Book review: Old and new elites collide in post-Jan 25 Egypt

Najet Belhatem, Thursday 7 Feb 2013

A new essay by Nabil Abdel-Fattah explores the chaotic situation in Egypt, looking at different types of political Islam and the conflict between different elites

Elite and the Revolution
Elite and the Revolution, Nabil Abdel-Fattah's Book Cover

Al-nukhba wal-thawra (Elite and Revolution: State, political Islam, nationalism and liberalism) by Nabil Abdel-Fattah, Cairo: Dar Al-Ain, 2013. 400pp.

The title of Abdel-Fattah’s work is revealing and timely, as the situation in Egypt is confused and promises straight-out anarchy if the ruling elite fail to find a way out of the crisis.

"Can we take some spills, anarchy and fluidity of political developments and the rapid boiling of the situation in Egypt as a whole, or in the context of some of its sectors and elements?" Abdel-Fattah asks in the introduction to his book.

The author tries to give some answers by analysing the transition phase facing Egypt and, as head of the new regime, the Muslim Brotherhood. 

 Is the country heading towards a familiar Islamic model, or is it following a new path? 

The author looks at the historical and socio-political, cultural, regional and international dimensions that led to the birth of the various Islamic political and military models. 

The Hamas model for example, "is not a prototype to be followed outside the Gaza Strip and outside its surrounding political geography," he notes.

The Sudanese example is also a very specific model that was built "on the basis of Arab Islam versus African Islam in Darfur and versus multitude religions other than Islam and Christianity including pagan religions," not to mention the country's tribal structure.

The ‘mother’ Brotherhood

There is also the Egyptian Brotherhood’s trend of self-sufficiency; the organisation sees itself as the Brotherhood's 'mother', and this gives it a “haughty manner” with other Brotherhood subsidiaries, as the author puts it. 

But despite this, "they may be influenced by the Sudanese experience in the process of Islamisation of some institutions.  But if this happens, it will cause major problems with what is called the 'deep state', although the strength and influence of the latter is decreasing in a state that has entrenched bureaucratic traditions. "

The author also rejects the Pakistani model as historically linked to the conflict in the Indian subcontinent after a lengthy crisis of the state following independence.  There's also the failure of the secular elite in Pakistan in "entering the military institution as a stakeholder fundamental to the management of the state in the context of regional challenges."

For Abdel-Fattah, "Pakistan is different from the situation of Egyptian political Islam, whether in culture or Islam… [the two forms lack] common cultural or historical geopolitical elements."

Turkish model

The Turkish model has often been invoked since the Brotherhood’s accession to power.  There was a certain attraction to the model in question, including the "renaissance project" proposed by President Morsi. 

"But the proponents of this project forget that the historical impact of the legacy - around the state and the army - is one of the pillars of Turkish renaissance."

Which path, therefore, will political Islam in Egypt borrow?  Nothing is certain, according to the author.  It is still difficult to determine, especially as the Brotherhood stammers politically and its elite seems unable to project a clear and deep reflection. 

"We are facing a general phenomenon of political exercises for beginners, from an elite malformed, whether at the new players or the former."

The "old" elites are unable to generate a post-revolutionary project or post-democratic movement, argues Abdel-Fattah, who perceives 25 January as a democratic protest movement. 

The oppressive structure of political and social systems and networks of political and institutional corruption "even within those political elites who managed and still manage transition in Egypt" still exerts its influence on Egyptian political life.

Dysfunctional elite

The Egyptian elite, according to the author, is the product of years of oppression: it works on old code. "The democratic revolutionary movement of 25 January 2011 was a surprise for the elite," even among liberals, leftists and others, he argues. 

"The majority have not absorbed the nature of the event and the end of the legitimacy of July 23, 1952 with its generations, ideas and legacy."

The book, in its entirety, discusses the ongoing conflict over the nature of the state and the modern social and cultural lifestyle.  The conflict is still at its peak, and reveals two speeds running together in Egypt: one still attached to the legitimacy of July 23, 1952 and another that claims a still unclear revolutionary legitimacy.

 Originally published in Al-Ahram Hebdo in French

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