Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

The fast train to nowhere

In a series of TV interviews, the nation’s senior political analyst warns of a confused path that might lead to a woeful destination, Dina Ezzat tuned in

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“I’m afraid the train is moving fast; it is moving on; it is taking us somewhere but we are not quite sure where it is taking us to and we are not quite sure if those in the driver’s seat know better than us. At the same time we could be running out of fuel and the train might consequently get off track and take us to nowhere.” This was the bottom line that the nation’s top analyst and most informed journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal shared with viewers of CBC in the fifth of a series of interviews accorded to anchor-journalist Lamis Al-Hadidi.

Where do we stand and where are we heading were the two key questions that Al-Hadidi engaged Heikal in an extended debate that focussed essentially on the Muslim Brotherhood — now and before — while looking globally at the home front, and regional and international developments.

For the most part, Heikal sounded apprehensive although he was at times uncompromising in his expression of concern over state management and its consequences on key matters of national security.

The concerns that Heikal shared on a wide range of issues, especially the relationship between the presidency and judiciary, army, media, Al-Azhar and Church, seem to come from exactly one point that he is over and over again reminding viewers in so many words — even if in so many ways that are often careful and almost delicate: that the ruling regime which experienced an unexpected ascent to power without even having been groomed for the job is not well equipped for the job and is basically failing to get a grip on things.

“The regime sees the judiciary as an adversary, the army as a threat, the police as a [coercing club] and the media as an enemy,” Heikal suggested in the fifth of the series that is aired by CBC at prime time Thursday evening, with several replays.

Throughout the five episodes of what is promised to be 10 in total, Heikal dissects with Al-Hadidi the political scene of today, with several applications of historical backgrounds and prominent insights.

In the analysis, the Muslim Brotherhood was not an early comer to the demonstrations that initiated what later evolved into the 25 January 18-day revolution. Latecomers as they were and unexpected rulers as they have become, Heikal reminds us that the Brotherhood also declined to bow to a political participatory approach that should have been expected of a group whose participation in the revolution that allowed for a regime change did not go much beyond 20 per cent of the total political force that triggered the end of the previously ruling regime.

This, Heikal told Al-Hadidi, the wider public, including those over 48 per cent that did not vote for president Mohamed Morsi, was willing to give the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to prove their fears wrong — or at least gave them the benefit of the doubt.

The Muslim Brotherhood failed to make the most out of this opportunity and acted to monopolise power and to draft a confused constitution that seemed to be designed specifically to serve this purpose, though it did not do even that so well.

To make things worse, Heikal argued, the ruling regime of the Muslim Brotherhood chose all the wrong and potentially devastating fights: assigning a controversial prosecutor-general away from “what should otherwise be a wide consensus”; declined to dispel the incremental fears of the Copts who ultimately constitute some 10 per cent of the population and took matters to a point that is not far from the beginnings of civil strife; engaged in a battle to dominate Al-Azhar and to force the media to succumb to the ruling power; and confused foreign policy decisions in a way that could be said to undermine the already declining regional status of Egypt.

All of these problems arose, Heikal reminded, while the economy was ailing and inevitably moving from bad to worse, and now getting closer to “the worst”.

If things continue where they are now, Heikal warned, it might be only a matter of three to four months before President Mohamed Morsi finds himself in a situation whereby he would announce a state of emergency.

At that point, Heikal alluded without actually saying it, the Armed Forces would be expected to step in to help enforce this state of emergency, but it is not clear whether they would do this or how they would do it if they did step in, in view of the current state of relations between army and presidency and in view of the bitter recollection by some that the Armed Forces had their days ruling the country during the interim period between the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011 and the day Morsi was sworn in on 30 June 2013.

Whatever happens, Heikal argued, if the army finds itself in a situation by which it has to re-intervene in the political scene — something that some people are already calling for in view of declining levels of security — it would not do so in the same fashion as during the interim period.

“I know that the Muslim Brotherhood likes to think that Egypt is ‘too big to fail’ but I am not quite sure if this is still the case in view of the declining regional status that Egypt has already been suffering from for a while,” Heikal said.

Heikal, unlike other commentators who are probably not as well informed, all but shrugged off the theory that the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule is at its heart a US ploy that threw out Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, from the presidential finals that he ran in against Morsi in the summer of last year.

With all the details he shared with Al-Hadidi on the road towards Morsi’s presidency, including an insight into the history of the Muslim Brotherhood-US relationship, Heikal seemed to be simply suggesting that for Washington the Muslim Brotherhood is the only political power that was ready to rule, within US-condoned parameters on key regional policies, and remains to be so “especially in view of the lack of a credible alternative”.

The trouble today, according to Heikal, is not with the position of the US on the Muslim Brotherhood or on the fate of this group whose long history and credibility are being inevitably challenged today due to the performance of this group that is still in awe at the sudden ascent to power and a president “who desperately needs to go on a holiday”. The trouble is rather with an acute state of polarisation at the top intellectual level that is leaving a good part of the population deeply frustrated especially that it is coming at a time of acute economic and security distress.

“The Muslim Brotherhood needs to realise that being elected does not give them the right to do whatever they want,” Heikal said, while at the same time coming to terms that they are not the only political power that can summon supporters to a demonstration.

For Heikal, the siege by the Muslim Brotherhood at Muqattam (where the MBs headquarters is located), the cordon that demonstrators threw on the Constitutional Court last winter and later the blockade around Media City, are all scenes and signs that prompt deep concern over the fate of the rule of law and civil stability in the country.

“Today, I am concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood,” Heikal stated in two of the five episodes. The concern is not only prompted by a performance that shows an unequivocal need for better counsellors but also by the present signs of declining popularity, the case being demonstrated by the humble share that Muslim Brotherhood candidates secured in recent student unions elections, in sharp contrast to the records of the past few years.

According to Heikal, the time has come for the Muslim Brotherhood to sit and think carefully about what they are doing, and indeed where they might be leading the country to, given that the legitimacy of the elected president is being seriously questioned.

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