Thursday, April 4, 2013

Revolution and the Post Revolution Crisis in Egypt

 Shakeel Shaheen 
What has happened in Egypt post Mubarak is not difficult to discern. It has been a cocktail of deep state, entrenched and vested interests and opportunistic politicians trying their best to delay and /or subvert an inevitable change of fortunes. Since the Free Officers coup of 1950s Egypt was ruled by a ruthless elite class which dominated its polity as well as economy. Egypt was one of the worst Police states in the world with one of the most brutal and largest intelligence apparatuses in the world aimed at choking any hint of internal dissent. Egyptian torture chambers have entered into pages of history with all their stink and brutality with books like Days of My Life by late Zainab al Ghazali. Egyptian society is marked by a dichotomy between a smaller, so called liberal or secular but well established class and a much larger but economically weaker and religiously conservative class barring a few exceptions. The elite class has been in power and has enjoyed all the bounties of power for decades. It dominates all the important state institutions be it the military, civil administration, judiciary or the media. It has a particularly potent presence in the field of media where its accumulated wealth of decades has translated into telecasting and print media empires. It is a class of Egyptians that has been most influenced rather penetrated by the imitation of western values and ideas.
As is universal with elites such an elite class is a minority in Egypt. The majority of Egyptians rather by and large embody a starkly opposite entity in terms of socio cultural values, political preferences, religious values and economic conditions of what is conspicuous about the elite class. These are people who have lived under a ruthless and brutal police and intelligence apparatus which has abused their rights for decades.  These are people who hold a deep love for Islamic movements and Islamic culture .By and large they look towards Islam not only as their religion but also as the fountainhead of all their values, ideals and ideas. That has translated into Islamists winning all the elections in the Post revolution Egypt. So we have had Egypt as a country where an ostentatiously secular/leftist elite has been more or less dominating (at times battering) the conservative majority for fifty years at the orders and for the favors of its foreign backers .The bureaucratic-military nature of Egyptian state fits it firmly in the description of an overdeveloped state. It is pertinent to emphasize that the relationship has not been as static over the years. The primarily rural and disenfranchised majority of Egyptians has made steady progress rather inroads in the fields of modern education and businesses traditionally dominated by the elite. Most of the professional syndicates, for example, are dominated by the Islamists. The emerging Egyptian middle class has thus been a steady projection of the conservative Egyptian majority into corridors of progress, business and education. But the corridors of power are what have been precisely shut for them. While they were allowed to dominate fields like medicine and engineering, the critical state apparatuses like bureaucracy, judiciary, and military were shut on them.  The recent voting on constitution by the Egyptians is an instructive example. The Islamist sponsored constitution was bitterly opposed by the elite class. The Egyptian expatriates in Gulf voted overwhelmingly in its favor where as the comparatively smaller in number expatriates in the west voted mostly against it. The dichotomy was obvious, the Egyptian expatriates in Gulf are mostly middle class professionals where as the elite dominates the expatriate class in the west. A similar but comparatively less intense dichotomy was observed between rural and urban Egypt, exceptions included. Rural Egypt voted overwhelmingly in favor of the constitution where as the competition was more intense in the cities. In fact in Cairo it was the no vote which eked out a thin majority over the yes vote.
There is an important point that needs elucidation.  As distinct as the elite and the non elite classes of Egypt may seem, the stratification still is not watertight and there is a lot of cross class movement. Many well off and elitist sections have taken Islamist orientations. Islamists have consistently tried to propagate their ideas in the elite class and their efforts have not been without fruits. Similarly the Egyptian state controlled by the elite has consistently cultivated collaborators in the poorer sections of the society. The rank and file of the Police establishment or for that matter even the army and intelligence come from the non elite sections of the society. But the centers of power and decision making have remained an exclusive dominion of the elite. Even if some have managed to reach there, they have been organically absorbed and thus detached from their roots completely; exceptions included. The non elite Egyptian majority is not completely uniform either. Disenfranchisement remains its single most defining feature. The elite have considerable leverage over its large sections. It is particularly the case in Delta provinces where the peasantry is considerably under the tutelage and influence of the elite landlords. The defunct NDP of the deposed dictator Mubarak is particularly strong in such areas. It needs to be emphasized that such cross class movement has not wrought fundamental changes and as a result the dichotomy that was discussed earlier persists.
Now let us take a look at what has changed after the revolution. Firstly it will be wrong to label the revolution as a revolution of the non elite or the conservative class against the elite class. It was essentially a revolution in which people from all classes participated to get rid of the dictatorship of Mubarak and his party the now defunct NDP. NDP had consolidated its control of the state completely earning the resentment of significant sections of the elite Egyptian society as well as the disenfranchised non elite. Egyptian revolution saw unprecedented cooperation between these sections and the vast conservative and non elite part of the Egyptian society. It was these sections which took the lead in the revolution as the Islamists maintained a lower profile. That is not to say that they were in any way behind in the revolution, just that they tactically kept their visibility low.
 Once the revolution was over and the die was cast for elections, it became clear who owns what in the new Egypt. Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood won all the elections one after the other ruffling many feathers in the process. The west appears to have at least overtly reconciled to the new Egyptian reality and has tried to engage constructively with the people it once dismissed as radicals and fundamentalists. The response of the Egyptian elite has been different. Its protagonists in the judiciary dissolved the first freely elected parliament for minor technical glitches. It tried its best to keep Dr Morsi from winning the Presidential elections. Finally it had to bite to the bullet and the son of a farmer from a remote part of Egypt became the first freely elected Egyptian President.  At this the Egyptian elite realized that their privileged status was under threat and as a result tried to put up a united front under the façade of liberalism. The media dominated by the elite launched a concerted campaign against the government of Mr. Morsy which still goes on .They also tried to stonewall the process of constitution writing under flimsy excuses and later tried to mobilize electorate against it. The constitution was passed overwhelmingly by the people with more than two thirds of votes in favor thus reinforcing the writing on the wall once again. Having realized that they stand little, if any, chance of winning elections the elite have tried all else they can. Street protests, violent attacks on Brotherhood Offices and members, media defamation, judicial interference into executive  realms, calls for military rule; just to name a few. Egyptian elite is behaving exactly in the way a suckling child behaves when weaned. It is crying hoarse and trying to hit left and right doing whatever it can to stop or delay the inevitable. The situation has been compounded by opportunistic politicians of leftist as well as elitist orientations who see little chance of electoral victory. This combined with a state apparatus that is filled with Mubarak loyalists and a hostile judiciary has made life tough for the Morsy administration. The economy is in doldrums and the foreign reserves are running critically low. The bureaucracy, police and intelligence that are filled with the elite have been uncooperative at best and at worst hostile. Pockets of judiciary have openly shown their biases. Recently the parliamentary polls have been delayed thus extending the transition period courtesy another judicial faux pas. Media has been the most hostile of all leading a heavy campaign of defamation, slanders and outright distortions.
Thus what we are seeing in Egypt is a well entrenched elite class trying its best to safeguard its privileged position and stone wall or at least slow down any change. But the disenfranchised majority is slowly pushing its way to power. Slow yes, but the change is happening. It will certainly take time to uproot a deeply entrenched elite something that is called as the deep state in the parlance of political science, it will take years may be even more than a decade. But the die has been cast and there is no going back in Egypt.

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