Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The leadership and the masses

The broad-based popular consensus against the Muslim Brotherhood that led to the 30 June Revolution has found its new leader, writes Ahmed Al-Tonsi

Al-Ahram Weekly

 After the attempt on his life in 1995, former president Hosni Mubarak was frequently asked about his successor. He had always remained silent about his potential successor, saying that there were constitutional provisions governing the transfer of power and that he would not appoint a vice president in order to allow the Egyptians to make their own choice.
Nevertheless, the emergence and increased visibility of his son Gamal Mubarak intensified talk about his being groomed as the successor to his father. Uncertainties and ambiguities almost cleared in December 2010 with the catastrophic legislative elections that represented a first step towards the most likely scenario of pushing Gamal Mubarak into the presidential seat. However, the vast majority of Egyptians rejected this scenario, and Mubarak’s own silence seemed to deny the probability of its occurrence.
In fact, it was Mubarak’s own original sin that meant that the state was by this point on such a dangerously uncertain path, risking its national security as a result of uncertainties over the transfer of power. Though aware of the dangers inherent in such a situation, Mubarak nevertheless did nothing to mitigate them. As a result, Egypt is still passing through a phase of uncertainty despite two revolutions and supposedly two transitional periods with plenty of new constitutions and new constitutional declarations to deal with.
It was the 25 January Revolution that ended the Mubarak regime through an unpredicted popular revolt. Yet, Mubarak’s legacy has continued not through the fulul (remnants) as many have claimed, or through the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), as others have argued. Instead, Mubarak’s disastrous legacy has been manifested in a long array of sociopolitical phenomena that have detrimentally impacted the two transitional periods. A dry pipeline of leaders with the clear competencies required to be the chief executive of a country like Egypt has been one of these legacies, and the 30 years Mubarak ruled Egypt have left the country nearly barren in terms of visionary leaders with solid experience of running one of the oldest states on earth.
Those who could have been seen as potentially promising have either been tarnished or lost during the two transition phases since the 25 January Revolution. The latter did not solve the acute crisis of succession, though it did exacerbate its course and events. In fact, the leadership vacuum has encouraged a new brand of people to endeavour to fill the gap. The lack of leadership of the Egyptian revolution has opened the floor up to many adventurers with few capabilities and even less of a revolutionary contribution to make. By the time these people were exposed, losing even their false credentials, the whole revolutionary youth leadership had become atomised, with a plethora of pseudo-leaders each claiming a full popular mandate while in reality some even lacked the minimum requirements of citizenship.
The youthful vanguard of the 25 January Revolution failed to formulate a coherent ideology that could act as a unifying tool for its adherents. Instead, divisive slogans like “down with military rule” replaced the consensus-building ones raised during the early days of the revolution. Finally, the various ideological trends that existed prior to the January Revolution maintained their discourses, even as each claimed revolutionary credentials and even put itself forward as the standard bearer of the revolution’s objectives. Accordingly, the post-revolutionary era has been characterised by political volatility and growing mistrust and it has not permitted the surfacing of new leaders,
Instead, the transitional phase with its ebbs and flows has led to the demise of the potential leaders, damaging their credibility and appeal. Perhaps the second round of the last presidential elections was most indicative of the absence of such leaders, since at this point the contest was between Ahmed Shafik, a key member of the Mubarak regime, and Mohamed Morsi, a second-choice candidate for the most reactionary force in the political spectrum. Significantly, however, the second round of the elections also gave birth to an evolving trend, which has been the rejection by the civil mainstream of the kind of theocracy envisaged by the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates. It can be said that the post-revolutionary transitional period, particularly when under Morsi’s rule, was ultimately pivotal in shaping the evolution of a broad-based national majority that could replace the fragmentation of the elites in the aftermath of the January Revolution.
Such a development has taken place through many steps of the inclusion and/or exclusion of certain societal forces and sectors. The national majority that events have   framed is too fluid to be contained in a single political forum or ideology. Rather, this national majority now looks most like an amalgamation of diverse groups and blocs belonging to a plethora of different social backgrounds and political orientations.
