The difference in the appearance of the ousted president between when we saw him in August 2011 and last week demonstrates how his regime recovered some of its strength due to the poor performance of current political players. But this does not mean the former regime could ever recover entirely, as some have claimed in recent days.
There is no doubt Mubarak’s regime was given the kiss of life by key political players after the revolution. This sometimes happened because of the incompetence of those in power or their frequent backtracking on promises either made to other major political players or to voters, triggering frequent comparisons to the past. Or sometimes because of failure to manage the relationship with the “state” and its bureaucratic and military apparatus, the network of relations and benefits that seek to maintain the status quo without change. This failure is due to the inability of rulers to build political alliances with players who seek change, in order to manage this critical time.
Some of the reasons, however, are caused by both those in power and the opposition; most notably, haste in normalising relations with remnants of the old regime and accepting their complete and unconditional return to all aspects of public life. This shows that rulers and their opponents believe events over the past two years were not a revolution but a democratic transformation, or that they do not know the difference between the two.
Admission that a revolution took place by definition means someone was revolted against and they should not be allowed to reintegrate into society before being held accountable and a new leaf is turned in a way that guarantees that the past will not be revisited again. Talk of reintegrating these persons and forces before doing this means we are not dealing with a revolution.
Both those in power and the opposition participated in this normalisation process. On the economic level, some businessmen from the ruling party are leading reconciliation negotiations with businessmen from Mubarak’s regime away from public oversight or a comprehensive framework of transitional justice needed to deal with these cases.
One such businessman even declared: “There is no such thing as remnant businessmen,” because businessmen are forced to cozy up to various regimes for the sake of business, and thus they are excused.
The opposition wasn’t much better. It quickly — while creating the National Salvation Front (NSF), for example — included many remnant figures, to benefit from their funding of NSF activities.
On the political plane, the president chose to appoint among his Cabinet several members of the dismantled National Democratic Party, and several more he appointed to the Shura Council (although there is a clear constitutional ban for the Shura). He also awarded medals and pendants to several loyal Mubarak regime figures, and appointed them presidential advisers. Meanwhile, since his election he has not once concealed his complete bias towards the oppressive agencies of Mubarak’s state and kept their leaders in their positions.
The opposition, meanwhile, “laundered” remnant figures and welcomed them back to the NSF, and before that by nominating some of them on parliamentary party lists that were supposedly “revolutionary.” And then by defending some figures in Mubarak’s regime who were impacted by change, viewing them as Egyptian bureaucracy bosses who should be respected and kept in place. Some exponents of “laundering” remnants contributed by creating political parties that on the outside are fresh and on the inside packed with remnants.
In the media, many “politicians” and “academics” who for one reason or another are affiliated to the revolution appeared on chat shows on channels launched by remnants after the revolution. They advocated for the return of remnants through dialogue, listening to their views and visions. Thus, they partially returned to the public domain and within a few months their wealth attracted growing numbers of media personalities (many of whom formerly worked in newspapers and channels that were independent of remnants) to work in their outlets. Thus, they became key components of the public domain, not just part of it.
Since the early months after Mubarak’s ouster it was clear that political, economic and media heavyweights have intertwined interests with Mubarak’s regime, whether economic — most likely — or political, in terms of the ability to negotiate to continue existing, instead of brokering alliances with political foes to overthrow Mubarak’s regime once and for all. It was also apparent these interests are preventing them from eliminating remnants.
Hence, there were no serious attempts to define the term remnants and everyone used it against their political foes without discrimination. At the same time, those in power have not yet adopted a plan for transitional justice to investigate the Mubarak regime’s human rights, political, economic and administrative crimes to uncover the truth and assign responsibility, or mechanisms for punishment. In addition to how to transition into a new institutional condition not plagued by previous mistakes or that repeats them.
The concept of transitional justice itself was distorted by limiting it to crimes of killing during the revolution, or even just the first few days of the revolution.
These attempts at containment, which tried to confine the revolution and restrain it to limited democratic transformation, were partially successful in terms of stemming the revolutionary tide. However, they were doomed to fail because the pressure for change was rooted in genuine grievances that revealed state repression after it was stripped of all its rhetoric, and in the absence of conditions that Mubarak’s regime relied on to reign and survive.
As for demands for change, they are either based on economic or social grievances that can no longer wait because of growing pressure, or demands for retribution by the first martyrs who did not hesitate in demanding rights.
Regarding repression of the state, slogans such as "the authority of the state" can no longer conceal its bias towards those who have a strong desire to uphold unjust conditions.
Meanwhile, the requirements for Mubarak’s regime are belief in the state and its rhetoric, fear of its brutality, and its possession of tools of oppression. These are all conditions that no longer exist and reproducing them could take decades.
Neither the current way of administration and governance nor the comeback of the Mubarak regime will result in stability. Instead, stability will be born from the womb of justice which will never be achieved if pardons precede accountability, and political interests of parties remain more important than shed blood, looted funds, and the poor dying of hunger and disease. This is a fact, not an assumption.