Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Return of the ‘fulul’?

Remnants of the former regime are back at the forefront of Egypt’s political and economic life despite being banned from political participation. Could a de facto coup be in the offing, asks Gihan Shahine

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Two years ago after the 25 January Revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, it seemed unimaginable that close allies of the ousted regime could participate in the same revolution that they had once opposed and speak out as the guardians of democracy. However, today many observers insist that this is what is now taking place, with members of the elite of the former regime regaining their previous influence and once again engaging in politics, perhaps even more than ever before.
In the days immediately after the revolution, anyone suggesting that the “fulul”, or remnants, of the previous regime not involved in killing protesters or corruption and fraud should not necessarily be excluded from Egypt’s political life would probably have immediately been branded a sympathiser of the previous regime or a counter-revolutionary.
Yet, two years on the debate over whether excluding remnants of the old regime from political life could harm an already floundering economy and instigate further violence and instability, provoking retaliation by certain moneyed interests, has now come back to the fore.
Today, there seems to be growing acceptance of the argument that achieving reconciliation with certain non-corrupt figures from the former regime, and even settling matters with those accused of embezzling public funds, could perhaps help bring back social and economic stability to a country bogged down in unprecedented political polarisation, social rifts and looming bankruptcy.
But whether bringing the so-called fulul back into Egypt’s political and economic life would actually achieve that target remains an issue of heated debate. For one thing, there is the question of who among the fulul the country should reconcile itself with. For another, there is the fact that Mubarak-era figures have now seeped back onto the frontlines of Egypt’s political life with the help of leading jurists and the military, and are now even joining hands with the revolutionary forces of Tahrir Square and some of the opposition, with some of them pushing for a military coup. The latter in particular may be a sign that Egypt is perhaps on the brink of a de facto coup.
The fact that a loophole in Egypt’s new electoral law is allowing the majority of former members of the now dismantled National Democratic Party (NDP) to stand in the upcoming parliamentary elections, and that many of those who have stood trial on charges of corruption and the killing of protesters have either now been released or are in prospect of being released, raises worries that Egypt may now end up with renewed Mubarakism, only this time without Mubarak.

WHO ARE THE FULUL? The term fulul was not part of the political lexicon before the 25 January Revolution. But after the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the word was widely used to label remnants of the old regime, as well as those who were close to it and benefited from that proximity. These people arguably lost power and influence after the revolution.
Many political analysts suggest that the term should include all those who were in leading positions in the military, the judiciary and the security apparatus under the former regime. All members of the dismantled NDP, including its rural and provincial leaders, and those involved directly or indirectly in corrupting Egypt’s political life have also been designated fulul. Business tycoons who benefited from their proximity to the Mubarak circle and who amassed huge fortunes under the corrupt system then in place are also termed fulul.
However, the term has also been expanded to include all old-regime loyalists and anyone favouring the continuation of the old regime in one form or another. Those who cast their ballots in favour of former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik last summer, for example, were immediately labelled fulul. Shafik, a former military man who served as the last prime minister under the former regime was appointed by Mubarak in an attempt to stem the tide of the revolution before its triumph.

