INTERVIEW: Egyptian state at risk without reform in 2015, warns Amr El-Shobaki

Dina Ezzat , Monday 29 Dec 2014

Political commentator Amr El-Shobaki says 2015 should be the year for reforming the state – a departure from this year's obsession with political exclusion

Amr Al-Shobky
Amr Al-Shobky (Photo: Al-Ahram)

“Egypt is at a crossroads: it could take a path that will eventually lead to a strong and democratic state, or it could divert onto another route whose destination is not exactly where this nation deserves to end,” said political commentator and writer Amr El-Shobaki, as he shared his reflections on the political scene in Egypt at the close of 2014.

In the reading of this reform-advocating political commentator, 2014 was for the most part a year when the urgently needed task of ‘reforming the state’ was left largely, if not fully, unattended.

“On 30 June [2013] we saved the nation state, as it has been since the rule of Mohamed Ali, from falling into substantial disrepair – it could have turned into a militia-run state under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. This was an enormous task but it is not in and by itself sufficient to secure a safe and sound future,” El-Shobaki said.

El-Shobaki who served as a member the Egyptian parliament in 2012, was also a member of the 50-member committee tasked with writing a final draft of the post 30 June constitution in 2013.

What he advocates is an instrumental follow-up “to act promptly to reform the state – the regime and the establishment; otherwise the sustainability of the nation state could still be at risk – of a different nature than the one which presented itself under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“It is very unfortunate that we are still tiptoeing around the inevitable task of state-reform; I sometimes feel that we are more than just tiptoeing; we are rather failing to start properly to end a state of inefficiency and lack of impartiality in the performance of state establishments, which is eroding public faith, especially of the youth, in the ability of the regime to deliver,” he argued.

For El-Shobaki, “This is what counts now; this is where the stakes should be: to show a vision for reform, real reform, and to act promptly and without any further delay.”

El-Shobaki argued that he is willing to accept the official narrative suggesting that the nation state is faced with threats ‘resulting from foreign attempts or conspiracies’.

“Obviously every country is faced with external challenges, but we should not go too far in exaggerating the volume of these challenges and fail to see the internal challenges,” he argued. “The nation state has two traditional enemies: one is truly foreign ploys, but the other is internal autocracy.”

In the case of Libya, for example, El-Shobaki argued, “It is faced with the threat of a total collapse, one cannot overlook the devastating impact that the oppressive rule of [ousted and killed leader Muammar] Qaddafi had on the fate of his nation.” This autocracy-prompted threats, he added, are also “quite manifest in the case of Syria.”

“The defeat of Egypt in 1967 was certainly an outcome of an external conspiracy against Egypt, but it was equally an announcement of a major internal failure; now we need to take stock of the unfortunate lessons of history and the devastating regional accounts,” he said.

A leading and instrumental step towards state reform, El-Shobaki argued, would be to provide the right environment and legal set-up for a truly representative parliament.

“If the next parliament fails to be truly representative and truly accommodating of all the political forces – with no exclusion of anyone, either from the National Democratic Party or the Islamist camp who was not involved in corruption or violence - then the next parliament will only be a replica of previous marginalised legislative bodies that failed to be the podium for political engagement – which could actually make the new parliament part of the problem rather than anything else,” El-Shobaki said.

He added, “In this case we should expect political engagement to be demonstrated outside the parliament and we should expect larger and louder protests, I am afraid.”

Unlike many sceptics, El-Shobaki is not of the opinion that the share of the sympathisers of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak in the next parliament will be particularly significant. He is not of the opinion either that the acquittals granted to Mubarak and his top business and security aides will instigate imminent fears that could lead to a sudden rise of the otherwise eclipsed Islamist camp.

“We would inevitably see the family notables, who had traditionally sided with the ruling regimes or parties, finding their way into parliament, but this is not about their association with the NDP but rather about their association with finding their way to provide services to their constituencies at a time when the state is failing to live up to this role due to acute inefficiency,” he argued. He added that it would not be realistic anyway, with or without the acquittal of Mubarak, to see an Islamist-free parliament.

“I think the Mubarak regime with its leading faces is gone; just as I think that the Muslim Brotherhood with its leading faces is gone,” El-Shobaki said. He added, “This should not be interpreted as an elimination of the traditional forces or the Islamist forces.”

“The acquittals granted to Mubarak and his aides for sure disappointed considerable political sections, especially the youth, but we cannot be talking about moving on or about reforming the state if we will get too obsessed with political eliminations,” he said.

Another clear handicap for moving on, El-Shobaki argued, is the de facto elimination of the youth from the political scene. “The youth is clearly disappointed; they are disappointed because they are being accused of having started the 25 January uprising to serve an external scheme; and they are disappointed because of the unfortunate protest law and the imprisonment of some of them by virtue of this law.”

The scepticism of the youth, this political commentator stated, is “only too obvious”. And, he added, it is “too serious to be left unattended.”

“There are certainly measures and gestures that the state needs to pursue to dispel the concerns and fears of the youth.”

A first crucial step in this direction, El-Shobaki argued, is to end the aggressive media attack and exhausted security approach that has been applied in the past few months against leading figures of the youth movement.

Then, he added, there has to be an in-depth dialogue with the youth, especially university students, “excluding those involved in violence,” through a political envoy of the president.

Reforming the state, El-Shobaki concluded, is a mission impossible without the full inclusion of all the youth and without the accommodation of political diversity. “These are the top tasks for 2015 - otherwise, things could take a rather unfortunate curve.”


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