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Revolution and Egypt’s Pandora’s box

The future has opened up in Egypt, which could give rise to dreams or nightmares

Hassan Abou Taleb , Sunday 3 Apr 2011

In 2003, about two weeks before the US was preparing to invade Iraq, then-Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul warned against opening “Iraq’s Pandora’s box”. It was a short and simple statement, meaning that the Iraq we are familiar with is not the Iraq we will know after the invasion; there will be many surprises. A Pandora’s box is like the black box on airplanes that is the only tool recording the secrets of the flight and reveals the mistakes that may not be seen by the naked eye. It’s like lifting up the carpet to see what’s underneath.

Today, after the 25 January Revolution, it is Egypt’s turn to open its own Pandora’s box, which contains many secrets hidden within. This box is full of unexpected skeletons and ironies. Although these secrets are beginning to be uncovered, there are many others that will take some time until they are completely revealed regarding what took place during the revolution and who did what and why. From here rises a legitimate concern for the majority of Egyptians about what might happen tomorrow.

There are five issues of interest in what has been revealed so far. First, that corruption was institutionalised but was contained within a group of people, including the majority of leaders of the higher echelons. This was shocking news for most Egyptians, especially that it is rumoured that a large amount of the embezzled money is gone for good. Second, the head of the regime was quasi oblivious to what was going on in the country, and all the major issues were under the control of his son or his wife.

Third, the plan to inherit power was very precise and collaborated on by leading political figures with the blessing of top businessmen, based on the formula that the son would rule while the businessmen rob and embezzle without restraint. Fourth, the state security apparatus was a terrifying agency and its ruthless reputation was only surpassed by that of Hitler’s Gestapo. Five, the volume of professional and regional social discontent is beyond imagination and correcting it far exceeds available resources.

The concern of Egyptians about tomorrow is a good thing, but the legacy that is gradually coming into focus is immense and requires vision and precise methods in handling it. Unfortunately, this is yet to happen in many issues. Looking closer into Egypt’s Pandora’s box will reveal a different social structure than we thought existed. We will also find ideologies that were dormant in the folds of society, the revolution giving them opportunity to rise in the absence of any form of suppression and oppression.

We will also find out how fragile some entities and institutions really are despite their once loud and dominant presence, now nothing more than phantoms, such as the National Democratic Party (NDP) that ruled Egypt for nearly four consecutive decades. There are also bodies that are rediscovering themselves based on influential powers inside them demanding their right to rise and take the lead.

Everyone knew there were Salafis in rural and urban Egypt, but it was unclear how interested they were in politics, power, and making the public domain religious. Today, everyone can see the level of Salafi interest and the true extent of their influence, and perhaps the period preceding the referendum on constitutional amendments is an indicator of how invested they are in the political process as a whole. Preliminary results also show what could happen if the Salafi ideology became immersed in politics, society and culture, and defining the relationship with the non-Muslim other within and abroad.

Everyone knew that the Muslim Brotherhood is better organised than others and that among its ranks were nebular moves to make changes on the organisational and ideological levels, but it was always suppressed by security and political containment of the group. It is now apparent that the trend for change runs much deeper than what was previously thought, and is not limited to Brotherhood youth only, as demonstrated at the conference three days ago for young Muslim Brotherhood members. The gathering took place despite objections by the office of the Supreme Guide and stern warnings not to hold or participate in the meeting. It was sponsored by members that wholly embrace the Brotherhood ideology but that are suggesting other ideas and means that they believe are more compatible with the historic moment through which Egypt is living today.

What took place at the Brotherhood conference is a sample of the internal dynamics that the revolution forced on everyone. The excuse that the group is under siege and the route to survival is to be opaque is no longer appropriate or convincing; and that the Brotherhood is struggling to survive and has no time to revise many of its ideas and principles is no longer logical. Accordingly, the most significant factor at the Muslim Brotherhood youth conference is that the urge for change is contagious and self-revision is inescapable.

Some state institutions were swept by the winds of change, although the picture is not completely clear. What is certain is that Al-Azhar needs to be overhauled and this would be best done through a simultaneous social and institutional dialogue, without insult or slander. At the same time, the Orthodox Church also needs to revise its ideas about the overall role it played over the past two decades, and shed the notion that it is an alternative to the state for a sector of Egyptians. It should allow every Copt to participate in politics according to his own civic conviction.

Meanwhile, leftist and nationalist forces also need serious self-reassessment after it became apparent that they have no social base, despite strength and depth of leftist ideology in society regarding justice and freedom. However, their presence on the street so far is very limited and ineffective. In order to reassert themselves they need to overhaul their structure, vision and action. What is taking place inside the Tagammu Party, for example, in terms of those who decided to create a new socialist and independent trend, is indicative of the contagion of change, but it needs to be tested in the real world.

The dilemma amidst all these developments is that the revolutionary forces seem absent from the scene, most prominently the youth who many expected would force the transformation of Egyptian society through their vitality and desire to serve their country. But it appears that fragmentation is the dominant feature among the forces that led the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. There are more than seven groups suggesting almost identical ideas about a united civic democratic state, which is incomprehensible. Perhaps each group wants to be the front-runner, irrespective of its ability to actually achieve the goals of the revolution.

The greater dilemma is that time is neither on their side or anyone else’s if they do not start working precisely and methodically this instant. Organising into political parties is no longer impossible as it was in the past; what is important is initiating action, willpower and loyalty.

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