FULUL VS MORSI: FACT OR FICTION? The fact that current President Mohamed Morsi defeated his rival Shafik with a mere 88,251 votes in the presidential elections last June has been seen by many analysts as an indication that fulul still constitute a large part of Egyptian society and are still present in almost every institution and government office.
Although the word fulul does not strictly apply to Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mubarak and now a leading opposition figure, many would also see his supporters as old-regime loyalists.
“The presidential elections revealed that the old regime has a strong voter base within Egyptian society,” noted political analyst Taha Ozhan in an article entitled “New Egypt versus the Fulul: the Struggle for Democracy,” published in Turkish Insight. In his article, Ozhan explained that “the political movement led by Ahmed Shafik, who went head to head with Morsi in the presidential elections, enjoys more diverse support base than the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood].”
Shafik’s supporters include groups of “Sufis, Christians, secularists, bourgeoisie, media and bureaucracy, [who have] maintained relations with this political front led by the old regime,” according to Ozhan.
Observers say that such remnants of the old regime still hold a tight grip over many institutions left over from that regime, including the state bureaucracy, the military, and the judiciary, and that those institutions are perhaps putting hurdles in the way of the country’s transition to democracy and the desires of the current regime.
Ozhan for one argues that “the military and the judiciary did everything in their power to prevent Morsi from becoming president [prior to the presidential elections] and [they] curtailed his powers and dissolved the parliament.” Morsi, however, responded by sending the military back to the barracks and issuing a highly controversial declaration, which he later retracted, granting himself broad powers and the authority to order the retrial of Mubarak and his officials.
Yet, such moves have not put an end to the still ongoing “controversial political tug-of-war for power” between “the forces of the military-judiciary tutelage and the president-elect,” Ozhan says. In this tug-of-war for power, some observers, especially those in the pro-Morsi camp, insist that the media, arguably dominated by Mubarak loyalists, has been joining forces with the anti-Morsi camp. Many print and visual media outlets owned by businessmen whose interests were linked with the old regime are now directly labelled “the media of the fulul”, for example.
Prominent columnist and political analyst Fahmy Howeidy has recently lambasted what he called the “Mubarak-era media” as a result, comparing it to “dynamite” that could ignite violence and cause chaos in post-revolutionary Egypt. Howeidy quoted a recent study as a case in point in a recent interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas. The study said that more than 90 per cent of those working in the private-sector media were opposed to the current regime, and that less than 22 per cent of those in the state-owned media supported Morsi, Howeidy said.
“Some groups are profiteering from instigating violent strikes and chaos,” Howeidy told Al-Qabas, pointing to the remnants of the Mubarak regime. “It cannot be a coincidence that 26 Brotherhood offices were set on fire on the same day.” Although there is no evidence that the attacks were committed by remnants of the old regime, Howeidy suggested that it was only logical to believe that this was the case.

A THIRD PARTY? Conspiracy theories have been rife since the ouster of former president Mubarak that remnants of the former regime have been trying to mastermind a counter-revolution whose main target would be to create chaos and an economic crisis that would make people yearn for the “good old days” of the former regime.
This theory is now rife among Morsi’s mainly Islamist supporters, and it is the discourse adopted by members by the Muslim Brotherhood who have accused remnants of the former regime of being an infamous “third party” that has been hiring thugs to create chaos, kill protesters and harass women in order to discredit the revolution.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, Khaled Said, a leading figure in the Salafist movement, posted a warning on his Facebook page saying that he had received well-sourced information that some former members of the now-dismantled NDP had hired armed thugs to attack protesters at the presidential palace of Al-Ittihadiya in a bid to create chaos and cause bloodshed.
In an article published in Crescent International, a news magazine of the Islamist movement, analyst Ayman Ahmed similarly speculated that “the challenges facing President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt are piling up, especially from remnants of the Mubarak regime and discredited politicians… as he [Morsi] tries to wrest control from entrenched powerbrokers who refuse to let go of the privileges they once enjoyed.”
“Unless the slate is swept clean and the Islamic movement starts from scratch by building new state institutions, there will be endless hurdles placed in its way until the new order is either overthrown or is so corrupted that it becomes indistinguishable from the old one,” Ahmed concluded. “While building new institutions takes time and there are also the uncertainties of inexperience, these are better than living with the old system and hoping that its operatives will reform themselves.”

