The conflict in and over Egypt cannot be reduced to being a mere struggle over political power, albeit the latter is an intricate part of it. Indeed, in a major part of it, it is an ideological struggle related to the identity of the state and its policies, and how it defines itself and its regional and international role. his definition is the basis of an entire structure of programs and policies, and economic, political, religious, cultural, educational, and security-military strategies.
The slogans of “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice” brought by the January 25 revolution are demands that Islamists, leftists, nationalists, and liberals all agree on. But as a matter of fact, broad differences emerge in the work philosophy and methods of implementation.
There are two main ideological camps competing or clashing in Egypt (and in the Arab and Muslim worlds): The Islamic trend and the Secular trend. Each trend in turn comprises various factions and subgroups.
Meanwhile in Egypt, powerful actors on the ground, politically and popularly, consist of three main camps: the army, with its influence and alliances with all the institutions of the “Deep State,” and which in general adopts a secular line.
Second: the Islamist trend, represented primarily by the Muslim Brothers’ (MB) movement-commonly known as Muslim Brotherhood-and to a lesser degree by the Salafists.
Third: and the parties and factions with a secular line, be they Egyptian nationalist, pan-Arab nationalist, leftists, or liberal, such as al-Wafd Party, al-Dustur Party, al-Tagamo‘, and the Popular Movement or what is known as the Salvation Front.
In all factions there are not only moderates, but also extremists, “narcissists,” and “opportunists.”
Egypt has a unique strategic position, rendering it exposed more than other countries to regional and international intervention and scheming. Egypt has a central role in the Arab and Muslim worlds, in Africa, and in the conflict with the Zionist project. It has a central role in Africa, and it controls one of the main arteries of world trade (the Suez Canal).
In other words, Egypt’s reformation and civilizational development will not be just a local affair, as its effects will have impact on the entire Arab and Muslim worlds, and the conflict with Israel. Subsequently, the Egyptian people’s determination of their political choices will not transpire peacefully, if this should clash with regional and international calculations. Various forces will attempt to exploit weaknesses in the Egyptian situation to influence and manipulate the country’s decision, especially if the people and their various factions fail to build up immunity and national safety networks that can prevent external forces from meddling.
Accordingly, the questions of identity, reformation and civilizational development have become crucial questions. Indeed, an isolationist “Pharaonic” Egypt is different from an Arab-Islamic Egypt. And a secular Egypt, whether socialist or liberal, is different from an Islamist Egypt, and an Egypt open to all forces in society is different from an Egypt ruled by dictatorship and the military jackboot.
The question of the “Islamic project” in Egypt has come under fierce attacks in the media, and was simplified and distorted by using the term “Ikhwanization” [the allegation that the MB movement seeks to impose its ideology on all facets of life in Egypt]. To be sure, this term was used as a synonym of monopolization and unjust domination. The term was used by the media affiliated to the remnants of the Mubarak regime, but then spread among the opponents of the Islamist camp, specially the opponents of the MB movement. The goals of using the term included:
1. Smearing the Islamic project, and the program of reform and change, on the basis of which the Islamists had won elections in Egypt.
2. Bringing about a general psychological and public state opposed to the actions of the new administration (after the January 25 revolution), meant to reform institutions, hire competent individuals, or exclude the corrupt, on the ground that this was tantamount to “Ikhwanization.”
3. Causing a rift among the forces of the revolution, through fear mongering against the MB and their “impending danger,” and through exaggerating contentious issue with other factions and the mistakes of the MB movement, while focusing on negative points.
4. Causing a rift among the Islamists themselves, by focusing the attack on the MB, and portraying them as monopolists of power, and a misrepresentation of the Islamic model.
