The Current Political Scene In Egypt

Since the end of legislative elections in December 2005, the ruling elite of National Democratic Party (NDP) has been striving to shrink the spaces of political relaxation which came as a result of two-year struggle and efforts. This political relaxation reached its apex when Muslim Brotherhood (MB) won 88 seats of parliament. This striving can be easily evidenced by the series of resolutions that have been endorsed during the last few months, especially those concerning putting municipal elections off by two years and extending emergency law. There are also the violence and escalation against opposition and popular protests, besides resorting to the logic of punishing and intimidation when tackling the matter of Judges and their demand for a legitimate relative independency.
There are various obstacles in the way of democratic change in Egypt, which include the weakness of middle class, the alliance of bourgeois and elite, in addition to  the spread of governmental networks of corruption into the majority of society sectors. Regardless of these obstacles, there are three main reasons accounts for the current gloomy political scene in Egypt,

1-The inability of the ruling elite to formulate a clear-cut strategic vision for democratic change. Indeed, the imperious elites do not seem to be willing to abandon their fears and their resistance to change, neither they are able to start any fundamental political reforms unless they are assured of their continuance in power. Their ability to secure a considerable degree of their social and economic interests and their ability to form coalitions with some community forces are expected to take advantage of such a change.   

If we come to analyze the situation of Egyptian ruling elite, we will find it is suffering of real deterioration and disorder at all levels, mainly because their ability to remain in power and their consequent interests are threatened by the specter of president’s death. In addition to the ambiguity of succession scenarios and the popular refusal to the inheritance of power, which seems the most likely scenario.  

Moreover, the elite has not been successful in forming alliances with various community forces demanding change. Rather, it has acted hostilely toward all these forces, including those affiliated with state such as judges and state university professors. This disorder resulted in a state of continuous terror and fear of the future that lead the elite to reject any change and resorting to cunning to evade this, either through a lackluster speech about the gradualness of reform and the need for time to achieve it (The speech of NDP Policies Committee Secretary, Gamal Mubarak during the World Economic Forum in Sharm El shikh) or by depicting opposition movements as a limited group seeking their own interests (Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief’s  statement on the sidelines of the same forum).  

2-The rift among the Egyptian opposition and the inconsistency of their strategies. The right and left wing parties, Muslim Brotherhood with its extended popular support and the protest movements such as (Kifaya); have failed to develop their political performance during the last two years in a way consistent with challenges of democratic change. Actually, the duty of opposition during the time of change is to exert pressure in an attempt to move their struggle with the ruling elite into new spaces. Moreover, the opposition forces have to develop a formula for the essence of hoped reforms and a strategy for achieving these reforms. Although the opposition forces reached a remarkable mutual approximation concerning the items of constitutional and political reform, they still cannot develop an actual strategic vision they can struggle for achieving it. 

What is more dangerous is the reality of opposition forces in general and their standstill since the outburst of their real struggle for change and did not take any major step.
For example, Kifaya movement which set out depending on its existence among people in the street did not develop any effective framework for institutional work. The same thing applies to political parties which depend on a very marginal existence in parliament and lack a  strong popular support.

As for Muslim Brotherhood, it is still unable or unwilling –in spite of its unprecedented existence in parliament- to take a decisive decision on its strategic options concerning the ruling elite. On doing so, the MB either seeks after partial bargain which may give it more spaces for disciplined political practice, or follows a struggle form which increases the current discrepancies and for which MB employs the strong popular support.

This rift among the opposition forces accounts for-at least partially- their rushing to politicize the judges’ struggle for independency and the romantic overstatement of Judges Club uprising, deemed by some as a start of the collapse of Mubarak regime. Indeed, the role of the judicial authority, however high is the degree of its independency, cannot extend beyond granting a legal and procedural legitimacy to the process of democratic change achieved by the ruling elite and opposition by mutual agreement or snatched by opposition forces.        

3-The series of regional and international changes which gave an opportunity to the ruling elite to turn to this political relaxation trying to shrink its spaces. At the regional level we find no essential changes for the political motion whether in Lebanon, Yemen, Jordan or Bahrain. There is no change in the nature of political regimes; rather most of them have stopped their marsh to democratic change. Consequently, Egyptian ruling elite is no longer afraid of lagging behind others who seek democratic change because this will no longer pose any threat to the central role Egypt assumes in the Arab world.
As for the international situation, the continuous deterioration in Iraq on the first hand and the rise of Islamic Movements on the other hand led US and its European alliances to reconsider their policy in terms of supporting democratic program in the Arab world and look for strategic alternatives including opening more spaces for freedom that do not pose any threat to western interests in the region nor help Islamists come to power.

Although Washington and great European capitals did not reach a decisive stance, the initial indications of current reconsideration are represented in the waning of US and European pressures on friendly Arab Regimes for essential political reforms. These regimes realized, as an old alliance, the meaning of such a change and seized this opportunity to pass their imperious procedures without any fear of political reservations imposed on the military and economic aids, or any qualifications on mutual partnership agreement, or without any fears of US refusal to the inheritance of power. 

Dr. Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, US. The article was translated from Arabic by Ikhwanweb 

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