Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Dominance of Mubarakism

One year after the dramatic ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians now look retrospectively at the jubilation that followed his resignation with ache and bitterness. "We made a big mistake by leaving Tahrir Square," they say, admitting that the removal of Mubarak did not connote the triumph of the revolution as they then, quite naively, thought. Mubarak is gone, but his rotten regime still combats the revolution and resists reform efforts. With the influence of money, propaganda and connections, Mubarak's regime continues to reproduce itself under new shiny banners and slogans with a fancy revolutionary veneer. Whither the revolution when the old ruling elite is still in force?

The Hegemony of Old Elites
There's nothing puzzling about the resilience of the old elites. Egypt's traditional elites are still coherent, well-organized, and well-positioned to control the state's key resources and to make and influence policies. The military elite is made up of a small and cohesive group of top officers, whose closeness has been fostered by belonging to the same duf'ah (graduating class) and shilla (group), and the entrenched interests of the business elite are intertwined and fostered by ties of kinship and marriage. In addition, the state machinery has not been purged of the corrupt bureaucratic elite – managers, technocrats and top civil servants – that has been born and raised in the rotten structures of Mubarak's Egypt.

There is no scarcity of opportunists in this country, who cling to authority and influence, the change of fashionable ideology and discourse notwithstanding. In the 1960s, socialism was top-down applied without true socialists in the corridors of power, and in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, there was much talk about democracy being the ultimate remedy to all ills, but without democrats and without any official commitment to full-blown democracy. In post-revolution Egypt, the unblemished fa├žade of a revolution exists without many revolutionaries in charge, and perhaps even without a real revolution. The old elite (together with the rising new parliamentary elite) has again associated itself with the ruling authority as it strives to monopolize control of the spoils that can be harvested in the new setting. These elites assert their presence in the public domain, paying lip service to the prevailing political order, and preaching the virtues of the triumphant ideology.

Furthermore, the forces of the revolution have not transformed themselves into a viable political grouping. The youth of the revolution are inexperienced, divided, and leaderless. And, sadly, some of them defected and followed the path of self-interest, finding comfort in media platforms, an early warning of their propensity to be co-opted by the disposition and dynamics of the existing sociopolitical order.

The sponsors of the ancient regime (referred to as folool, or remnants, in post-revolution political discourse) have not been, particularly in the lower echelons of state structure, rooted out by the revolution because the revolutionaries, who challenged the dictator and withstood his wrath, did not assume power after toppling him down. Instead, a faction of Mubarak's ruling elite, the military, took over power and throughout the past year it has made certain no fundamental change applies to the nature, alliances and doctrine of the Mubarak regime.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is composed of 19 senior officers, all veterans of Mubarak's regime, all the faithful guardians of his regime against internal and external threats for many years. During the riots of the Central Security Forces in 1986, Mubarak relied on the army to restore law and order, and the top brass proved to be loyal to him and rigorous against the rebellion of a sister security organization. In the 1980s and 1990s, the army went into battle against the fierce Islamic insurgency that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Egyptians to protect Mubarak's regime. In addition, in the name of protecting the "constitutional legitimacy" of the state, the rise of Gamal Mubarak was never openly contested by the military establishment.

Mubarak's protracted era, logically, shaped these officers' beliefs and worldviews. Over the past twelve months, no wonder, the stance of SCAF has oscillated between taming the revolution and blatantly working against the revolution. And on the spectrum linking these two postures, the political attitudes and decision-making style characterizing SCAF's misrule have remarkably emulated those of the ousted despot.

Traditionally, the suffix "ism" is appended to nouns – as in socialism, capitalism, fascism, etc – to refer to a philosophical paradigm, or school of thought. To apply it to Mubarak not only contravenes the rules of linguistics, but also betrays common sense. For three decades, Mubarak substituted politics with administration, and ruled without a strategic vision or a philosophical outlook. For purposes of simplicity, however, we can drop the semantic identification of "ism" with ideology, and use it to refer to the characteristics of Mubarak's rule and his decision-making style.

Despite some limited successes in economy and foreign policy in his early years in office, Mubarakism, if applied to the entirety of his political tenure, epitomized economic and administrative failure, political decadence, and foreign policy inaction, all of which resulted in a huge legitimacy deficit. In terms of decision-making style, Mubarakism was marred with the lack of a broad strategic vision, suicidal indecisiveness and the instinctive inclination to address political problems with security solutions. In addition, similar to authoritarian regimes that are short on legitimacy and long on armaments, repression was omnipresent and intense.

In addition to emulating Mubarak in his subjugation of dissent, and his harassment of critical journalists and newspapers, SCAF in many aspects outbid Mubarak's notorious brand of authoritarianism. The ousted president did not dare send 12,000 civilians to military courts in less than one year (perhaps a world record), nor did he issue a law that outlaws strikes and demonstrations. SCAF took these measures in the name of "curbing violence and lawlessness." This is typical dictatorship propaganda, and so reminiscent of the daily belching of Bashar Al-Assad's big lying machine.

Against the backdrop of authoritarian rule, Mubarak tried to give the impression of residing over an open political system and an inclusive decision-making process. His decision-making style can be summarized as follows: you may consult many, but finally take the decision according to your own thinking, even if it was against the law, the national interest or majority opinion. The process through which laws have been formulated after the revolution has followed that same path; SCAF members met with representatives of political parties, youth coalitions and public dignitaries on a regular basis. However, everybody soon realized that these meetings were nothing but public relations sessions, or chitchat gatherings. In the end, the opinion of Egypt's political and social forces was mostly disregarded, and SCAF had their own way.

Additionally, the basic tenets of Mubarak's economic and foreign policy, which partly triggered the revolution, remain untouched.

In his last years in office, Mubarak became addicted to the powerful psychological mechanism of denial. As Mubarak maintained an inexcusable silence on the chronic crises that hit every sector of Egyptian society, he preferred to spend quality time chitchatting with Tal'at Zakaria, an actor who starred in the mediocre movie "The President's Chef," and to pay homage to the national football team, even after it failed to qualify to the World Cup. This lazy attitude, which bred inattention to political crises until they grew and escalated out of control, continued after his demise. The sectarian problem, the discord between judges and lawyers, the strikes and sit-ins staged by workers and state employees, which destabilized the economy in the last few months, could all have been avoided had SCAF, or its well-groomed poodle -the toothless cabinet- intervened earlier.

History vanishes when the lines between "before" and "after" (in our case, February 11th, 2011) are so blurred. For how could one comprehend the essence of historical development without the juxtaposition of "before" and "after"? One year after the January 25th revolution, Egyptians are outraged and disappointed. Mubarak is gone, but Mubarakism still lingers. If it is not shattered, millions of them will continue to flock to Tahrir Square.

Nael M. Shama

* This article was published in Daily News (Egypt) on February 7, 2012.

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