This campaign has succeeded to a large extent, thanks to its enormous media apparatus and financial resources, both in Egypt and the region. This was helped by mistakes made by the MB movement itself, where it should have otherwise exerted concentrated efforts to accommodate the nationalist, revolutionary, and youth forces and protect the revolution. The campaign was also aided by the fact that the MB (honoring and observing the democratic process) gave these outlets full liberty to scathingly attack their achievements, history, and even their persons. Some studies showed (as noted by Fahmy Huweidi) that under President Morsi, more than 90% of the private Egyptian media and more than 70% of state-owned media were opposed to Morsi and the MB movement.
Although the supporters of Islamist groups won in five different electoral occasions in Egypt, with more than two-third majorities in most cases, they did not or could not engage in “Islamization” or “Ikhwanization,” as they were confronted by all possible means to thwart them and obstruct their work, culminating with the military coup.
The MB had an open attitude. When they participated in the elections, they formed an alliance of around ten parties, led by the MB movement, but included the party of Hamdeen Sabahi, who won by running on the MB’s electoral lists. In one of the fairest and finest elections in Egyptian history (since the days of the Pharaohs!), the MB-led alliance won around 47% of the seats of the Egyptian parliament. The alliance also snatched up to 58% of the Shura Council seats.
Nevertheless, when President Morsi formed his government, he chose a prime minister who was not of the MB. Only five MB members joined the government of 35 ministers (i.e., 14%), none of whom handling sovereign ministries. By comparison, in all Western democracies, the winning party or president forms the government completely from their own ranks, in order to efficiently implement their programs.
When President Morsi sacked Defense Minister Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Annan, ending the role of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a move that was met with wide popular support, the media outlets affiliated to the remnants of the Mubarak regime began a campaign of libel and slander, to the extent that one newspaper ran with this front-page headline on the next day, 17/8/2012: “Officially, [Egypt is controlled by] the Muslim Brotherhood”
After that, there was extensive mobilization of journalists, politicians, and intellectuals, to attack any process of change or reform and portray it as part of the efforts for “Ikhwanization.” Even ‘Abdul Fattah al-Sisi himself, whom Morsi had appointed as defense minister, was accused of being close to the MB movement.
When the Egyptian Shura Council made a reshuffle in the ranks of the officials of state-owned media outlets, a fierce campaign ensued against the council, which was accused of “Ikhwanization.” But a closer look at the list of fifty editors and officials appointed in the move reveals that not a single one of them was actually a member of the MB movement.
Furthermore, only one of the four aides of President Morsi was from the MB movement, only four out of seventeen of his advisers, seven out of twenty-seven governors, and only four out of twenty-five members of the National Council for Human Rights, were from the MB movement.
Yet the term in question continued to be used in a trite and hateful manner, repeatedly and incessantly. The disregard for people’s intellects stooped to such an extent that U.S. President Barack Obama no less was accused of being a member of the MB movement!
What’s worse, spreading the hatred in this manner led to a point where news about burning down of MB movement offices, and murders and arrests against the group’s members, became ordinary and even justified among the elite, be they intellectuals, politicians, or journalists.
What is worse still is that the allegations about “Ikhwanization” led to the suppression of the fledgling democracy in Egypt, the reversal of the gains of January 25, and the reinstatement of the holdovers of the Mubarak regime.
On the other hand, we might be able to use the term “Wafdanization” [from al-Wafd Party] to represent the civil-secular trend in Egypt. Despite the fact that this term is not quite accurate, just like the term “Ikhwanization” is, al-Wafd remains the most longstanding secular party in Egypt. Al-Wafd followed in position the Islamic parties in the Egyptian elections, and it is one of the most prominent components of the Salvation Front, which sought to topple Morsi after it allied itself with the army.
This secular movement is characteristically active and influential among the intellectual and politicized elite of the Egyptian people and the Egyptian media, and among the highest echelons of the employees of the “Deep State,” including the judiciary.
