When a cruel patriarch who lacks genuine fatherly feeling despite a deceptive façade departs, his children feel lost.
They look around for a father figure to adopt them and issue the orders they are accustomed to receiving – even if grudgingly. After such a failed patriarch leaves, together with his ruling family, they leave in their wake a burdensome legacy and dilapidated system with many citizens yearning for authoritarianism and looking around to hand these paternal powers to a new custodian. It could be the army or the Guidance Office or even a supreme body for Sharia made up of men who wear the headgear of the Gulf, presented as the attire of Islam.
Mubarak, of course, was not the father of the Egyptian people. He was a corrupt ruler who contributed to transforming the authoritarian military-controlled regime into a gang of thieves and beneficiaries, which weakened and corrupted all kinds of state institutions, from the judiciary to the security services, and social services from hospitals to schools.
The gang survived thanks to a police state and the moral evisceration and degradation of society, whose vitality dissipated in a politically stagnant state. The man and his regime failed to benefit from a golden opportunity to transform the Egyptian political system as the whole world changed in the 1990s; the USSR collapsed and it became apparent that authoritarian patriarchies – which ruled Egypt in modern times – are waning and becoming superfluous all over the world.
The Egyptian people are certainly no children either but some of them – even institutions such as the army, security, opposition parties, as well as the political culture itself – were affected and sometimes metamorphosed within the folds of the decadence of Mubarak’s regime and clique. In time, these deformed children of Mubarak began to despise the rest of the Egyptians, whether because they were too radical, too decadent, not religiously devout enough, very poor or just plain ignorant. There was always an excuse to act with superiority towards the ‘unfortunate.’
Today, after Mubarak’s overthrow, remnants of his regime, including some of the opposition who are tainted by this regime’s policies and morals, want authoritarian patriarchy – or partial fascism – to make a comeback.
Among the neo-fascists are short-sighted secularists, minorities, Islamists, businessmen, workers, farmers and artists, and all social categories whose veins of innovation and maturity have been blocked by long decades of sociopolitical stagnation. Mubarak and his regime is the biological father of these fascist camps in their military and religious forms.
Mubarak's petty achievement
Mubarak was a dictator of average intelligence who created by a dysfunctional system which for 30 years contributed to weakening state institutions, including the judiciary, military and others that many claim are the last coherent institutions.
Egypt became a place of organised banditry, robbery and the most primitive forms of capitalism. Naturally, when this fort built on quicksand collapsed, fascists emerged demanding order because the country needs “someone to take control of it” or “a coherent institution to save it from going astray.”
The most dominant fascist-like group today is made up of those demanding the return of the military to power. What is surprising, as anyone who cares can see, is that the army never actually completely abdicated. Simply put, the Egyptian army no longer rules Egypt directly or with one degree of separation, as was the case since 1952, but rather it remains ubiquitous, economically and politically.
This fascist camp, wearing the insignia of secularism or justifiably frightened by the rising sectarianism is now crying out every day, urging the army to directly take charge without any concessions to the Muslim Brotherhood or the various secular opposition groups.
“Save us; send them back to jail,” – they of course mean the army should rid them of the Brotherhood and the Salafists (who all deserve to be harshly criticised for their deplorable performance, their intolerance of the other and inability to engage seriously with other political factions).
The other fascist camp, composed of authoritarian Islamists for whom democracy is merely a mask they wear, believe only God enabled them to take control of this country, and afterwards they will gift us the Straight Path (whether we like it or not) by implementing the Brotherhood’s superficial plans for ‘Nahda’ or revival.
Political life in Egypt is now at a standstill between those fearing for their interests and way of life, and those worried that the Islamist political project could fail and insist on applying their own version of it verbatim. The short-sighted fascists are blocking our veins again. They are defending their ideological and material interests, which usually overlap.
The fascists, however, are bound to fail. Not only because their nightmarish visions will inevitably lead them to killing, violence, then resounding failure, but also because of their economic, historical and international ignorance.
What can be done?
It is often absurd to enter dialogue with a short-sighted fascist. What do you say to a person who belongs to a minority or to someone non-religious who is scared because of what is happening in Syria or before that in Sudan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and thus wants the army to halt Egypt’s continuous ‘free fall’?
Do you tell them, for goodness sake, remember the peaceful demonstrations at the Egyptian television building, Maspero, and how the young bodies of the demonstrators were crushed under armoured vehicles?
Do you tell them, for goodness sake, remember how many thousands were tried in arbitrary military courts? Do you tell them, it is better for Egypt’s army to do its job as stated in the constitution, namely protecting the country and safeguarding not ruling it? Do you tell them to read history and see that we had already been ruled by the army for the best part of the past 60 years and look where we are today?
What do you say to an authoritarian Islamist who believes he owns the truth and responds to you saying: “Are you not Muslim or something?” and brazenly and obnoxiously adds: “Those who don’t like it can leave. Didn’t you want democracy? And so we won through ballots boxes. We have written a constitution and will apply God’s laws democratically and then you can hold us accountable in the next election.”
You tell them democracy starts with a ballot box but is founded on the rule of law, independence of institutions and respect for the rights of minorities, and those who won 70 percent of parliament seats or 52 percent in the presidential race must listen and engage with the rest of the population, not try to subdue them by force.
