The perfect storm
Fi Ain Al-Asifa (In the Eye of the Storm), Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2012
Another compilation of articles on the revolution, the latest release by Bloomsbury Qatar on the topic -- written and published before the presidential runoffs -- In the Eye of the Storm establishes Ezzedine Choukri Fishere's analytical power in matters of politics, which he demonstrates without delving into the risky business of making predictions about the future.
Fishere, diplomat and a novelist, rose to prominence in the wake of the revolution as one of a handful of objective analysts appearing on various talk shows and present on the political scene. He has been a professor at the American University in Cairo since 2007; his columns appear regularly in such Egyptian dailies as Al-Shorouk and Al-Tahrir; and two of his novels -- Intensive Care Unit and Embrace at Brooklyn Bridge -- were nominated for the Arabic Booker.
In this book Fishere provides a profound analysis of the Egyptian political scene after the revolution with particular reference to the parliamentary elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafis represented by Al-Nour Party achieved the majority.
In his introduction to the book, Fishere rejects many theories of the revolution: the Islamist project; planned chaos to destabilise the country's institutions; the Americanisation of Egypt.
Fishere regards the revolution as the perfect storm, the storm that emerges out of a rare combination of circumstances that might not initially be connected to each other, but will soon enough combine to either produce stillness or lose momentum altogether.
Coherently enough, this leads us to the vital question that Fishere presents on the cover: Is Egypt witnessing the perfect storm already, or are we on the path for a grand collision and a bigger storm? The writer believes the results of the storm are powerful enough to initiate another storm or a new wave of revolution, which will hopefully by then give way to the rise of other political factions, better prepared to deal with the political chaos that might occur. Such political leadership must be ready with plans for the aftermath of the storm, in order to re-build and strengthen the country's institutions, to reform the police and the media, and maintain justice in such a way as to prevent the monopolising of power. Such objectives will not be achieved with imaginary plans, paperwork or fact-finding committees; it has to be the actual work of professional people with specific and detailed plans to invest in the new wave of revolution should it occur.
In the fifth chapter, "Egypt Faces its Ghosts", Fishere explains that people who believe the MB or the Salafis to be newcomers to Egyptian society are mistaken. It would be a misreading of the situation not to recognise quite how old their organisations are and attribute their popularity to the Wahhabi influence of Saudi Arabia and the illiteracy and poverty of people alone. Part of the reason behind such misinterpretation is that Islamists had been marginalised by the former regime.
The fact that the MB achieved a parliamentary majority leads Fishere to discuss the predicament of the MB in depth, discussing the arrangements between the MB and SCAF and how, though this was a chance for the MB to strengthen its position and substantiate the position of its Freedom and Justice Party, it had actually been to the MB's disadvantage.
With their parliamentary majority and the socio-political groundwork they had been laying down for nearly 80 years, they managed to achieve a socio-political change from the bottom up: Fishere elucidates the crossroads facing the MB and their future in Egypt; they could either unite with other political revolutionary factions to the benefit of Egypt, or unite with SCAF and the Salafis.
Discussing the latter choice, the writer argues that it will weaken the oragnisation of the MB: SCAF will not grant them the luxury of deciding on all matters of consequence and the Salafis will force them to make sacrifices, weakening their vision. By the end of this chapter the writer is wondering which path Sheikh Hassan El-Banna, the founder of the MB in Egypt, would take were he alive today. Aside from the fact that there are issues they could never agree on, Fishere argues, it may be the immaturity of revolutionary forces that prevents the MB from uniting with them.
Fishere sets a worrying example in one of his articles entitle "Upheavals on the Road", in which he presents a brief explanation of the political scene in Gaza prior to the Hamas takeover of power there, which can benefit the Egyptian political scene even now, after the rise to the presidency of Mohamed Mursi.
Fishere explains how complicated the political scene in Gaza was after Hamas achieved the parliamentary majority in Gaza, defeating Fateh -- results that sounded normal to people who were not in denial of the fact that Fateh was in a shambles. However, Fateh controlling the presidency led Hamas to form the government to take control, which led in turn to their complete failure.
At the same time, Fateh was preparing an army with which to confront Hamas who were well prepared for the coup d'│ętat they were about to wage. The writer discusses the notion of a parliamentary majority that comes from outside the established system and in a way seems to be in power but isn't: this is a signal that the entire system needs to change.
Fishere proposes a telling allegory in one of his articles in the attempt of the Mubarak regime to keep the lights off in a big theatre in order to conceal the presence of the Islamists. Abruptly, the revolution turned on the lights to reveal the actual composition of power. The question remains as to how Fishere will see the political scene at present.
Reviewed by Soha Hesham