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A people’s history of the Egyptian revolution (9)

It seemed to be working: the army was – more or less – back in the barracks, the police were now doing their torture and killing for the Brotherhood, the Judiciary was being subdued and MB and Mubarak Oligarchs were making nice

Hani Shukrallah , Tuesday 24 Sep 2013
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9. Mapping the fault-lines 

Muslim Brotherhood supremacy would prove eminently fleeting, as we now know. It needn’t have been, at least not in terms of the new power arrangement as it unfolded with the overthrow of SCAF.

The new military command had deeply absorbed the extremely harsh lesson of SCAF’s reign: if the Egyptian military was to maintain its institutional integrity, cohesion as well as its privileged status within the power structure, it was best to stay out of the political morass that was Egypt’s post-revolutionary reality. El-Sissi set about trying to heal the scars, focusing almost exclusively on internal institutional concerns.

The Muslim Brotherhood rulers, for their own part, were happy to maintain and even widen the privileged status of the military in the Egyptian state structure. The Constitution drawn up exclusively by the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies would ostensibly set this in stone, including the military prosecution and trial of civilians, which the people had resisted fiercely.

The police, which under Mubarak had become the mainstay of the regime (far superseding the military in this respect), seemed happy to work under the very Muslim Brotherhood leaders they’d hounded and persecuted for decades, even as they maintained open lines of communication with them throughout.

The 25 January revolution had delivered a devastating blow to the gargantuan police apparatus in the country, and from 28 January 2011 onwards we would have a police force that had gone partially rogue, partially on undeclared strike (with horrific ramifications for the personal security of citizens, including the rise of vigilantism and mob violence throughout the country). They would flex their muscles mainly on such occasions as would allow them to reassert their viciousness and take vengeance on the rebellious people who had so soundly humiliated them. This had been the case under the SCAF and would remain so under the Muslim Brotherhood.

In January 2013 Morsi would hand pick his new interior minister, Gen. Mohamed Ibrahim, from among police ranks (he’d been assistant Interior Minister for Prisons). Ibrahim would continue in his post till today, with nearly everybody conveniently forgetting that if Morsi is to be prosecuted and tried for the killing, injuring and torture of protesters, Ibrahim would have to share the dock with him, just as former interior minister Habib El-Adly shared Mubarak’s on similar charges.

Throughout Morsi’s year in office, not a single attempt would be made to reform the police (a major demand of the revolution), not a single attempt would be made to bring retribution to the killers and torturers (another prominent revolutionary demand, let alone an oft repeated pledge by Morsi and his group), and the killings and torture would continue – now against the opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood rulers.

Unlike the military and the police with which the Brotherhood was obliged to deal as partners in power, even if now in a subordinate capacity, the judiciary seemed there for the taking, for a number of reasons.

In the course of the previous three decades, Islamists and in particular the Brotherhood had made a fair headway within judicial ranks (rulings of apostasy providing a prime example). Nevertheless, the bulk of the top judiciary in the country was proving an obstacle to Brotherhood plans, basically through the Supreme Court’s unconstitutionality rulings against electoral laws.

Mohamed Mursi
Egypt's overthrown President Mohamed Mursi (C) speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo June 30, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

How far such rulings reflected an anti-Brotherhood political bias, or yet another instance of the assertion of a measure of judicial independence from the executive authority is debatable. Yet there is no denying, first, that such rulings were almost symptomatic of Mubarak’s reign, wherein two Mubarak parliaments (elected in 1984, 1987) were dissolved by the Constitutional Court, forcing Mubarak “legislation tailors” to amend and re-amend electoral laws to render them passable under the court’s oversight – an authority which even Mubarak could not openly flaunt.

And there is no doubt; secondly, that judicial supervision of the polls was the single obstacle to outright rigging. Under pressure to introduce political reforms, the Mubarak regime provided for “full judicial supervision” of the 2005 parliamentary elections, without which the unprecedented win of 88 parliamentary seats by the Muslim Brotherhood would have been impossible. The Mubarak chorus launched a concerted attack on “the politicisation of the judiciary”, and by 2007 the stipulation for full judicial supervision was removed. The 2010 parliamentary elections would give the Brotherhood zero seats in parliament.

With not a little irony, the Muslim Brotherhood would take up where Mubarak left off. The aim here as in every other field of government was not to foster the independence of the judiciary, which indeed had been subject to continuous attack and subversion of its independence under Mubarak, but to take it over and subordinate it to Brotherhood will and, indeed, whim.

In yet another twist of irony, the Brotherhood would use, wholly cynically, the flawed court cases against the Mubarak clique as a pretext for its attack on the judiciary. Yet whatever the complicity of some sections of the judiciary in this (evident more on the prosecution than on the bench side of the institution), the real culprit here was the unreformed police force, and behind it, the wilful failure of the SCAF-Brotherhood alliance to introduce even an iota of a transitional justice process. It was a case, as I pointed out at the time, of the criminal being charged with investigating his crimes, and even providing incontrovertible evidence for his having committed it. In short, a farce.

The Brotherhood would make considerable noise about “retribution” (a hilarious video of Morsi’s electoral campaign unearthed by the brilliant TV satirist Bassem Youssef, shows Supreme Guide Badei audibly whispering the word “retribution” in Morsi’s ear as the then presidential candidate was making a public speech); they would – of course – do nothing about.