Do you tell him (and it is almost always ‘him’ in this case) the source of legitimacy is the people and these very people apply “their understanding” of the Quran and Islam, and that this understanding changes with them, leading as we have seen in history to different doctrinal and political approaches on how to apply the objectives of Islam and its sharia.
Or that what the government in Saudi Arabia or Sudan is applying is different from the understandings of Islamist parties in Morocco, Ansar Dine in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Shabab in Somalia, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya in Egypt, etc.
But debating theory and history with fascists is a waste of time and energy and is wreaks havoc with one’s blood pressure.
Those begging, “save us, oh army” should know:
1- The army, according to its commander, Minister of Defense Al-Sisi, does not want to govern. According to a study in Middle East Report the army controls perhaps up to 40 percent of the economy. Zeinab Abul Magd, in an article published in Foreign Policy casts light on some of the tools of that control. The army has no incentive to be in power and has many to stay behind the scenes.
2- The era of military rule around the world is over (except perhaps in North Korea) and it may be acceptable to the world that the army rules from behind the scenes in Pakistan or elsewhere, but no brass can sit in the palace. That era is long gone.
3- In order for the army to reach power it must arrest and suppress thousands of people or become involved in widespread violence that will be necessary to deny the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups their rightful political gains so far. The Egyptian army, which refused to participate in a bloody confrontation with the people during the 18 days in Tahrir in 2011, will not take such a risk now by confronting a sizeable part of the population. If it did it would risks tensions and probably fractures in its ranks. Meanwhile, US military aid worth US$1.3 billion a year would be in jeopardy, and could stop altogether, if the army enters violent confrontations with segments of the Egyptian people. Much more important than the money is the international firestorm that would engulf the army and delegitimize its rule.
As for fascist Islamists who believe they bring good tidings to us, they are even more misguided:
1- You, Mr. Islamist, no longer have the ability to impose your opinions by force in Egypt because you do not control the apparatus of oppression; the police, which itself is still recovering from the popular revolts in 2011 (and not badly judging by the increasing reports about torture and killings in police stations). This brutal machine, which the Islamist rulers declined to reform, has not exhibited much loyalty to these rulers yet. And even if it joined the new elite, we all know what happened to it at the height of its clout in the face of the people’s rage in January 2011.
2- Authoritarian Islamists not only lack the necessary cadres to govern but, more importantly, they also do not have the money that similar regimes have such as in Saudi Arabia to subdue social demands by handing out financial assistance, endless subsidies and jobs.
3- Qatari and other Gulf countries are sending money in at relatively high interest rates (at least higher than the aborted fund from the IMF) and must have conditions, even if they are not public. Even these funds will not last and they have already failed to stop the continuing depreciation of the Egyptian pound and the bleeding of the hard currency reserves. The exchange rate hit a low of eight pounds to the dollar for a while last week (going up again to 7.35 per dollar this week) while hard currency reserves are about US$13.5 billion (almost a third of their level two years ago) and foreign debt has risen to US$43 billion (about 20 percent incurred only in the last 12 months).
4- The media can no longer be subjugated and will expose human rights abuses not only on channels owned by businessmen (including Islamist channels) but also on YouTube, Facebook and the Internet in general. Today, no one can control the flow of information and violations are quickly documented and broadcast.
5- There are no successful experiences that the Brotherhood could cite. Sudan, our neighbour in the south, applied a blend of military and Brotherhood rule over two decades and lost one third of the country when South Sudan seceded and civil war broke out which caused it to actually lose control of other major sections of the country in Darfur and the East. If it were not for oil, which supplies it with hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the country would have entirely collapsed and is generally suffering terrible economic and social conditions. Do we even need to mention Pakistan and Afghanistan and their multi-faceted failures?
The last hope
The condition of the economy in Egypt is a stumbling block in the face of all types of fascism or authoritarianism, which both require tools and structures of oppression, as well as economic capabilities that the army and Islamists lack.
The Egyptian state, like many in this neoliberal age, is no longer capable of bankrolling mega welfare projects or substantially subsidising goods and services. The only feasible route goes through painful austerity measures and serious work in erecting social safety nets and improving social services, primarily education and health care. Only a legitimate regime with broad support that can walk this tough route. The current rulers are legally in place but their legitimacy is eroding. A fascist regime of the kinds marketed in Egypt now are both illegal and illegitimate and will usher in a far worse economic disaster.
Relying on the market to create jobs, improve services, and revive economic sectors such as tourism will not occur through financial tools such as issuing bonds and treasury bills, which are drowning the country in even more debt. These and other voodoo economic measures are doomed to fail. Reviving the economy requires real stability in the country in order for tourism and domestic and foreign investments to return, and for the value of the pound to stabilise. The real solutions to economic ailments lie in politics in the sense of mutual compromise and building consensus. Fascism will take the already rising violence to a much higher level and will be a final blow to Egypt’s floundering economy.
Dreams of authoritarianism or fascism by large numbers of the Islamists and their opponents in Egypt are a certain recipe for nightmares of economic failure, international isolation, spiraling violence and further social decay because of which a state, especially one as ailing as in Egypt, can simply sink or disintegrate.
With the shortsighted fools we have running around marketing for their fascist blueprints, this scenario is no longer unlikely. Army or Islamist authoritarianisms lack the economic means or the security apparatus to succeed in Egypt, but would the state survive?
Khaled Mansour is an Egyptian writer and an adviser to the Arab Reform Initiative. He has occupied several senior positions in the UN.