The recent presidential decisions by President Mohamed Morsy to send Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and former Chief of Staff Sami Anan to early retirement, to appoint Mahmoud Mekky as vice president, and to cancel the supplementary constitutional declaration have been applauded by many commentators as revolutionary achievements.
This celebration in the name of the revolution is, however, quite misleading, since it fails to critically read the current political transition within a wider framework that better informs us of the features of the Egyptian state.
The 25 January revolution, with its call for democracy and social justice, was an attempt to overthrow the very culprits of the modern Egyptian state. This modern state was designed, specifically since the 1970s, by oppressive elite networks that organized themselves in an institutional manner, aiming at procreating their domination on the economic and political spheres.
This was achieved through the maintenance of the miserable state of social inequality through direct violence and more “inert” means, such as ideological and moral hegemony. Egyptians need to only refer to their lived experiences and encounters with various branches of the state (the police, the bureaucracy, etc.) to prove that the above conceptualization accurately describes the very core nature of the Egyptian state.
In short, the Egyptian state can be described as a milieu of formal and informal structures, regimes and institutions that are designed to constantly reproduce the state of social and political inequality in the interest of ruling elites.
This Egyptian state has, however, been in crisis for a long time, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article. The crescendo of this crisis was in January and February 2011, with the demise of the Hosni Mubarak state elite.
The revolution was thus an attempt to crack the foundations of the Egyptian state and replace the inequality entrenched in its endless webs and structures with a new sociopolitical system that embraced modern ideals of liberty and equality. And liberalism here is not confined to the political connotation of the word, but encompasses a wider emancipatory world view that liberates Egypt from the ruling oppressive networks while dismantling its institutions to replace them with a system built on freedom, justice and self-sufficiency.
These are exactly the features of what I call the January Egyptian state.
The Egyptian state that the revolution aspires to is secular and founded on the principles of justice, freedom, equality and tolerance of differences among its citizens. On top of that, the new political future that the revolution called for is based on a plural political order that strives for economic prosperity, fair income distribution and well-reasoned crisis management.
The crucial question that needs to be addressed here to avoid any misleading narration of Egypt’s transitional period is whether the Muslim Brotherhood subscribes to the emancipatory revolutionary project of the 25 January uprising, and whether this group truly believes in its goals and aspirations.
I think that we can fairly say that the Brothers do not believe in that revolutionary project. Even if we were to consult members of the Brotherhood and other supporters of the group, they would not deny that the 25 January emancipatory principles contradict their own convictions.
Anyone who reads into the history of the Brotherhood, its ideological framework, organizational structure and its discourse — both in the past and today — will soon realize that this society of Brothers is in conflict with the system of beliefs of the modern democratic state. My assumption here is that the democratic system is not solely defined by the formation of political parties and holding elections, but more importantly by the extent to which it embraces a system of rights and liberties, including the freedoms of expression, press, assembly and belief, and the formation of syndicates, etc.
Without these rights, holding elections becomes nothing more than a less violent and politically cheaper alternative to direct oppression in order to reproduce authoritarian rule.
Why then did the Brotherhood participate in the 25 January uprising when it did not believe in its emancipatory aspirations? The short answer is that it did not. Before historical amnesia completely distorts our memory of the revolution, let us recall that even though members of the Brotherhood were present in the Tahrir squares across the country, the group did not summon its organizational capacity to mobilize for the revolution before 25 January 2011.
The Brotherhood did not officially participate in the 25 January protests. It did take part in the Day of Rage protests on 28 January, but, according to its own narrative, it did not partake in disabling the security arm of the regime, through burning down police stations and other acts, leaving the task of dealing the fatal blow to the feared security arm of the regime to the spontaneous rage of the masses across the country.
As events ensued, the regime’s keepers — namely the likes of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son — were quick to tumble, and the Brothers rushed to negotiate with Mubarak’s chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, in order to discuss the conditions of the Brotherhood’s merger in the regime, in return for protecting what was salvageable from Mubarak’s state.
It is only fitting to recall that none other than Saad al-Katatny and Morsy were the prime negotiators in these meetings with Suleiman.
Now it becomes clear that we need to read Morsy’s latest decree with this realization in mind: The presence of Brotherhood members in the Tahrir squares did not mean that they were partners in the revolution, but that the Brothers and other Islamist factions participated in their own parallel “revolution,” that could be summarized as an attempt to utilize the opportunity to inherit Mubarak’s regime and its oppressive institutions and tools, with a view to recreating a new exclusionary authoritarian project.
Since its ascendance to power, the Brotherhood has not lifted a finger to push for a legislative agenda to dismantle the oppressive institutions and structures of the Mubarak state, even though it controlled Parliament for more than five months. Morsy’s latest decisions are thus but an attempt to position loyal figures in critical positions within the state bureaucracy. I see no evidence that these latest appointments will in any way advance the cause of dismantling the oppressive structures of the Mubarak state.
Khaled Safey El Din is a political analyst and doctoral student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
This article was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.