THE FULUL IN OPPOSITION: Morsi’s constitutional declaration of 22 November last year, by which he assumed temporary quasi-dictatorial powers, deepened the political polarisation in Egypt to unprecedented levels and led to a peculiar alliance between the opposition to Morsi’s government and the remnants of the old regime.
The Brotherhood argued at the time that it had received information that the Constitutional Court was planning to issue a ruling that would in effect negate the powers of the president and paralyse the country’s political transition by invalidating the election of the Constituent Assembly tasked to write the new constitution and dissolve the Shura Council, the only remaining elected body after the same court had dissolved the parliament earlier in June.
The Brotherhood insisted that the president’s declaration, repealed after it had given rise to massive public unrest, was a necessary counter-measure aimed at pre-empting these court rulings.
Political analyst and former director-general of the Al-Jazeera television network Wadah Khanfar wrote in the UK Guardian newspaper at the time that although the Egyptian president had “every reason to be sceptical of the court’s intentions” since “all its judges were appointed under Mubarak, and some have never concealed their hostility to the Brotherhood,” the declaration was a “big mistake”.
There was almost a consensus that the 22 November declaration was a huge miscalculation on Morsi’s part since it not only angered the country’s judges but also opened the door to an alliance between Egypt’s revolutionary powers and Mubarak-era forces. This resulted in the current situation, where, many observers agree, “thugs and remnants of old regime are returning to centre stage,” as Khanfar wrote at the time.
Moreover, in an article entitled “Morsi has left Egypt on the brink” and published in the London Financial Times on 3 December last year, Mohamed Al-Baradei, chief coordinator of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), admitted that “ironically, the revolutionaries who got rid of Mubarak are now supported by members of his old party, united in opposition to the vague ‘Islamic project’ that Morsi and his supporters want to make of our country.”
Many analysts, including those in the liberal camp, have been highly critical of the fact that the opposition, perhaps blinded by its hatred of the Brotherhood, has now joined forces with such Mubarak-era elements.
Critics from across the political spectrum argue that allowing such remnants into Egypt’s opposition not only gives those who once corrupted Egypt’s political life the chance to return to centre stage, but also that there will be hazardous consequences of what they describe as “allowing the counter-revolution deep into Egypt’s revolution”.
By cosying up to Mubarak-era figures, many argue that the NSF has perhaps shot itself in the foot, causing it to lose much of its credibility and popularity. “It’s like Palestine joining hands with Israel — what consequence could we expect,” Howeidy asked on Al-Jazeera.com. “The fulul are the enemies of the revolution… and this alliance will only serve their interests.”
Political analyst Hassan Nafaa agreed, saying that “old-regime figures are now pretending that they are defending democracy,” referring to the fact that many prominent figures from the old regime had been seen attending meetings at the Cairo Judges Club during the judges’ stand-off with the presidency. Cosying up to such old-regime figures, in Nafaa’s view, “could easily tarnish the image of the real Egyptian revolution”.
Khanfar, a stauncher critic, put it this way: “in their desire to topple the Brotherhood — an aim that the liberal leader of the NSF, Osama Ghazali Harb, admitted — they [members of the NSF] seem prepared to commit the greatest of profanities, namely to ally themselves with the former regime’s forces. They have even been ignoring the violence of the notorious baltagiya, or criminal gangs.”
In an article entitled “Fululs maneuver and leaders open the door for them,” published on Fightback.com, a left-wing site, analyst Hamid Alizadeh was equally critical that the NSF had been joining hands with former regime figures and Mubarak-loyal jurists who “just a few months ago were ready to drag the country through a sea of blood rather than have the people take over.”
“It was the judiciary who maneuvered to cancel the parliamentary elections and to meddle in the constituent assembly,” Alizadeh wrote. “It was also the judiciary that showed extreme leniency on Mubarak’s butchers when they appeared in court. To give any opening to these people is equal to inviting the counter-revolution deep into the camp of revolution, and this could have devastating consequences.”

ANOTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: However, not everyone agrees with the current polarisation over the so-called fulul. Al-Masry Al-Yom columnist Moghazi Al-Badrawi has warned against the use of the term, which should be seen as “defunct”, he wrote, under an elected regime and was at best “divisive”.
Al-Badrawi particularly warned of what he called the serious repercussions of using the term to attack anyone critical of the current president or speaking out against the Muslim Brotherhood. He insisted that the term should not be used against protesters, even if they included old-regime loyalists, because that would be bound to “deepen the polarisation and muzzle criticism”.
In an already polarised society, prominent sociologist Samir Naim said, it was the Brotherhood that was “actually the one using Mubarak techniques of hiring thugs to suppress the opposition, scare protesters and tarnish the image of Egypt’s revolution.” Naim suggested that the word fulul did not do justice to Egypt’s case since the “old regime did not fall in the first place and therefore there can be no remnants. The only thing that happened was that its head was removed and replaced with another one.”
“The former regime is still there, but with a different group at its helm, namely the Muslim Brotherhood,” Naim claimed, adding that in his view those who have been ruling Egypt since the ouster of Mubarak, first the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and then Morsi and the Brotherhood, “have not changed the system of governance because it better serves their interests the way it is.”
Naim insisted that “all those in government institutions, municipalities, the police and the military are more or less the same people and are even getting the same salaries for their work. Nothing whatsoever has changed.”
Naim was not as critical of the NSF alliance with former regime figures, since those at its helm should rather be seen as “reformists and not representative of the revolutionary forces in Tahrir”, he said. More worrying in his view were recent government efforts at reconciliation with Mubarak-era business tycoons, something that Naim insisted was “only aimed at serving the interests of Brotherhood business tycoons and not the country’s floundering economy.”

RECONCILIATION WITH MUBARAK’S TYCOONS: Faced with the threat of looming bankruptcy, the government has recently been making efforts to come to agreements with businessmen who profited under the former regime, while settling the cases of those involved in allegations of corruption.
Many businessmen who thrived under the former regime have fled the country for fear of litigation over corruption allegations and disputes over contracts signed under the former regime. The most prominent businessmen accused of financial corruption are Mubarak’s associate Hussein Salem and ex-ministers Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Ahmed Al-Maghrabi, Youssef Boutros Ghali and Zuheir Garana.
The Justice Ministry has recently announced a set of measures designed to help facilitate the return of these businessmen to Egypt under a reconciliation law that will give them immunity from imprisonment or travel restrictions. Procedures carried out under this law will allow former officials to settle disputes outside court and avoid criminal charges in return for reimbursement of any embezzled capital funds, but not profits made from them, gained under the former system, with these funds then being pumped into Egypt’s dwindling state budget.  
This has not been the only message of reconciliation sent by Morsi’s regime to Mubarak-era businessmen and officials. Many analysts have similarly seen Morsi’s earlier trip to China in the company of an 80-member delegation dominated by Mubarak-era businessmen and former members of the NDP as an indication of the current president’s reliance on the economic order of the old regime. The delegation was headed by Hassan Malek, a liaison officer with the business community and in charge of government reconciliation efforts.
Malek explained at a recent press conference that there was no such thing as a “fulul businessman” even if such people’s interests could be linked to the former regime, since businessmen were capitalists who cared about finding a safe environment for their investments. However, Malek also repeatedly made clear that his job did not include finding ways to effect agreements with those involved in criminal cases or in the killing of protesters.
Several businessmen have welcomed the moves on the grounds that they will help pump funds into Egypt’s economy and encourage much-needed investment.
“This is what we have been urging the government to consider for a long time,” Hussein Sabbour, head of the Egyptian Business Association, said. Legal expert Shawki Al-Sayed concurred, arguing that such reconciliation “would help bring peace back to the country, generating chances of employment and increasing productivity.”
Legal expert and political analyst Adel Amer, however, countered by saying that reconciliation with Mubarak-era businessmen would only bring back a dangerous “marriage of money and power” and that such a step would not help the economy because the reimbursement of embezzled funds could not be legally enforced and applied on the ground.
Many human rights activists have been similarly worried that such reconciliation could allow Mubarak-era figures and corruption to return to the country.

