The future of Egypt’s political system

The future of Egypt’s political system

We reached a conclusion in last week’s article that what is being said about “the bequeathal of power” in Egypt is not just an “illusion contrived by the opposition and believed in” as alleged by members of the ruling party’s policy committee. It is, however, a real project sponsored by influential political and social forces that seek to implement it on the ground. They are adopting a gradual plan with the purpose of enabling Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president no later than the end of the fifth term, meaning in October 2011 at the latest.

Yet, we emphasized at the conclusion of the same article that having a power patrimony plan adopted by leading forces that insist on executing it does not mean its success is necessarily guaranteed. So, we expected it to fail and promised to devote today’s article to discussing the reasons tipping the scale in favor of failure.

Before addressing those reasons, it might be useful to remind readers that from the beginning we have not tried to personalize the issue of power bequeathal. Everything I said on this issue is not about to what extent Gamal Mubarak is competent to take over the presidency, but rather on how far the political system, which has produced the phenomenon of power patrimony, is fit to run the country at present and in the future.

The bequeathal of power has been used to transfer power since the establishment of the political system following the 1952 July Revolution until now. However, the pattern that prevailed during the reigns of Nasser and Sadat was “bequeathal by choice” as the president named a deputy, who necessarily becomes the next head of state. This pattern is significantly different in content and form from the one which is being prepared now in the Mubarak era but not yet implemented, namely, the pattern of “power patrimony by blood” by transferring power from a father to his son. Although both types run counter to the simplest rules of democracy, the July Revolution’s shift from the “pattern of choice” to that “of blood” is a major setback as it demolishes not only the foundation of the republican regime but also the foundation of the democratic system.

Unlike his predecessors, President Mubarak was given a historic chance for the first time in the history of the Republic to make a real peaceful democratic transition and empower the Egyptian people to choose their president. This would only require him to revoke the “infamous laws” issued in the late Sadat era by reapplying the original constitutional text, which restricts the presidential term to two consecutive terms and by revitalizing political life by granting freedom to form political parties without restrictions.

Many, including me, had hoped that President Mubarak would start implementing such a reform program following the restoration of Taba and the return of the Arab League to its headquarters in Cairo before the end of the 1980s. The president, however, shattered all hopes by doing the opposite of what he said in his political speech at the beginning of his rule, and acting counter to republican traditions upheld by his predecessors. The president’s attitude on two pivotal issues demonstrated this contradiction. First, he insisted on not appointing a vice-president, claiming there was no one suitable for the position, and second, he allowed his son to play a gradually increasing political role until he became akin to an unofficial vice president.

Gamal Mubarak was hardly 18 years old when his father first became president after the grisly assassination of his predecessor, so no one could have seen such a link between the two issues at the time. It was only in the 1990s that elements of the succession project slowly became unveiled.

The regime attempted to hide its real intentions under a veneer of mottos like “modernization”, “reform” and “new thinking”. The regime adopted policies to transform the project into a reality which differed from those announced at the beginning of the project. The project used three carefully selected platforms: the ruling party, chosen to initially launch the project; the finance and business sector, to give momentum to the project both internally and externally; and the international area, to remove any obstacles. Those with an observant eye can easily see that the policies themselves are destructive to the project which they supposedly seek to support.

At the partisan level, there were attempts to justify Gamal Mubarak’s surprise appointment with the desire to “pump new blood” into the party, to energize it and bring it out of its state of languor and to produce a new way of thinking that meets the new requirements on the local, regional and international level.

Yet those who introduced the idea of bequeathal based on this formula overlooked a number of facts. First, those who hasten to ingratiate themselves with Gamal Mubarak at the policies committee will not do so out of a sense of admiration for his leadership, his intellectual thought, or the political school to which he belongs, but rather for the sole reason that he is the son of the president and will most likely be the presidential successor. The second overlooked fact is that reforming a ruling party through a reform project introduced by the party chief while in power, and not the other way around defeats the purpose by not allowing new contestants to enter the field. For this reason, Gamal’s surprise induction yielded only two results. First, it empowered the new successor to dominate the inner circles of the party by replacing the old cadres with new loyal ones, and secondly, it enabled the party to influence both the executive and legislative authorities all with the intention of setting the stage for the bequeathal under the guise of democracy.

However, the way the “new” ruling party conducted the presidential elections and the subsequent battle for the constitutional amendments convinced the Egyptian people of only one thing, the reforms only seek to bring Gamal to power. It was obvious from the start that the new business class, especially those with interests tied to the state who helped pave his way to power, are eager for the bequeathal and ready to bear its consequences.

In this context, Egyptian business and politics became mixed; therefore, it is not a coincidence that over the last ten years, in coordination with the bequeathal project, we witnessed the largest fastest and most corrupt privatization and land sale process in the history of the country. Destiny intervened through a series of bloody events, the most important of which were the el-Salam ferry disaster and the murder of the Lebanese singer Susan Tamim, to reveal the depth of the corruption between money and politics. Logically, in the eyes of the people, this class of businessmen transformed from a source of support to a burden, after it became apparent that the bequeathal plan involved the return of capitalism to dominance.

On the international level, it was clear for the architects of the bequeathal project that their plan could not go forward without strong international support. So, they based their conception of Egyptian foreign policy on appeasing the US and Israel by all means possible, and by avoiding a clash with either of them under any circumstances. Since both were aware of the Egyptian regime’s need for this support, they did not hesitate to blackmail Egypt in all imaginable forms.

I predict that the recent stances taken in Egyptian foreign policy are inexplicable without looking at the idea of bequeathal. A fastidious researcher could easily prove that the stances over the last ten years – especially during the war on Iraq and the Israeli wars on Gaza (2008-2009) and Lebanon (2006) – reflected the extent that Egyptian foreign policy and national interests are being blackmailed.

In light of what happened, it is obvious that the bequeathal plan will lead to negative results, such as:

1. Blocking the transition to democracy for an additional 40 years at least

2. The domination of capitalism and its related corruption

3. Damage to Egypt’s national security

I also believe that now is a good time for the regime to learn a lesson from Farouk Hosni’s failure in the UNESCO elections. For all the reasons mentioned, I think that the people completely reject the bequeathal plan, but can anybody stop it from proceeding? The answer will be in next week’s article.