Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

From one cabal to another

The Muslim Brotherhood, an entity with no legal foundation or public oversight, is playing the same role the NDP’s Policies Committee played under Mubarak, writes Azmi Ashour

Al-Ahram Weekly

The events that accompanied the commemoration of the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution served as a powerful reminder that elections alone do not make for democratic transition. During the past 40 years Egypt has not been lacking in elections. Nor in a parliamentary opposition that varied in size from 70 seats in the 1987 elections and about 120 seats in the 2005 parliament, 88 of which were held by Muslim Brotherhood MPs. Egypt also had multi-candidate presidential elections before the revolution, in which former president Hosni Mubarak fielded himself as the National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate against independent candidates. Meanwhile, such was the mind set in certain quarters of the ruling regime and in the NDP Policies Committee in particular that parallel processes were put into motion to promote a hereditary succession of power. Constitutional amendments combined with assorted political measures and media campaigns were to create a democratic façade for the transfer of power to a particular individual. The succession scenario — or the scheme that mocked the intelligence of the people, as I described it — drove the first nail into the coffin of the former regime. It was one of the chief motivators of the growth in protest actions and movements at the time, prime among which was Kifaya (Enough) whose opposition to the spectre of a Mubarak dynasty was one of its main rallying calls.

The six years prior to the revolution were the incubating period that would release the genie from the bottle. The mounting frustration, among the youth generation in particular, the anger at the regime’s arrogance and disdain, and the proliferating protests and protest movements eventually generated the courage among the disaffected and oppressed segments of society to rebel and march for the overthrow of the regime beneath the banner of “freedom, social justice and human dignity”.

Today, two years after the revolution began and after four electoral processes (People’s Assembly and Shura Council elections, two rounds of presidential elections and a constitutional referendum), we are compelled to ask whether the factors that engendered the first wave of revolution have disappeared. According to my reading of events, the answer is no.

First, the laws regulating electoral processes still do not meet the principles of equal opportunity and justice. If the Muslim Brothers rest their claim to representing the majority of the people on the grounds that they won majorities in the two legislative elections (much as the NDP used to do), it is important to bear in mind two historic rulings by the Supreme Constitutional Court. These were, firstly, to dissolve the People’s Assembly elected in November/December 2011, and secondly, to overturn a decree by the newly elected president to reinstate it. These rulings were justified on the grounds that the electoral law that gave rise to that People’s Assembly were unconstitutional because it failed to observe the principle of equal opportunity by allowing candidates of a single party to be fielded both in a party/coalition list and, simultaneously, on a single-ticket basis. The system, which heavily favoured the Islamist political forces at the time, was reminiscent of a familiar ruse of the former NDP which, to offset the possibility of lower returns than it hoped for, fielded NDP affiliates as “independents” in the 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections, after which the winning “independent” MPs would return to the NDP fold, thereby securing for it a solid parliamentary majority.

Second, the fact that the process of drafting the new constitution was not set into motion immediately after the revolution succeeded in ousting Mubarak cast a pall of doubt over the manner in which it would be written, especially following constitutional declaration of 19 March 2011 that stipulated that the 100-member Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the constitution would be selected by the elected members of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council. Again, the Egyptian judiciary would have to intervene on the grounds that the principles of fairness and equal opportunity were not met. The first Constituent Assembly was heavily skewed in favour of Islamists, selected as it was by the Islamist-dominated parliament, one house of which the Supreme Constitutional Court would eventually rule unconstitutional. Another Constituent Assembly was formed from candidates outside of parliament, but the Islamist current retained about the same weight in the second assembly as it did in the first. The final product was then rushed to a referendum without allowing sufficient time for it to be discussed by the public and in spite of widespread reservations with regard to many of its articles that were clearly to Islamist designs, much as amendments to articles 76 and 77 of the 1971 constitution had been tailored to the Gamal Mubarak succession scenario.

Third, the Muslim Brotherhood under the Muslim Brotherhood presidency is functioning very much as the NDP Policies Committee used to, complete with all the unofficial strings and connections that determined the choice of ministers and occupants of other key government posts, not to mention the influence of the successor-to-be and his coterie on the form of government in the final years of his father’s rule. Unlike the NDP and its Policies Committee, however, the Muslim Brotherhood exists outside and above the law, without proper registration papers and without any form of public oversight on its operations and funding. Therefore, if people questioned the legitimacy of the control that the NDP Policies Committee asserted over government and decision-making processes in the last 10 years of the Mubarak regime it seems even more imperative to pose the same question with regard to the hidden influence of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau on Egyptian political life in the months since the 2011 revolution. After all, such back door channels are hardly commensurate with the democratic processes that brought President Morsi to power. 

Looking back on 2012 and much of the year before it, one cannot help but observe the similarities with the years prior to the revolution. The selection processes and modus operandi of parliament and the Constituent Assembly testified much the same type of ploys, prevarications and democratic tokenism. Therefore, instead of a transitional phase devoted to laying the proper foundations for democratic transformation we found ourselves, as a society, back to square one. In place of the hereditary successor, we are now receiving the Muslim Brotherhood through their insertion into decision-making institutions and processes by means of appointments, back channels and other forms of “soft corruption”.

Not only has the revolution not achieved its aims, it continues to face the formidable challenge of law and the constitution being bent to the service of particular faction (this time one with a religious ideology) at the expense of society as a whole. In the wake of the second anniversary of the revolution many questions hover over the Muslim Brotherhood that would have received considerable credit for having contributed to the inauguration of proper democratic rules and behaviour had it relinquished lethal attitudes and defects of the past.


The writer is managing editor of the quarterly Al-Demoqratiya . 


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