One of the presidency's two pledges will fail
Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, Sunday 13 Jan 2013
Egypt's new regime will be hard pressed to keep both its pledges: its promise to sustain the interests of powerful players and its vow to make changes in the public interest

It has become very clear over past months that the present political administration – in the name of consensus and because it lacks a clear vision for change – is trying to combine two contradictory promises for governance. Since it is impossible to combine them, at least one will fail, and thus the political project of those in power will also fail if they do not change course.

The Muslim Brotherhood reached power in Egypt’s legislative and executive branches before its political project reached maturity, and in the absence of a wise vision on how to deal with current problems and implement promises of change made during electioneering (such as its 'Renaissance Project' and 'Islam is the Solution').

As a result, criteria for measuring its success were absent. The only measure of success is the organisational skill of the Brotherhood, which fought to survive during the long decades of oppression. And so, staying in power has become the goal of this regime irrespective of its achievements; now, power is the end and not the means, because the absence of power would mean failure from an organisational perspective.

According to the Brotherhood's conservative political nature – that does not much rely on mass action and fundamental changes – staying in power means that the political leadership must dismiss the popular factor in its calculations and seek understandings with more powerful political players. These are the domestic and regional pillars that the Mubarak regime relied upon, namely, leading statesmen and top businessmen who were the primary pillars of his rule inside the country, and 'the axis of moderation' on which Egypt based its foreign policies.

The essence of these understandings is to safeguard the institutional interests of these parties and not make any structural changes that disrupt the regional balance of power.

In order to keep power cohesive and maintain some level of support from outside the group to guarantee that their rule is not overturned by these parties, the Brotherhood needs to make its supporters feel it did not abandon its promises of change. This requires presenting 'achievements' on this issue, on the condition – lest understandings are breached – they are not related to the interests of stronger parties. So the final outcome would safeguard these interests. They also need to resort to populist rhetoric and marginal amendments to policies and decisions to sustain the bloc supporting the president.

This is apparent, for example, in the position towards Egypt's military institution. The president dismissed the top leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and his supporters hailed it as 'an end to military rule' and part of the change he promised.

But at the same time, the new constitution – of which the Brotherhood was the most vocal advocate – gives a special status to the military institution that keeps it independent from popular sovereignty, beyond civilian oversight, and protects the political and economic interests of its leaders.

Meanwhile, the dismissed top brass – who are politically responsible because of the posts they held for the death of martyrs in the period that followed Mubarak’s ouster – were decorated by the president. They were not investigated about the murders in Tahrir Square, in front of the Israeli embassy, Abbasiya, Maspero, Mohamed Mahmoud, the cabinet, Port Said, Mohamed Mahmoud 2, Abbasiya 2, and elsewhere.

It isn't much different when it comes to the interests of top business people. While the president mentions them in his speeches as the financiers of the counter-revolution, some of them – who had been close to Mubarak – remain in decision-making circles today. The president takes them with him on his trips overseas, and businessmen remain the only social category that has a special relationship (outside a democratic framework) with the presidency.

The state continues to be biased towards their interests – at the expense of the interests of workers – as seen in the constitution, which restricts union activism while freely allowing civil and charity work. The most that happened on this issue is that the businessmen of the former regime have been replaced with Brotherhood-affiliated businessmen, while a few influential ones have been kept in place.

In foreign policy, changes have only been partial, which does not extract Egypt from the pro-US orbit of the 'axis of moderation.' The president, whose supporters pride themselves on the fact that he has never mentioned the world 'Israel' in any of his speeches, has destroyed more tunnels to Gaza than his ousted predecessor (according to Israel’s prime minister). Meanwhile, the political leadership has not only repeated its commitment to Camp David, but also the economic exchange agreement (QIZ) with Israel.

At the same time, Egypt has towed the line of this axis (which includes Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia) on the Syrian revolution, and Cairo has not yet taken an independent stance on Syria that goes beyond words.

The president's supporters are trying to promote the truce between the Palestinian resistance and Israel after seven days of war as a political success, but this is inaccurate. The Palestinian resistance's deterrence in the form of rocket attacks deep inside Israel – which the Egyptian revolution assisted by weakening the military stronghold blocking weapons-smuggling to the Gaza Strip – is the reason why Israel rushed to sign a ceasefire based on Palestinian preconditions.

The president and his entourage will not be able to keep both promises: the promise to sustain the interests of powerful players and the pledge to make changes that favour the interests of the masses. The two promises are polar opposites that can be ignored in covert understandings that supporters know nothing about, but at moments of confrontation they reveal themselves. This includes the constitution, which revealed the Brotherhood's position regarding the military, whose control was embedded in the constitution (even though the Brotherhood had previously called for its ouster).

This was also seen during the war on Gaza, which forced politicians in Egypt to adopt more serious positions to alleviate the siege on the strip five months after Morsi came to power when conditions were not too different from the days when Mubarak was in power.

As the masses continue their activism in the absence of the security stronghold that once suppressed it, these contradictions will continue to be uncovered. Henceforth, the rulers will lose much of their political legitimacy without succeeding in fulfilling their closed-door commitments or reaping any of the rewards.