The Lessons of al-Mahalla al-Kubra
It would have been possible for a Cabinet re-shuffle in Egypt, which in any case is thought unlikely by observers in Cairo, to absorb some of the domestic problem, which has been made worse by the cost-of-living crisis and the predicament of local elections. Such a re-shuffle would have paved the way for treatments that go beyond the traditional ones, which no longer benefit Egyptians. Most likely, no one is wagering on this kind of shock treatment, as long as a change solely shifts certain seats of power from one person to another, and as long as the tight link between the government action and the ruling party excludes a serious response to the demands of the opposition, related to cost-of-living issues and politics, or to the cries and complaints of Egyptians, which are being dealt with as if they are part of a mobilization campaign against the regime.
Perhaps what overhangs the political climate today in Egypt, or at least part of it, is the obsession with the future of the regime. However, this does not hide the fact that the economic crisis is real, and that millions of people are suffering every day. These millions of people will have a role to play in determining this future. It is sufficient that the government and the leadership of the National Democratic Party fail once again to lure these millions and win them over, so that a huge change could take place in Egypt”s constitutional institutions. Once is enough to abolish pluralism and electoral democracy and to wipe out the valuable legacy that President Mubarak has safeguarded, after decades of one-party rule and bureaucratic administration. This is the challenge for the Egyptian government and the ruling party, and not just continuing in power.
But it appears that things will not happen this way. As the complaints about the policies and plans of the government and the ruling party pile up, the country is seeing an outbreak of protest. This protest goes beyond the actual size of opposition groups, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. Had these complaints not been of economic nature, the Muslim Brotherhood would not have been able to exploit them, and the events of al-Mahalla al-Kubra have confirmed this link. A demonstration to protest the economic situation was merged with the local elections and accompanying problems of candidate lists, managing the election process and distributing some seats to small parties. In other words, the NDP, along with the government, are seeing its options dwindle. Sticking to the old policy, which means keeping things as they are and relying on the same policies, excuses and methods, is the shortest path to stagnation and loss. This is especially the case when the counter-project, championed by the Brotherhood, is at the height of its energy and aggressiveness.
This energy has apparently achieved relative success and polarization, as it describes the Egyptian situation, the source of the complaints, and fails to put forward alternatives to treat the economic situation and problems. When this energized opposition stands in the regional “resistance” camp, this indicates that it is unconcerned with Egyptians” daily problems and conditions. By supporting the resistance camp, the opposition supports what it is blaming the regime for, particularly with regard to issues of power, freedom, pluralism, rule of law and the economy… and even the diplomatic successes of the rulers in Cairo are measured against the decisions of resistance, and not the criteria of performance, or the Egyptian interest in achieving such successes.
In addition to its political double standards and opportunism, and exploiting the suffering of Egyptians, this orientation is not concerned with Egyptian national security or the safety of the Egyptian state, as proved the border crisis in Gaza. Consequently, it might be justified to fear a “coup” against what the ruling party considers to be fixed elements of the Egyptian situation. These fears themselves should push the ruling party to exit its lethargy and monopoly of political life and the bloated bureaucracy, which are based on clientelism. Instead, the party should begin a new tradition, one that allows civil society and its political components, especially the modern and enlightened ones, to express themselves freely and obtain suitable political representation, finally arriving at the practice of rotation of power.
Since we are losing hope about the possibility of such a thing, the energy of the Muslim Brotherhood takes on added momentum. The al-Mahalla al-Kubra phenomenon will spread, leading up to a potential breakthrough awaited by the Muslim Brotherhood.