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The crisis of the Egyptian political elite

The term “elite” is a French word of Latin origin meaning the select few, the best part of something, and the highest class. Nowadays, it is well known that these are the people who are at the forefront of the political, intellectual or any other scene and are distinguished from the others.


If we take a look at the Egyptian elite of the past, we find that they guided the people during the phase before the July 1952 revolution. However, after the revolution, the elite took on different positions with regards to the leader or president, as some remained in the orbit of his authority and received the concomitant benefits and status that came with it; a few took a more honourable position, despite the obstacles that came with that.

This was clear during the reign of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, as he was able to have an impact on most of the political elite, both independent and partisan, by means of the carrot and stick approach.

In spite of this, there was opposition to his rule represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, who opposed him throughout. There were also a number of independent figures, who formed the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya) in 2004, and who promoted the slogan, “No to inheritance, no to extension”. However, the ruling authority, along with the other parties in the political scene, was able to control them at the time and stop them from crossing the lines set for them by the president. Members of the opposition tried to communicate with each other in order to form a bloc that could stand up to the Mubarak regime through various means, but they were unable to shake it in the required manner.

The practices of the authoritarian regime and its security grip were indicators of its collapse, and this was demonstrated clearly in the parliamentary elections in 2010, which were rigged, causing the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party to withdraw from the process. The Mubarak regime did not care about the opposition’s protest against its repressive practices and monopoly of power; this was the prelude to the youth breaking out in angry demonstrations against the government. It was no surprise that the January 25th Revolution originated outside the government and opposition; it was inspired by youth movements rather than the corroded elite.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party all called on the regime to take immediate remedial action. They were a significant factor in motivating the youth to come out against the regime.

The situation was even more critical due to the government’s slowness in taking the actions demanded of them, including changing the government, improving living conditions and the dismissal of Interior Minister Habib El-Adly. This prompted the protests to turn into a revolution calling for complete regime change. There was agreement among the political elite to continue to call for the overthrow of the regime, which happened on February 11, 2011, eighteen days after the youth had taken to the streets.

Post-Mubarak elite

After the head of the regime, represented by Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown, the elite split into two groups. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups wanted early elections. The so-called “civil parties” wanted to redraft the constitution first. This widened the gap between the politicians who had just participated together in the revolution.

The legislative elections were held first, followed by the presidential elections, and it was the Islamic trend, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the most. Moreover, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected as president of the republic, gaining slightly more votes than his rival Ahmed Shafik, who was a remnant of the former regime.

This was the result of the democratic process accepted by everyone, but it did not satisfy a number of civil forces due to their severe differences with the Islamic movement. Hence, the open disagreements between the elected president and the “civil parties” made it very difficult for him to reform the state institutions.

The youth had another opinion about the political process, as they did not participate in it; rather, they were not given the opportunity to participate even though they had a strong desire to purge state institutions of remnants of the former regime.

Things continued in this vein, with the president and his Islamic supporters on one side, and the civil groups and their supporters on the other. Thousands of demonstrations were held to protest at President Morsi’s policies.

The matter was complicated further when Morsi issued a Constitutional Declaration on November 22, 2012, including what he described as revolutionary decisions; presidential decisions were henceforth final and could not be appealed against by any other entity (such as the Constitutional Court) starting from when he was elected until a new People’s Assembly was chosen. He dismissed the Prosecutor-General, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, and appointed Talaat Ibrahim in his place, and granted the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly immunity so that they could not be dissolved, as had happened to the Parliament. He also extended the period by two months in which the assembly had to draft a new constitution, and retried those accused of killing, wounding and terrorising demonstrators during the revolution.

This declaration drove the opposition forces to form the National Salvation Front, which continued to be hostile towards the president and pushed many individuals to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly.

In the meantime, many people were killed on both sides, driving ElBaradei, who was the general coordinator of the NSF, to accuse the president of revolting against democracy and losing legitimacy. The former UN weapons inspector warned that the Armed Forces would intervene if the situation in the country continued. He also called on the West to intervene to save the revolution from Morsi, who he described as a “self-appointed leader by the word of God” and “the new Pharaoh”, and guided his supporters to hold sit-ins in the public squares.

Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate, was not far from the scene and he spared no effort in opposing President Morsi, making several statements that his legitimacy was eroded and was morally, politically, socially and economically dead, leaving nothing but his legitimacy derived from the ballot box (Al-Ahram, 16/4/2013). The position of the civil political elite was similar to this and joined ElBaradei and Sabahi.

These forces supported the Tamarod movement, which called for a public withdrawal of confidence from President Morsi. On Friday, 26 April, 2013, the Tamarod movement launched a “rebellion” from Tahrir Square in Cairo, ending on June 30. According to its members’ claims, they were able to collect 22 million signatures in a petition against Morsi.

Furthermore, the media did not stay quiet. All of the private television stations and the official state-owned station began piling every charge and sin onto Morsi. Even the show “AlBernameg” hosted by Bassem Youssef, mocked all of Morsi’s actions with comical satire that was very popular among viewers. Liberal and leftist commentators were highly critical of Morsi and called on the people to gather on June 30 to call for early presidential elections.

Egypt’s military council gave the president and the opposition one week to find a way out of the crisis before holding a coup d’état and ousting him. Morsi’s supporters, rebranded as “pro-democracy demonstrators”, staged sit-ins from June 28 to August 14 in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares. The dispersal of the pro-Morsi demonstrations led to the killing of thousands of citizens; many thousands more were wounded as the security forces used brutal methods to break-up the protests. Yet more were thrown into prisons across Egypt for exercising their democratic right to oppose the coup. However, this did not stir the political elite, writers, journalists or human rights activists in the least.

Post-Morsi scene

After the Defence Minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi made a statement on July 3rd, in which he determined what he called the “Map the Future”, he announced that the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court would be interim president of the country with Mohamed ElBaradei as his vice-president for foreign affairs and Hazem Beblawi as prime minister. The government’s main job was to disperse the sit-ins which were an obstacle to their plans; they prepared the public for the bloodshed that followed through a vigorous media campaign against the Morsi government and his supporters.

Amazingly, many people who had called for the overthrow of the government headed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the aftermath of the January 25 Revolution became supporters of the military coup-appointed government in order to confront the Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-democracy alliance. Those who were unsuccessful in their attempts to take office through the ballot box allied themselves with the army and police against the Muslim Brotherhood, which had, remember, won the popular vote.

This meant that it was “legitimised” to kill pro-Brotherhood activists and their supporters because they were against the new regime. We did not hear any condemnation or opposition from any of the human rights organisations to these violations, even though they spared no effort in highlighting Morsi’s mistakes during his term in office. Thus, the political conflict turned into a war to eliminate a political faction that campaigned for democracy.

The judiciary wasn’t far away from this political conflict. Since the first moment that the elected president was deposed, the new Prosecutor-General, Hisham Barakat, began preparing accusations against the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, tracking them down, and allowing the police to arrest them and everyone who helped them. The campaign to demonise the movement saw the Egyptian Council of Ministers declaring on Wednesday, December 25, 2013 that the Muslim Brotherhood was a “terrorist group”, both domestically and abroad. The group was accused of being behind some of the violence in the country.

We have noticed that during this period, all of the calls that these parties have made for the sake of democracy and human rights have gone unheeded. We no longer hear about ElBaradei’s “Tweets”, Hamdeen’s speeches, George Isaac’s protests, the criticism of human rights organisations, or anything else; everyone has disappeared from the political scene.

People are looking to the Armed Forces to fill the void and many, including the former presidential candidates, are starting to feel the pinch and are perhaps afraid of what will come next. To cover themselves, they have started to chant Al-Sisi’s name. The man behind the coup which ousted the elected president is now required to play the role of political saviour.

All who have an issue with the Islamic movement, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are calling for Al-Sisi to run for the presidency, as the only man who can be a hero and rescue Egypt. The masses want an instant saviour, not a president, and everyone has become obsessed with the man, as if Egypt has never had anyone like him. The obsession has been seen clearly in the media.

The future does not look good with so much hatred in Egyptian society. The elite, in all of its forms, has contributed to this situation due to its concern for its own interests, not those of the people or the nation.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 9 February, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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