The “Arab Spring” isn’t over yet. Its mechanisms and paradoxes still produce interplays that give the impression that nothing has changed in the past six years. One sometimes feels that the scenes are repeating themselves and that some faces look very much like the ones we’ve seen before. It’s almost as if we were in the middle of a rerun of an old film, including much of its excitement and all of its silliness.
Social media is being used in the same ways, though perhaps more intensively. We hear the same calls for protest, using the word “peaceful” to cover up the stones and petrol bombs. “Ultras” and other young people man the front lines, but the money, assistance and planning are supplied by the Muslim Brotherhood.
To the Muslim Brotherhood, the videos circulated by that self-styled “actor/construction contractor” in order to promote anarchy through the periodic overthrow of government were too good of a chance to pass up. They offered the prospect of a state of violence in which the Muslim Brotherhood could find a place to operate. The mobilisation took place in stages, the first being around-the-clock instigations through the organisation’s TV channels and websites in Turkey, Qatar and the UK.
In the second, Aljazeera stepped in to add a professional gloss to exaggerations and hyperbole. In the third stage, some riffraff was unleashed to raise the thresholds of shamelessness and of the wildness of accusations that had no basis in any corroborative reality. The fourth, of course, involved fomenting the greatest possible amounts of anger in the hope that it would combust into all-consuming flames. Whether this all was deliberate and planned is not the question.
Certainly, Muslim Brotherhood leaders were chomping at the bit to exploit an opportunity of this sort after years of frustration in exile, especially as they watched Egypt finally emerge from the hot sandy winds of that vile “Spring” and proceed towards the development of a modern nation state through a process of reforms that has already yielded visible blossoms.
But the fact is, things are not the same as they were before. In the six years since 30 June 2013, Egypt has risen from the deluge. The overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule was not just a historic landmark pointing the way back to the modern world, it ushered in the revival of the Egyptian nation state so that it could realise its potential among the ranks of developed nations.
Egypt has become stable again. It laid the foundations for economic and social progress through “Vision 2030”. It has pursued a moderate and prudent foreign policy based on the spirit of cooperation and partnership while adhering to a set of fixed principles and outlooks. Over the past six years, Egypt has changed by dint of drivers that make it different today than it was six years ago, despite how much the Muslim Brotherhood insist it is still the same.
The first of these drivers is manifested in the changing map of development in Egypt, which has moved outwards from the Nile river axis that had prevailed for thousands of years. This shift from the “river to the sea” by means of road and tunnel networks, industrialisation projects and new cities has generated the breathing space needed to accommodate millions of Egyptians and fostered the ability to tap new resources that the “eternal river” no longer has the power to offer.
This movement required new cultures for work, production and interactions among Egyptians and between Egyptians and others. Development in Egypt has burst outside of the confines of seven per cent of the country’s land area and has already achieved inroads from the Nile through the Western Desert to Sinai, and from the Mediterranean to Halayeb and Shalatin, creating links and grids that are bringing all parts of the country closer together.
The second driver is the shift in outlook from “poverty management” to “wealth management”. For decades, Egyptian governments followed economic policies to prevent capitalist accumulation and focused on trying to protect the poor by offering subsided food, subsidised fuel, free education, free health, a civil service job and so forth. Eventually the government’s resources and ability to carry out these functions dwindled, with the result that the poor became more numerous, poorer, less educated and less healthy.
Meanwhile, other developing countries pursued a different course, which was to promote “wealth” by maximising competitive advantages in goods and products, services and technology. Egypt has now adopted this outlook and put it into action through a sweeping economic reform programme that has flung open the doors to investments in industry, agriculture and tourism.
The third and fourth drivers have been discovered by all countries that were once developing and are now emergent. These are the end to “import substitution” policies and the move towards “export development”. The result is already apparent in the growth in Egyptian exports, greater interest in investment and increased remittances from Egyptians working abroad.
Fifth comes the renewed attention to the “software” needed to run the machinery and improve efficacy of development efforts. This includes education, health and culture, all of which can contribute in different ways to the development of the modern state and society through the inputs of modernist and contemporary thinking and attitudes towards mankind, the “other”, beauty, competition, creativity and innovation.
Egypt’s sources of strength are not only “hard”, as in military or economic strength. It has abundant and unparalleled resources of “soft” strength that are to be found in its history, geography, intellectual legacy, media, arts, literature and museums. All these need to be supported and promoted if they are to be turned to political and economic benefit.
The sixth driver entails a great legislative revolution in line with recognised international rules and procedures applied by all developed and emergent nations.
Next comes a pillar in Egypt’s drive to modernity and progress: the “renovation of religious thought”. This crucial seventh driver is one of the most crucial features of the post 30 June 2013 era. Nothing like it has occurred since the 1952 Revolution. Before 30 June we had the occasional controversy over books that made an attempt to promote a renovation, but realities on the ground propelled towards more Islamist fundamentalism and towards Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
The eight driver is a logical product of modernist thought, which is the drive to inclusiveness. Women, Christians and all other distinct components of society are taking their place in the forums and processes of political and intellectual participation.
The restructuring of the Egyptian administrative map is the ninth driver. If Egypt is to spread from the river to the sea, increase the inhabited/inhabitable space of the country and integrate all parts of the country together, the current map of governorates is no longer appropriate. More importantly, their current relationship to the central authority is not conducive to the realisation of the ambitious aims of the Egyptian development process. Therefore, the move to decentralisation and local government is essential in order to stimulate investment and mobilise local and national resources.
The foregoing set of drivers that were set into motion following the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood rule are steering Egypt towards 2030. But even now, as Egypt stands on the threshold of 2020, their cumulative effect after six years packs a surprise for the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers. The Egypt that they want to destroy today is not the same Egypt that they tried to destroy in the past. It is now a strong and healthy state, making more and more progress with each passing day. All objective indicators confirm this. Yes, the country still has a long way to go. But it is not the Egypt of 2011, which the Muslim Brotherhood thought such easy prey.
* The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly