Sunday, July 21, 2013

Baheyya on Egyptian Politics

Baheyya is among the smartest of all Egyptian bloggers. After a long interval of silence she is once again commenting on political developments in that country.  The most recent two commentaries are excellent. Here are the links and a couple of snips.

Military Tutelage, Egyptian-Style
July 16
If there were lingering doubts that the military pounced on the June 30 protests to re-establish its political supremacy, Gen. El-Sisi’s Sunday address removed a lot of them. Using convoluted language and tortured logic, the speech’s organizing premise is that the “people summoned the armed forces for the mission of balancing the tipped scale and restoring diverted goals.” “The people” are mentioned 28 times, but their sovereignty is not once affirmed. What’s emphasized is that the armed forces are the unmoved mover, guarding the country’s politics, not just its borders. 
[...]The crucial sleight of hand in the speech, the core deception, is substituting the meaningless phrase “legitimacy of the people” for the meaningful doctrine of “sovereignty of the people.” Not once is sovereignty of the people even hinted at in a document that mentions “the people” in every other sentence. The praxis and the promise of the Egyptian revolution, that the citizenry constitutes its political order, is here terminated by a group of generals backed by a world power and aided by its regional clients. 
[...]The speech is the intellectual gloss on the July 3 coup. Its point is that Egypt is too important to be ruled by its people. Too many regional and world powers are vested in the direction this country takes and how it gets there. Its population will be corralled to the side and left to practice their charming folkloric political rituals, with parliamentary elections and even presidential elections and what have you. An arena of electoral democracy will be constructed, but many matters of grave national import will be outside its purview. And anyway, its outcomes can always be reversed.

The Middling Muslim Brothers
July 20
It’s a small detail of great consequence. On July 3, members of the presidential guard stepped away and let Dr. Mohamed Morsi and his aides be arrested by army commandos. If men with guns and tanks can simply arrest an elected president, then what’s to keep them from doing it again and again? 
The horrible precedent this sets is buried under the partisan fury for and against the Muslim Brothers. Haters of the MB apparently see nothing wrong with the military summarily detaining the first elected national leader in Egyptian history. Boosters of the MB are so caught up in their own injury that they’re not pausing to wonder why a great many people feel relief and even satisfaction at the demise of the Morsi presidency. 
[...]   Over the years, the MB leadership crystallized into a counter-elite of well-to-do, urban, upwardly-mobile professionals and businessmen eager to enter the exclusive ranks of the establishment. The Brothers are still second to none in their public outreach during elections, knowing how to woo rather than spurn ordinary citizens. But as with all large organizations, the leadership has developed interests of its own, principally self-preservation. 
[...]   In ordinary times and places, a dual strategy of confrontation and appeasement is the stuff of presidential politics. In the power struggle of post-revolutionary Egypt, presidential politics is an existential gamble. Morsi became trapped in a cycle where he was accused of dictatorship if he moved aggressively and accused of betrayal if he pursued accommodation. 
The wider public tuned out this grand drama, seeing no stake in the epic battles playing out at the top. Morsi’s sense of besiegement and retreat into his Ikhwan trust network was a huge disincentive for the public to even try and sympathize with the embattled president.

Most Egyptians could be forgiven for feeling that the whole thing didn’t concern them, that it was just a new round of the perennial conflict between the Muslim Brothers and the state. It wasn’t a battle between the first elected president and the corrupt deep state, but a fight between the president of the Muslim Brothers and his group and everyone else.

The anti-Morsi media drove home this framing every day and night. If an alien had parachuted into Egypt in spring 2013 and turned on the television, the impression he’d get is that the state had been hijacked by a lunatic tribe that was running the country into the ground. The insular, preaching-to-the-converted media of the Muslim Brothers stood no chance against this juggernaut
[...]   If the largest, best organized, and most politically experienced mass movement can be so handily slain by the forces of the old order, what hope is there for the weaker segments of the opposition, many of whom have already proved their willingness to pact with the dominant elite out of hatred for the Islamist counter-elite?

In my political dream world, this defeat will catalyze an internal revolution in the Muslim Brothers and the rise of a new leadership more committed to far-reaching change, and skilled in the politics of coalition-building. A historic entente will ensue between the new and improved MB and new and improved factions of the secular opposition, who will have learned their own hard lesson to never, ever trust the military, and to respect ordinary citizens more. This powerful alliance will contest and win parliamentary and presidential elections, firing up public enthusiasm for a decisive showdown with the old order and its foreign backers.

Would that the next round of the Egyptian revolution follow my playbook. For there will be a next round, but nobody knows whose playbook it’ll come from.

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