Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Bringing good to Egypt?

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood has shown itself to be incapable of dealing with the pressing issues facing the country, writes Ahmed El-Tonsi

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Mohamed Morsi has been in power for more than seven months, while his party and the Muslim Brotherhood have completed a year of formal domination of the political scene since the electoral victory in the legislative elections for the dissolved People’s Assembly, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament. The dissolution of the Brotherhood-dominated People’s Assembly has since been substituted by expanding the role of the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, which has practically become a rubber stamp legislative council.

Long before the legislative elections in November 2011, evidence was accumulating pointing to the growing informal role of the Brotherhood in the political arena to the extent that many thought a secret deal could have been made between the Brotherhood and the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) over many of the latter’s actions. According to the testimonies of opposition figures such as Mohamed Al-Baradei and Amr Moussa, the Brotherhood categorically rejected their nomination as prime minister by the SCAF.

Today, the Brotherhood has become one of the most important destinations for many foreign delegations visiting Egypt. Much earlier, under the rule of the ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, and despite the coercive measures taken by his regime against Brotherhood leaders, the group was able to assert itself and become a real political power in the legislative assembly and the professional syndicates. The participation of the Brotherhood in the 25 January Revolution that removed Mubarak, though initially reluctant and ambivalent, was also recognised by all the revolutionary forces, and it came to the front of the revolutionary stage by side-stepping other forces through its meeting with the then vice president Omar Suleiman.

In other words, the Brotherhood has been an active as well as a formidable power on the political scene for most of the transition period, and it has shrewdly set milestones for itself as well as the pace of events in a way that has been conducive to its domination. No other political group had the same chance to come close to the SCAF and to identify so well the gloomy conditions of Egypt in the aftermath of revolution. The group has always claimed to be close to the masses, positioning itself as the only genuinely grassroots organisation in the country. As a result, it has had no excuse for not properly addressing the political arena with all its various actors and currents.

The Brotherhood’s domination of the political scene should have brought good to Egypt, as promised by its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) when the latter campaigned in the legislative and presidential elections. Yet, this is far from having been realised. After nearly a year in power, the group’s performance in both the dissolved People’s Assembly and the presidency has been at best sub-optimal. Three interrelated issues, namely institution-building, the formation of a national consensus, and the institution of a new economic order, have demonstrably illustrated the group’s dismal record. 

These three issues have exposed the Brotherhood’s inadequacies in terms of its predominantly inept leaders and its inability to run post-revolutionary Egypt. Such intrinsic weaknesses have been behind the deplorable performance of the Brotherhood in power, and the repercussions of this will be all the more important for Egypt as a whole. It seems that the group and its president are unaware of the dreadful societal and economic situation now prevailing in the country, and the group’s rule has indefinitely extended Egypt’s transition period, adding more sources of instability rather than laying the foundations of a new state and society.

As if lost during the transition, the question of economic reform and the pressing issue of social justice seem to have barely been touched by the ruling regime. Many of those who voted for Morsi in the presidential elections did so because they rejected the other candidate, Ahmed Shafik, as a representative of the ousted regime. The result was a vote against Shafik rather than a vote for Morsi.  It is important to mention that many of these voters were young people, and many of them had innocent dreams of the real change that they expected to happen after the revolution. Yet, at the core of the vote against Shafik was the voters’ categorical rejection of the economic model followed by the Mubarak regime, built around neoliberal policies and oligarchic and corrupt features.

Morsi and his group have been aiming at restoring the economic status quo ante as enshrined in the Mubarak regime. Their failure to identify an alternative, or even a reformed, economic approach has put the president in a precarious situation. Even with the rising opposition to his rule, Morsi has been unable to establish an environment that can redeem Mubarak’s failed neoliberal policies. The grim fact is that the group will not be able to make these failed economic policies work, and the policies being dictated by the IMF will be met with fierce popular rejection.

The explosive economic sphere has fueled sweeping dissatisfaction among many groups of frustrated young people, who have seen their hopes of a brighter future dashed. As a result, many young people have turned against the regime, sensing its inadequacies while identifying the fragility of a state that is still being established. For the younger generation, there are very low opportunity costs in resisting or even trying to change the ruling regime, and many young people may feel that the regime’s failure will improve their prospects. Morsi and his group have been directing their efforts towards salvaging what they can, while their major battle should be against the worsening economic conditions that have been alienating the country’s young people.

Political violence has been the outcome of such a combination of increasing economic woes and a weak state. Egypt’s so-called “youth bulge” has been directing its grievances against Morsi and the Brotherhood, which has not learnt from the failures of the ousted regime. When over 60 per cent of Egyptians are under the age of 35, and many of them are alienated from the evolving political order, talk of establishing a national consensus is far from being meaningful. Morsi and his group have excluded the vast majority of young people from becoming engaged in the establishment of the new Egypt, something that has intensified the divisions in society.

Rebuilding the state institutions is the third issue that has seen a disappointing performance by the Brotherhood and the president. There have been many question marks hanging over the process of building the new state’s institutions, and the recently promulgated new constitution has had political repercussions that will have short and long-term manifestations. Yet, what has been even more devastating has been the president’s assault on the country’s judiciary, which was one of the few state institutions to have been spared the collapse of the Mubarak regime. Morsi’s stand vis-à-vis the judiciary has further increased the vulnerabilities of the state, exposing its inherent weaknesses while exposing people to the inevitable violent responses from the growing angry sectors in society.

The assaults against the judiciary will also have detrimental impacts upon the whole democratisation process. According to US academic Nathan Brown, “the country has missed an opportunity for a serious consideration of what role the judiciary should play in a democratic system.” The Muslim Brotherhood regime has been walking through a minefield, and it has shown itself to be stunningly incapable of addressing the whole political scene and seemingly unaware of the precarious situation that Egypt has reached under its rule.

 

The writer is a political commentator. 

 

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