Egypt: Meet the New Boss

September 2011


Same as the old boss. At least for now.

As London’s Financial Times reports today, Egypt’s Army is clamping down on the embryonic civil liberties which many of those who took to the streets in the “Arab Spring” thought they had won when the Mubarak regime dissolved.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power during a promised transition to elected rule, said on Sunday night that it was widening emergency legislation to cover a range of “threats to public order” including “attacks on the freedom to work” – code for strikes – and the deliberate dissemination of rumours and false information.“The most dangerous thing is that they have amended the emergency law to cover what they consider crimes committed by journalists,” said Gamal Fahmy, a board member of the journalists union. “The text is vague and can stretch to cover all sorts of criticism of the authorities.”

Putting the lid back on the pot in Egypt will be a task of considerable difficulty, if it can be accomplished at all. The competing interests, most of which are mutually exclusive to the others, are summed up nicely by FT:

Liberal and Islamist groups are clamouring to influence the political arrangements of the transition; young activists have been mobilising rallies to call for radical changes to break with repressive practises of the past; labour strikes have multiplied; and the country is in the grip of a crime wave.

“It is an attempt to regain control of the situation using the same security methods for which President Mubarak was criticised. In my view this reflects a state of confusion.” said Nasser Amin, who heads the Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, a legal civil society group.

Amin’s assertion that “a state of confusion” exists, is indicative of the power vacuum inside Egypt in the months following Mubarak’s ouster. Nature, and revolution, abhor a vacuum. That power void will be filled by the group most able to impose its will upon the situation and understands how to most quickly and securely seize the levers of power and authority. Not surprisingly, the group in Egypt whose goal has been just that for eight decades, Islamism in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, is rearing its head once more. They, as former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recently said, “may be by far the best-organized political organization and the most disciplined, and very likely the most vicious”.

The Muslim Brotherhood has created its own political party, Freedom and Justice, in order to position itself to make inroads into Egypt’s Parliament as well as in the tide of demonstrations in the streets of Egypt’s cities. If they are successful, then the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood will be felt on both sides of the revolutionary barricades.

Hijacking popular sentiment and steering them toward one’s own purposes, the “Popular Front” tactic, is as old as revolution in modern government itself. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has eyed that strategy for its entire existence. The playing on the fears and prejudices of a long-oppressed people tends to be far more effective than appeals to such fragile and uncertain concepts as personal liberties. The history of the last century has taught us time and again that, in the contest between radicals (left or right) and liberals, the radicals tend to hold the winning hand. When those holding power, in this case the Egyptian Army, see a threat from both parties, their reaction is predictably repression. In this case, “the methods of Mubarak”.

The Army, whom some question is really willing to give up power, finds itself in a lose-lose situation. The storming of the Israeli Embassy last week was an international embarrassment to the Military Council, and a signal that their hold onto power may be tenuous. The reassertion of that hold by means of restriction of civil liberties and repression of liberal and radical alike will also draw the criticism of the international community. MB is likely to use such to erode the perceived legitimacy of the Council (or anything else which replaces it), and look to assume power once that entity is destabilized and overthrown.

Should the Islamists, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, succeed in seizing the reins of power in Egypt, legitimacy will be at the very bottom of the list of considerations. Perhaps right below civil liberties. Even if they don’t succeed, it is clear that the bloom is off the rose of the Arab Spring. What is left to be played out is the uglier and less hopeful aspects of popular uprising.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, History, Homeland Security, Maritime Security

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