The Brotherhood boards the Titanic

Amr Adly , Friday 3 Aug 2012

To keep the power they have won, the Brotherhood may have to strike a deal with a number of elites, but in doing so they risk falling victim themselves to Egyptians' desire to bring about real change

Almost a month has passed since President Mohamed Morsi was sworn in. Little has been delivered so far of the programme for his first hundred days in office.

The cabinet has not officially been formed. The new president seems to have accepted the dissolution of the parliament, despite earlier attempts to bringing it back to convene.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has exercised its legislative powers in place of parliament and has collaborated in drafting and issuing a number of bills with the president.

All are signs of some kind of cohabitation, albeit tension-ridden, between the Brothers and the military. Recent leaks about the new cabinet’s composition suggest even more accommodation to the old interests within the state bureaucracy.

The newly appointed prime minister is a middle-ranking bureaucrat who seems to be the right mix of a religious statesman with no political affiliation or policy orientation.

Many ministers from the transitional period are to continue, including key posts like defence, the treasury and foreign affairs.

The selected minister of interior is a conservative general who is not likely to take any radical decisions regarding the restructuring of the police. A notorious figure from the days of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes in November 2011, the new minister is to safeguard the status-quo within the ministry and for the well entrenched privileges of police officers.

In the same vein, the new minister of local government is a former general, which is a sign that Morsi has no immediate plans for freeing this level of government from the military’s grip.

Meanwhile, the process drafting Egypt’s new constitution seems to be subject to the same logic of cohabitation between the old interests and the rising Brotherhood elite. Articles and clauses have been leaked guaranteeing a special status for the military in the new post-Mubarak order.

Talk has spread about accepting the existence of the National Defence Council to be the de facto ruler on issues of national security and foreign policy. What appears to be actually happening is that the post-Mubarak order will be no more than the rules of mutual-accommodation and co-existence between the old powerful interests composed of, on the one hand, the military council, the intelligence and the business oligarchs, and on the other, the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is no news, many would say. However, as common sense as it may sound, the process is tension-ridden and unsustainable. The Brotherhood is caught up in a dilemma. In one sense, it makes perfect sense to accommodate the old interests for now as the prime condition for a peaceful transition of political power.

As a matter of fact, this has been the case since Mubarak’s ouster at a relatively low cost. The old interests gave up Mubarak and his regime in return for their reintegration into a post-Mubarak order. Any hasty clash with these networks won’t be wise for the Brothers and their president as it may result in extended crises and thus sabotage Morsi’s programmes and policies.

However, there is a counter-argument that is equally powerful. If the Brothers strike a deal with the old interests as the basis for the post-Mubarak order then very little room will be left for them to deliver any meaningful change. The Brothers reached power in the aftermath of an overwhelming popular uprising that enfranchised broad constituencies yearning for socio-economic and political change.

Change and meeting the revolution’s demands were the basic themes of Morsi’s campaign in the second round against Ahmed Shafiq, who was branded as the representative of the old regime. If such a scenario materialises, the Brothers will be bound to lose credibility and popularity to more radical actors, be they to the right or to the left.

The Brothers’ loss of popularity has been evident in the presidential elections as compared to their performance during the parliamentary ones. More radical actors promising change have already made a strong appearance in the last couple of months. Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail has been a striking example of a populist right-wing leader, while Hamdeen Sabbahi successfully channeled a form of left-wing populism.

Indeed, it is a dilemma. The very condition of the peaceful surrendering of power to a civilian elite is the very condition of their failure and loss of credibility. If the Brotherhood ends up sharing power with the old interests, the so called new order will be consumed in maintaining the extant distribution of wealth and power.

The resultant political system is likely to be dysfunctional, with too many contradictions to handle and thus incapable of taking big decisions to change the conditions against which the revolution erupted in the first place.

Whether the new and old elites reach an agreement regarding Egypt’s new political system is irrelevant to the fact that keeping the socio-economic status-quo is quite unsustainable. With all the ongoing elite infighting, the Brotherhood seems to be pushing its way on board a sinking boat.

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