Islamist mobs would lay siege to the High Constitutional Court to prevent it from convening and issuing then inevitable rulings of unconstitutionality against both the Islamist-dominated Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly, on the same basis that led to the dissolution of the lower house of parliament, and indeed to the dissolution of two Mubarak parliaments.

Morsi – now almost universally hailed as Egypt’s first freely elected president – would exchange his ostensibly constitutional “legitimacy” for a “revolutionary” one, immunise the twin assemblies and his decisions against judicial review.

Yet, initially and despite judicial rumblings, the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to subdue the judiciary seemed to be meeting with tremendous success. They would prevent the Constitutional Court from issuing its then eminent rulings of unconstitutionality against the Constituent Assembly and the Shura Council; retire some 3000 senior judges (clearing the deck for their own people), and would get rid of the most troublesome members of the Constitutional Court itself. Morsi would illegally appoint one of his own as Prosecutor General. The latter, Talaat Ibrahim, would show himself to be the same kind of obedient henchman of the new masters of the nation, just as his predecessor had done under Mubarak and SCAF.

This ostensibly highly successful attack on the judiciary would prove a significant nail in the coffin of Muslim Brotherhood rule in the country. But that would come later.

Then, of course, there were the Mubarak-era Oligarchs and NDP feloul. Both have been attributed with extraordinary influence in both the 30 June uprising and beyond – indeed such influence as would have saved the Mubarak regime and aborted the revolution back in January 2011.

But irrespective of the opinions of impressionable foreign journalists and conspiracy-theory inclined Egyptian intellectuals, the Brotherhood/Mubarak remnants fault-line was not, initially, as sharp or as profound as some would like to believe. The presidential elections had witnessed the highest and most efficient level of mobilisation these “remnants” would be able to pull together since the first few months of the Egyptian revolution left them largely headless, shattered and demoralised. The fact that the best presidential candidate they – along with the SCAF and the security and intelligence bodies – could come up with was the hopelessly mediocre Ahmed Shafiq is revealing of the extent of their political disintegration.

Yet these are imminently realistic people. Unlike Muslim Brotherhood leadership and cadre, whose highly opportunistic pragmatism is constructed within a sense of Divinely-inspired and -sanctioned mission (lies, betrayals and subterfuge come a lot easier when ostensibly approved by God Himself), the Mubarak feloul were always and would remain the ultimate homo economicus, driven by very little more than crass self-interest.

Leading NDP cadres had been ardent socialists under Nasser, zealous supporters of open door economic policy and realignment with the West under Sadat, and devoted neo-liberals under Mubarak.

To describe them as secularists is a joke born out of sheer ignorance. One need only recall the amount of Islamist-oriented legislation and rhetoric throughout the Mubarak years, the book bannings and the bouts of fury by the NDP dominated parliament against books and works of art deemed “un-Islamic”, the constant ruling party led redrafting of school curricula to render them more “Islamic”, the continuous fostering of bigotry and anti-Coptic sentiment by these same NDP leaders throughout these same squalid years. Indeed, the closed, exclusivist and bigoted “Islam” that came to overwhelmingly dominate public discourse in the country during Mubarak’s three decades in power was as much a product of his regime, as of its Islamist opposition.

For its own part, the Muslim Brotherhood was willing to play ball. Morsi’s year in office would see the release of most top NDP leaders from prison. Reconciliation negotiations with Mubarak era Oligarchs charged with, or sentenced for corruption were ongoing with nearly all of them (under which charges and/or sentences would be dropped in return for their handing over some of their loot back to the state), including the most notorious representative of the bunch, Mubarak-buddy and business tycoon, Hussein Salem.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s most prominent Oligarchs, Khayrat El-Shater and Hassan Malek, we would find out, had an open line of communications with business tycoon and minister of industry under Mubarak, Rashid Mohamed Rashid, who just happened to be in the UAE avoiding a 15-year prison sentence for corruption back in Egypt.

The president himself (who never tired of reminding us of his “legitimacy”) would take along Rashid, a fugitive from Egyptian justice, on a visit to Qatar. Apparently, business connections involving El-Shater, Malek and Rashid with both Turkey and Qatar would prove stronger than to be affected by such trivialities as old regime/new regime, revolution, corruption, prison sentences and the Supreme Guide’s cherished “retribution”.

The real love-fest, however, was occasioned by Morsi’s visit to China (in Sept. 2012), in which he was accompanied by some 60 Mubarak era business tycoons, the most prominent of whom was Mohamed Fardi Khamis, a leading member of the NDP and of Gamal Mubarak’s inner circle, who was implicated in organizing and financing the notorious Battle of the Camel. Needless to say, the Muslim Brotherhood’s very own Oligarch, Hassan Malek, headed the business delegation.

To hear the Mubarak Oligarchs talk upon their return from China; one could not help but be moved by the fervor of new-found love. Both publicly and privately, they would marvel at how affable, reasonable and open-minded they’d discovered the new Islamist president to be. Their plunder and greed would go on as before, their privileged access to the state and state resources unthreatened and unchecked, even if they have to open up their ranks a bit wider to allow the new up-and-coming Islamist actual and would-be Oligarchs their share of Egypt’s ever bountiful pie.

Fault-lines certainly, but just like those on which the SCAF-MB power-sharing accommodation had seemed to sit comfortably; they would prove eminently vulnerable to volcanic eruptions from below.

Next: “Out flew the web and floated wide; The mirror crack'd from side to side”

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