a guest post by Abu Faris

Censoredbyyou recently pointed out to me:

the fact remains that Egypt. like all Arab states was better served under the old, unpleasant, regimes, than it is likely to be today if the MB get any power.

I want to reply:

That may be factually so, but this conclusion does not as a result necessarily flow:

The army remain the best hope for Egypt, as it used to be for Turkey, prior to its current state of de evolution.

Economically and in terms of values of secularism and liberal social orientation, the old Egypt seemed securer and more advanced than the present prospects for Egypt. Most Egyptians would go along with that. However, it does not mean inevitably that therefore  a return to old-style authoritarian, “army rule”, under Egyptian conditions, is a better future for Egyptians and their country (or for anyone else anywhere, for that matter).

To be picky, Egyptians have shown a surprisingly high democratic political nous over the last few months, that has flourished precisely because of the high stakes at play and the still vibrant revolutionary sense that Egyptians have a chance to make their own futures, rather than be the playthings of generals and bureaucrats as before. The winter, Parliamentary elections were dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Fatally it could not help itself, it garnered the most seats and together with the similarly ruthless Salafi coalition of En-Nur, it formed an absolute majority in the lower House.

MB then proceeded to present as fact the deal it had long before made with the military junta, the pact by which both recognised the other as partners in ruling Egypt. It ruled on its own behalf, the willing bureaucracy needed by a military that wanted to continue to flourish in its network of businesses, deals with overseas suppliers and trainers and assorted lucrative pursuits.

In fact, most Egyptians are bright enough to see that one coming. Yet they were also weak enough in the face of MB’s dominance in the fields of political organisation and experience to not be able to do much about it. Everyone knew that MB were and are arch-opportunists – they stood by at the beginning of the Revolution, waiting to see what would happen, which way the revolution would tip, who it would favour. Only when it became obvious that the Revolution would not ebb until Mubarak and his regime were gone did MB come down explicitly in favour of the revolutionaries and join in the struggle against the ancien regime.

And everyone knew that MB would march straight up to the army, who in the light of the revolution had seized direct power in Egypt – and had been welcomed as liberators by the risen people. The army too had and has its own agenda – and frankly it is deluded to imagine that the army’s plan of march necessarily was going to be in the best interests of anyone save the army.

The people found that out the hard way, as the army starting mowing down demonstrators, arresting radicals and activists, throwing about the truncheon and firing live rounds into crowds. The people and the army soon fell out of love with one another – and MB sat on its hands, doing nothing against the army practically, but everywhere angrily commiserating with the rebels and telling them that MB could make it all disappear.

There is a fascinating record of that rapid disenchantment with the army on the sea side wall of a building lot on the Corniche in Alexandria. A graffiti from very early in the revolution depicts, hand in hand, the three corners of the revolutionary triangle: a Copt, a Muslim and a soldier. Later, as reality set in lethally and nightly in the streets out the barrel of the army gun, someone had crossed out the depiction of the soldier in that street art.

From the moment the army disengaged from the risen people, restored order and sought an accommodation with the sole political force organised enough, capable of being the ruling bureaucracy for an updated version of the pre-revolutionary state… from that moment on, MB were the glove into which the army’s fist best fit. The army needed a stand off and MB wanted power. Both had tipped to the revolution when they realised it was going to win. The army needed to hang on to its political clout and tangible benefits in the new state and it needed a civic partner in crime. MB best fitted the bill and were eager for a taste of power.

To be frank, most Egyptians were happy with that arrangement, obvious but still more or less tacit, between the army junta and MB. People hoped that they would cancel each other out, or at least moderated each other: MB could talk the army out of wantonly killing and repressing the radicals, the army would restore order and stability for a nation largely made out of shopkeepers and peasant farmers. The old kleptocratic elite might crawl back out from under their rocks and it would be, albeit Islamically more tinged, business as usual.

Egyptians went into the Winter Parliamentary elections in that state of mind – and dutifully voted into office the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi. Both MB and the army junta were somewhat taken aback by the sheer alacrity with which the Egyptian electorate went about the business. The large majority for the Islamist parties surprised them: they had assumed the liberal and left would have played a larger role. In fact it threw both MB and the army into dilemmas. For MB, being the majority party meant that they were going to find increasing conflicts with the Salafi who had also done very well, but had more directly, assertive demands of a religious order than MB’s smooth, image-conscious patter. For the army, MB had emerged more powerful that it might have wanted: MB threatened to regard the army as a junior partner with its wide-scale support at the ballot boxes, with seemingly the people behind it – and definitely (as above) hostile or disenchanted with the army.

MB became more vocally critical of the junta; it began to demonstrate against it. Writing cynically, MB was increasingly uncomfortable being associated with the army as the army became increasingly unpopular not just with the radicals, but also with the Egyptian masses as a whole. However, MB were also aware that the army would, inevitably, intervene with a coup d’etat should MB attempt to side-line the armed forces, threaten their established privileges or political place.

The clever boxing of both MB and the armed forces have increasingly exasperated and repelled the Egyptian people.

For a long time, those in the know have understood that MB are a smooth-talking political religious mafia, effectively a gang who genuinely think that God is making them do the things they do. Their divine right is to rule, because Allah told them to rule. They are not stupid, nor are they religious fanatics of any obvious order: they are cynical, ruthless, calculating and utterly convinced in the moral and political rectitude of their actions and their divine right to proceed by any and all means necessary to gain and hold real political power.

One of the measures by which one might pace out the dimensions of the revolution and post-revolutionary Egypt is the degree to which the MB have increasingly become widely modelled by ordinary Egyptians in the above outlined manner. Egyptians have come to realise the true depths of MB political depravity: they will lie, cheat, steal, trick and rob the people to get what they want. The radicals are too weak and disorganised – and MB really do not need the people for anything else. A fatal flaw in Egypt’s revolution (like so many before) is that the Egyptian people were not wise to the ways of democratic state politics – MB saw them coming.

Before last week’s first round in the Presidential elections, that was pretty much the state of play: people exhausted by the endless upheavals, cynical and disenchanted with both the junta and the Muslim Brotherhood. Only 60% voted in the two days of balloting for the new President – 40% stayed at home. MB and the candidate of the old regime most favoured by the army and most of the people stand neck to neck. The advances made in the parliamentary elections have almost been completely lost by MB in the first round of the Presidential elections. People have turned against them, revolted by their lies, treachery and cynicism.

Most people do not want an MB president. Most people regret they elected MB in such large numbers. Most people want a counter-balance in an executive presidency to MB and Salafi dominance in the Assembly. Most people are willing to let by-gones be by-gones with the army, let them keep their subsidies and privileges and perks and power, just as long as they return to barracks and let the coming struggles conducted in a civil and democratic manner unfold between the people, the President and the politically busted MB.

There is a dangerous naivity in all this – and I hear it time after time from Egyptians. Many hope and believe that the future will see the collapse of MB in the face of economic and social challenges; and that at the next elections, they hope and believe, MB and the Salafi will be knocked for six by the people. There is an awful “just you wait and see” optimism that MB will do for themselves and eventually be gone.

But nothing falls over in politics unless it is pushed. As an Egyptian of some perception admitted to me, it is most unlikely that MB would tolerate even the threat of an electoral defeat at some future date, that it would ordinarily hand over power in the face of the ballot.

How would it rule? Well, how has it been ruling? By doing another deal with the army.

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