But the main problem of the secular parties, whether leftist, liberal, or nationalist, is that they have failed to reach out to ordinary Egyptians, and to understand and share their concerns. Subsequently, they failed in all fair and free elections that have taken place in Egypt. All these parties combined still failed to obtain more than a quarter of the total vote in the parliamentary election. And even when escalation and incitement in the media that support these factions peaked during “the battle” of the approval of the Constitution, the number of their supporters, and behind them the supporters of the Mubarak regime, reached around 35% of the voters.
There are deep and fierce differences amongst these parties, in terms of ideology, economic and social vision, and in terms of defining Egypt and its national, regional, and international roles.
In addition, an important aspect of the crisis affecting these parties involves their inability to renew themselves, the lack of young supporters who can spread their message, and the fact that they center around persons and symbols more than ideology, ideas, and political programs. Moreover, the former Mubarak regime succeeded, to a large extent, in fragmenting and weakening them.
Perhaps the frustration felt by these parties from their inability to compete with Islamists in elections, and the fact that those among them with loud voices (like the leftist party al-Tajammu‘ and al-Dustur party (of al-Baradie)…) discovered that they had no more than 3-5 % of the votes of the Egyptian people, led them to wager on the army to re-arrange political life under new rules, where the Islamists’ wings are trimmed or eliminated.
However, this in itself was a scandal for the political forces that have incessantly clamored for the civil democratic state, because they allowed the army to be above the state, the presidency, and the constitution, and above the government and the legislative institution. Egypt has paid dearly for this. In addition, these forces have engaged in political “adolescence” and opportunism throughout Morsi’s tenure, seeking to thwart his efforts and topple the MB’s experience, even if that led to toppling the democratic experience itself. These forces contented themselves with nitpicking and obstructionism, rather than with course-correction and overcoming obstacles.
As for the term “militarization” the term is self-explanatory, with Egypt having been ruled by army officers who graduated from the military establishment in the period 1952–2012.
Although one of the slogans of the revolutionary forces that led the revolution was “Down, Down, with Military Rule,” some figures and intellectuals started arguing for Egypt’s need for a strong ruler, from the military, given its good reputation among the citizenry. Actually, there are these days campaigns calling for electing General al-Sisi as president, and even Hamdeen Sabahi supports his nomination.
The army, which sided with the revolution of January 25, isolating Mubarak and taking over the transitional period, tried not to be absent from steering the course of events through the supplementary constitutional declaration and SCAF. When Morsi sacked SCAF, the army returned by riding on the bandwagon of the Tamarrud movement, and the parties of the Salvation Front and others, carrying out a military coup that put it back in power less than a year later.
When talking about the army, there are three considerations that must be taken into account:
1. The Egyptian army sees itself as a guardian of Egypt’s national security and supreme interests. Therefore, it does not want the country to be governed by an ideological party that can implicate Egypt in adventures that it cannot afford, and which can lead to devastating results.
2. The army has real influence on the remainder of state institutions in Egypt, “the Deep State,” through a policy implemented for years, where retired high-ranking army officers have been appointed in the administration of many government institutions and agencies.
3. The Egyptian army has a major role in the Egyptian economy, estimated to be about 30-35% of overall activity.
It follows that there is a broad and overlapping network of relations and interests, rendering the army an important factor (or the preeminent factor) in Egyptian policymaking.
But the army will not be able to continue to impose its candidates or impose the policies it wants indefinitely. Indeed, the experience of many of the graduates of this institution in power has been marred with corruption and tyranny, especially the experience of Hosni Mubarak, which led to the January 25 Revolution. Meanwhile, people in Egypt and the countries of the Arab revolutions have become less prone to oppression by military regimes, and more willing to make sacrifices for the sake of freedom and building the political regime that better expresses their will.
No one party or faction can impose itself upon, exclude, or uproot the others. Therefore, it is imperative to seek to free the country from its crisis, based on the rules of national reconciliation, leading to the establishment of solid constitutional institutions, which respect the will of the people and the higher interests of the nation. Meanwhile, the army should return to the barracks and to its natural role, for which it was originally established.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.