The Egyptian regime: From modernization to bequeathal
I talked last week about the crisis that the current Egyptian regime is facing at the moment. That regime has now reached a new crossroads after having blocked all means of a proper transfer of power. This has left the Egyptian people with only two bitter alternatives from which to choose.
Egypt will either have to choose the president, who is over 80 years of age, for yet another term that would take him till he approaches the age of 90 or choose his son if the president opts not to run for re-election.
In both cases, it is Mubarak Jr. who would be the real ruler, ruling from behind the scene in the first case, or governing officially for another possible 40 years in the second.
But it is unlikely that a country like Egypt will accept such a situation. This portends political upheaval with consequences that no one can predict.
And so, Egypt’s elite will have to come up with alternatives. They must find out first why the modernization project launched by the 1952 Revolution has turned into stagnation and bequeathal of power. Then they will have to make sure the mistakes made by the previous regime are not repeated.
Today, I will present my point of view on this issue, in hopes of opening a broader dialogue with the readers so as to arrive at better alternatives that can serve as a proper foundation for a new regime that is able to face the challenges of today’s world.
There are two important observations regarding what has been happening in Egypt since 1952. The goals of the current regime completely contradict those set by the Revolution in the 50s and 60s. Yet the current regime has followed the same method of concentrating power in the hands of one man, and concentrating the management of state affairs in the hands of the security services and the bureaucracy. This did not change even when the multi-party system was introduced.
Despite the fact that the regime has not changed for so long, there have been many changes in its internal and external policies. Perhaps we could attribute these to the personalities of the officials. But the following facts remain unchanged:
The Egyptian people have not taken any part in choosing their ruler since 1952. A military tank brought Nasser to power, and Sadat and Mubarak were chosen by their predecessors with no clear justification.
Though the three presidents come from the same military background, each was radically different. Nasser was charismatic. Sadat, who was politically active all his life, was adventurous. And Mubarak, who had never practiced politics in his life, has been working like a civil servant in a leading position.
Both Nasser and Sadat died in the wake of pivotal foreign policy decisions. Nasser died after the 1967 war he waged and lost. Sadat was assassinated by his own military for going to Jerusalem and signing a peace treaty with Israel. Yet Mubarak never made any such pivotal decisions throughout his rule that has extended longer than those of Nasser and Sadat combined.
Unfortunately, there was no objective evaluation for any of the three rulers. Instead, the elite usually praised the current leader and criticized the former. Some considered them angels; others considered them demons, depending on personal ideologies. But nobody wanted to admit that they were all humans who could make mistakes.
Because all three ruled in an autocratic way without consulting others on policy, they all made major mistakes. Nobody had the right to question why Syria broke its alliance with Egypt in the time of Nasser, or how the Israelis managed to besiege the Egyptian second army in Sadat’s 1973 war. Likewise, no one has questioned the corruption that has spread in the time of Mubarak.
If there were any control mechanisms, many such catastrophic mistakes could have been prevented and could be prevented in the future.
Some may find excuses for Nasser to have concentrated power in his hand. They may say it was necessary to protect the revolution in its early years. But the fact is that Nasser wasted a golden opportunity to build a solid democratic system after his triumph in the 1956 war.
Others may make excuses for Sadat when he declined to build a democratic system before liberating Sinai. But he, too, wasted a golden opportunity to build such solid system after his victory in the 1973 war.
Excuses for Nasser and Sadat may be understandable. Their periods of rule witnessed major events that required major decisions. But this does not apply to Mubarak, as his time did not witness wars or calamities. To the contrary, he received aid from all over the world, a great part of Egypt’s debts was written off, and the Egyptian expatriates working in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf brought in billions of dollars. He should have seized this opportunity to make Egypt a major power in the region.
The sacrifices that Nasser had to bear in order to build a strong political power that could lead the Arab world, and the sacrifices that Sadat had to bear in order to liberate Sinai and achieve peace, could have added a lot to this country. Yet only a few benefited, while the bulk of Egyptians still live below the poverty line. And those few elite are now trying to benefit further from attempts to bequeath Mubarak’s power to his son.
In my next article I shall talk about how that bequeathal project came to being and whether it will succeed.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.