The resurrection of Omar Suleiman

Samer Soliman , Saturday 14 Apr 2012

The entrance of Omar Suleiman into Egypt's presidential race is an attempt to revive the alliance between capitalists and the military bureaucracy that was ousted by the January 2011 revolution. Will it succeed?

Failed reform results in revolution; it is a golden rule in politics which was confirmed by the glorious revolution of Egypt. Gamal Mubarak and his circle attempted to “reform” the despotic and decaying July regime after it reached a dead end at the beginning of the millennium. IMF-sponsored “economic liberation” policies, launched at the beginning of the 1990s and that were partially successful in trimming inflation and the budget deficit as well as encouraging some foreign investment, had reached their end and Egypt’s economy became stagnant.

Gamal Mubarak’s reforms essentially aimed to speed up the transition to capitalism and strengthen the political arm of the regime, embodied in the National Democratic Party (NDP), to give some room to the ruling party to actually transform into a genuine political party, as well as bring in businessmen to lead it in order for the NDP to transition from a party in bureaucratic crisis into a party of rising capitalism. Simply put, Gamal Mubarak’s plan was to restructure the ruling alliance to bring it under the control of capitalist groups, a new NDP, and a pervasive and savage police apparatus.

The reforms that Gamal Mubarak and his clique wanted required several critical changes that in the end divided the ranks of the ruling elite, as well as intensified opposition to him and eventually led his ouster and his father’s. The requisites for accelerating the pace of the transition to capitalism clashed with the military institution’s need to maintain some bureaucratic control over the economy in order to maintain its share in it.

The army, in the end, is part of the bureaucracy and its spinal cord. Naturally, Gamal Mubarak was not trying to exclude the army from the economic equation, but it seems that the military institution preferred not to leave him in control and wait for him to grant them the privileges he believed were appropriate.

The requirements of developing the political wing of the regime – the NDP – necessitated unleashing the police apparatus to brutalise and wreak havoc. The NDP was unable to compete with its opponents in an honest contest, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. It also appears that the requisites to reformulate Egypt’s foreign policies to complement the transition to capitalism and attract foreign investment required diminishing the importance of the Israel-Palestine issue (read articles by Abdel Moneim Said), which directly reduced the vital role of the intelligence in the political order.

Gamal Mubarak’s reforms resulted in weakening support for Mubarak among the senior bureaucracy, and at the same time failed to garner enough support for him outside the state. The groups supporting Gamal Mubarak became a small crowd of top capitalists and a segment of the upper middle class who benefited from the economic policies of the new thinking and who viewed Gamal Mubarak as an opportunity to smoothly modernise the July regime. There was also a narrow segment of the poor who benefited from some fragments of charity by the NGOs that Gamal and his mother sponsored.

The glorious revolution took place to depose the entire regime, its tyranny, violence, rot and lies. At first, Mubarak confronted it with the police apparatus but once the police was defeated by the courage of the revolutionaries, Mubarak had no other choice except to regroup his ruling alliance and close its ranks in the face of the storm of revolution. Accordingly, he had to remove his son and his capitalist posse from leadership, and bring forth a general — Major General Omar Suleiman — at the helm to reassure the army about its future, and ensure its support for the president.

The revolution changed the balance of power inside the ruling alliance in favour of the army, and even perhaps the intelligence agency, but this was not enough to contain the raging revolution on the street. There was a need to offer some compromises and appeasements, which is why Suleiman quickly met with Muslim Brotherhood leaders and made a historic compromise by recognising their right to establish a political party and participate in governance. The non-Brotherhood revolutionary forces were swiftly categorised as “noble and wholesome youth” whose demands were recognised as legitimate, but they were asked to go home in order for “the adults” to take care of business.

The revolution could have ended here since it had succeeded in aborting the succession plan and prevented Mubarak from ruling for another term that would keep him in power until he was 90. But quickly the people on the streets were chanting for the overthrow of both Mubarak and Suleiman. These demands were even chanted by some Muslim Brotherhood members who were uninterested in the deal of their leaders.