Morsi’s one year in office resulted in the further consolidation of this nascent national majority, culminating in the 30 June Revolution. It can be said that Morsi achieved the highest degree of national consensus since the 25 January Revolution, though paradoxically this was against his continuing in power and the participation of his association in the new political order. This newly emergent and highly diversified mainstream popular trend united over one objective: the termination of Muslim Brotherhood rule and its role in Egypt. Meanwhile, the new trend also formed for the vast majority of Egyptians what had earlier been lacking in terms of leadership, despite the courageous efforts of the Tamarod (Rebel) Campaign in shaping the formation and evolution of it.
Despite all the inevitable frictions that have been happening inside such a loosely networked majority, it can nevertheless be said that it has been determined to overcome the status quo with all its highly complex political, social and economic aspects. This can be identified in the decline of the demonstrations that has been seen recently, as well as in the growing popular support for the state’s efforts in combating terrorism. The near consensus on the new constitution was sound proof of the consolidation of the new national bloc.
A no less major development has taken place in the rise of minister of defence and head of the Armed Forces Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as a towering national hero. Many people predicted that the 25 January Revolution would give rise to new leaders and that it would eventually become the midwife for new personalities that would genuinely reflect the revolution and its slogans. However, many analysts thought that it would be the youth vanguard that would produce such new leaders. In fact, though, throughout the three years after the revolution the youth vanguard retained its pre-revolutionary identity as a group of activists, with few or any of its members showing any real potential for transformation into a truly popular or fully-fledged political leader.
For a variety of reasons, the revolutionary vanguard’s growth from a group of activists to political leaders has been arrested. To mention one reason for this, the fragmentation of the revolutionary vanguard was in itself highly conducive to its stunted growth. The same could be said about some of the revolutionaries themselves, who have joined other political parties and movements where they have become diluted and dispersed among decaying structures and political orientations.  
Perhaps the popular uprising of December 2012 was the watershed between the two revolutions and the prelude to the 30 June Revolution. The December uprising clearly indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood regime could not be ousted through contentious politics, and it showed that the regime’s determination to disregard popular demands and to continue even if by force with its plan for the further “Brotherhoodisation” of the state and society would go on. The failure of the December uprising to get any concessions from Morsi and his group was frustrating to growing sectors of the population, who felt powerless to bring about change, particularly after the promulgation of the Brotherhood’s new constitution just a few days after the revolt. Within the same context, the December uprising exposed the inadequacies of the Salvation Front, which also looked powerless in the face of events to the extent that it made up its mind to say no to the constitution on the eve of a referendum that it has previously planned to boycott.
It was such a mix of dashed popular expectations, ineffective leadership by the Salvation Front and the tyranny of the Brotherhood that made the newly formed yet as yet leaderless national bloc ask the army to perform its national duty in saving the state and the nation. The popular masses, as well as some members of the political elites, had called upon the army to intervene in the various crises that had erupted since December 2012. And yet it was only in June 2013 that Egypt saw the emergence of Al-Sisi as a new leader.
Some people have wanted to deny Al-Sisi this status, while others have seen him as ideal material for the presidency. In his speech of 24 July last year, Al-Sisi asked to be given a popular mandate to undertake the actions needed to combat terrorism. People then responded to his call, rallying in their millions in a show of solidarity with the army and its leader against the atrocities inflicted by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies and supporters. According to Al-Sisi, this mandate would mean the re-establishment of authority and order. It was not just an appeal to end the Brotherhood sit-ins in Nasr City and around Cairo University.
Instead, Al-Sisi’s appeal was to the people themselves, and their exceptionally positive response was indicative of an evolving relationship between a true national leader, not just the hero of the hour, and the broad base of the people who believed in him and supported him. The interface between Al-Sisi and the masses should be seen as a clear illustration of this evolving relationship. Some may claim that Al-Sisi has manipulated the masses by playing on their emotions. Yet, his recourse to the people and his identification of their real needs, while at the same time showing that he is able to deliver his own message, has indicated that here is a leader who has solid leadership skills.
On the day Al-Sisi made his speech last July, a new national leader was born.

The writer is a political analyst.
(see p.22)

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