DID THE ELITE ACTUALLY FALL? A recent feature article in The Washington Post newspaper has claimed that the Mubarak-era elite did not in fact fall as a result of the 25 January Revolution. According to the article, “many remnants of the old Mubarak order lead comfortable lives” and have not only “evaded jail time” but also “continue to lead extremely comfortable lives”.
“They socialise at luxury villas and country clubs,” the Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner wrote. “They cruise through dilapidated Cairo neighbourhoods in chauffeured cars. Some have seen their assets frozen and their travel restricted, but that appears to have had little effect on their day-to-day lives.” It has been heartbreaking to many, especially those who lost their loved ones in the course of the 25 January Revolution, that only the former president, his two sons, and a handful of his closest associates are now in prison.
All 25 accused, mainly senior Mubarak-era officials, of plotting the 2 February 2011 “Battle of the Camel” attack on Tahrir Square, in which 21 protesters were killed and many others were injured by assailants on horse and camelback after the outbreak of the revolution, have been acquitted by the Cairo Criminal Court. Almost all, with the exception of two, of the nearly 170 police officers charged with killing about 900 protesters during the revolution have been similarly acquitted.
Former chief-of-staff of deposed former president Mubarak, Zakaria Azmi, was released from prison in February after he was granted a retrial in a corruption case and, of course, the renewed possibility of acquittal. Mubarak himself, as well as his sons, is also facing retrial and, of course, the renewed possibility of acquittal.
Rafik Habib, a Coptic scholar and deputy chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, recently noted on his Facebook page that the judiciary has “been blocking every path that would bring members of the former regime, or those wreaking havoc and violence, to justice.” Habib wrote that he suspected that some Mubarak-era jurists, with the help of propaganda in the country’s media, have been refusing to open the files of former regime officials and have been resisting all attempts at purging the judiciary.
However, Amer said that the problem was not so much with the judiciary as with the present laws. “The law allows the right to self-defence, and that was the reason why many policemen were acquitted in cases of killing protesters,” Amer told Al-Ahram Weekly. In any revolution, he said, a revolutionary court should be mandated with settling such issues and exceptional laws should be designed to bring all those involved in killing protesters or in political and economic corruption to justice.
In the absence of such laws, Amer insisted, “the present judges cannot be blamed.”

BANNING THE FULUL? Article 232 of Egypt’s new constitution stipulates that leading officials of the dissolved NDP and former MPs from the party in the two houses of parliament elected before the 25 January Revolution (in the 2005 and 2010 elections) should be banned from participating in all political activities, including running in parliamentary and presidential elections, for 10 years.
However, the country’s Constitutional Court has ruled that such a blanket ban under the new election law would be unconstitutional, and a mistake in the wording of the ban has meant that according to Amer only 260 from a total of 2,600 former MPs can be banned and most former NDP MPs will probably stand in the forthcoming elections.
More than 200 former NDP MPs have already announced plans to form a new political party named the Egyptian Street Party.
Although this could lead to catastrophic consequences in the view of many, Amer suggested that “a public ban” would perhaps be more effective than a political one. It was the people who chose not to vote in favour of the former NDP MPs in the post-revolutionary parliamentary elections, when the Constitutional Court had similarly ruled that it would be unconstitutional to bar former NDP MPs from standing in the elections.
The issue of barring former NDP officials from pursuing political activities has long been a subject of heated public debate. Many people support the ban on the grounds that many leading former NDP officials had taken part in corrupting parliamentary and political life, participated in rigging elections, and supported the ascendancy of Mubarak’s son Gamal to power.
Amer, however, argues that a political ban should only be imposed on those who have been shown to be corrupt or to have participated in corruption.
“It would be unfair to generalise and to label all former NDP officials as fulul who should be banned,” Amer insisted. This would result in violence and retaliatory acts on the part of some former NDP officials and their relatives in the judiciary and the police.
Ozhan, however, said that he would find it difficult to accept that “those who still act in the name of the old regime could have a positive role in Egypt’s democratic future.” The latter, he said, would be defined by three trends: the remnants of the old regime, the liberals, and the diverse Islamist groups and Ihkwan.
According to Ozhan, the post-revolutionary Islamist-versus-secularist tensions and the “apolitical discourse” adopted by both Egypt’s Islamist and liberal forces had revealed that “inexperience” was the only thing the two sides had in common. In the meantime, he wrote, “the most determining characteristic of the old regime remnants are their decades-long political experience.”
“Unless the two inexperienced parties soon realise that they are playing with fire, we may suddenly find Egypt in the middle of a de facto coup,” Ozhan warned. “In other words, Egypt will be sentenced to a painful period of democratisation and to Mubarakism without Mubarak.”

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