In this way, the revolution dealt a blow to the Russian scenario, whereby some of the leaders of the weak opposition — led by some Brotherhood leaders — strike a deal with the regime to pave the way for Suleiman to become president. Just as the ruling elite in Russia agreed to bring in the chief of intelligence (Putin) as president for two terms and then “retire” him briefly as prime minister, after which he returned once again as president about one month ago. Coincidentally, many leaders of the armed forces studied in Russian military schools.

However, the counter-revolution persisted. Constitutional amendments led by Counselor Tarek Al-Bishri resuscitated the deal between the Muslim Brotherhood and Suleiman through amendments that were written to give parliament to the Brotherhood and the presidency to the military. Strict criteria on the heritage of presidential candidates were especially unusual and suspicious; the amendments not only used the stipulations in the 1971 Constitution that required the candidate and his parents to all be Egyptian nationals, but also added that none of them could have ever been a national of another country. Also, that the candidate cannot be married to a foreigner.

This emphasis was highly unusual because the mothers of two presidents of the July regime were Sudanese (Naguib and Sadat), and two presidents married women who were half-British (Jihan El-Sadat and Suzanne Mubarak). These amendments were also suspicious because Islamists who controlled the constitutional amendments committee ought not to have been so hardline about the nationality issue, because their very doctrine does not believe in the purity of heritage or fanatic nationalism.

Remember the phrase “So what Egypt?” that the former Muslim Brotherhood guide infamously uttered, by which he did not necessarily mean to insult Egypt but rather express his belief that religious bonds supersede bonds of nationalism. The Islamists controlling the constitutional amendment committee contradicted their beliefs because the deal between the military and the Brotherhood required the presidency to be reserved for the military. Al-Bishri even defended the hardline position on the nationality criteria of the president by saying that these are the criteria for army officers, and therefore naturally they should be the same for the president of the republic. It is a way to militarise the post of president in the constitution, and to condition people that the criteria for choosing military officers should be the same as those of choosing the president.

The constitutional amendments were written in a way to prevent many figures such as Ahmed Zuweil, Mohamed ElBaradie, Mohamed Ghoneim and others from nominating themselves, which has gravely harmed the country. The biggest loser here is Egypt; this extremism sends a negative message to millions of Egyptians at home and abroad who are married to foreigners or who are dual citizens. These millions are a strategic asset for Egypt’s renaissance, and many of them have the education, expertise, connections and funds that could serve the country well. These millions took part in the revolution, not only by participating in protests, organising ranks in support of the revolution, contacting their friends and families back home in solidarity with them, but they made a contribution by praying and hoping.

These extreme criteria on lineage reveal a defeated and terrified mentality towards the outside world. The regimes in industralised states renew their blood with those of “mixed” origin without risking their national security. Barack Obama’s father is from Kenya, and Sarkozy’s parents were both Hungarian who later became French citizens. Ironically, the Salafist trend that hysterically supported the constitutional amendments recently got burnt by these amendments since Hazem Abu-Ismail may be forced out of the presidential race because his mother may have been a US citizen.

Suleiman’s return to the presidential race is a revival of the Russian scenario; a new marriage between military bureaucracy and capitalism under the leadership of the military represented by Suleiman or someone like him. The problem with applying the Russian model to Egypt is that a revolution took place in Egypt and continues to smolder under the ashes, while the regime in Russia was not overthrown by revolution. Hence, removing Suleiman again is possible although his replacement would never meet our revolutionary aspirations.

The second challenge to the Russian scenario is the rise of active sectors among the middle class who have become rooted in revolution and reject this ruling alliance. The problem with these groups is that they are not strong enough to take over power, although they are strong enough to create consecutive crises in the political order and spoil the marriage of military bureaucracy with liberal or Islamist capitalism.

This would push the country into an indefinite period of political instability. This situation will not be resolved without a new social alliance between those in the revolutionary middle class and large parts of the working and popular classes. An alliance similar to the Brazilian model that brought President Lula to power would be ideal, but this needs two prerequisites: stronger labour unions and a suitable political formula to organise this new class alliance.

We will find out soon enough.

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