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PORTSIDE  May 2012, Week 5

PORTSIDE May 2012, Week 5

Subject:

Egypt: Two Faces of the Old Order

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Date:

Thu, 31 May 2012 00:01:39 -0400

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Egypt: Two Faces of the Old Order

Adam Shatz 
26 May 2012
http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2012/05/26/adam-shatz/two-faces-of-the-old-order/

They called him the 'spare tyre', but he may become the
next president of Egypt - the first president of the
post-Mubarak order. Mohamed Morsi, the candidate for the
Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, is a
charmless man, doctrinaire in disposition and impatient
with the reform-minded currents in his party. He became
its candidate only after its more appealing first choice,
Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified from running by the
Presidential Election Commission; hence the nickname. (The
commission cited a Mubarak-era rule that those who have
been in prison in the last six years are ineligible to
run; El-Shater was released only in March 2011.) Yet Morsi
had behind him the electoral machine of the Muslim
Brotherhood, still the country's most significant
political movement.

The Brotherhood initially said it wouldn't run a candidate
for president, but soon changed its mind, just as it
fielded candidates for two-thirds of the seats in
parliament after saying it would only run for half. (These
shifts have heightened the fears of secularists and
Christians.) The Brotherhood - or rather Morsi - seems to
have won around 26 per cent of the vote, two points ahead
of the runner-up, Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general
and Mubarak's last prime minister: a man despised by many
Egyptians as a 'feloul', or 'remnant' of the old regime.
Shafiq, like Morsi, is a spare tyre: he became the old
order's favourite after Omar Suleiman was disqualified
from running. He had an unexpected surge in the last few
weeks, in part thanks to Christian support; anxious over
the rise in sectarian violence, and terrified of the
Brotherhood, Copts voted as a bloc.

The biggest losers in the race were the former foreign
minister Amr Moussa, once a relatively popular member of
the old regime, and the former Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim
Aboul-Fotouh, who won the support of some progressives -
and the abiding distrust of others - with his
all-inclusive vision of a liberal Islamist order where
everyone would get along. Moussa and Aboul-Fotouh
conducted a spirited televised debate that millions of
Egyptians watched, but sparring in public appears to have
helped neither. Both of them trailed behind the poet
Hamdeen Sabahi, a passionate Nasserist and socialist, who
seems to have done exceptionally well among Egyptian
expatriates and to have come in first in Alexandria, the
base of the Muslim Brotherhood and supposedly an Islamist
stronghold. These surprises were the best news of the
race. For the first time in their history, Egyptians voted
in elections where the results were not known in advance.

The results, however, are not encouraging to Egypt's
revolutionaries. The run-off in June will be a highly
polarised contest between the two faces of the old order,
a Mubarak loyalist and a Muslim Brother, one promising a
return to 'security' (if not Mubarakism) after 15 months
of turbulence; the other preaching that Islam is the
solution. (Shater had shelved such talk; Morsi restored
it, partly in order to win the support of Salafist
voters.) In an eloquent recent talk at New York
University, the Cairene historian Khaled Fahmy argued that
the Egyptian uprising aimed to overthrow not only the
military order that came to power in 1952, but an older,
more deeply embedded tradition of Egyptian patriarchy. For
many of the revolutionaries - particularly progressive
young people and the country's emboldened trade unionists
- that is indeed the case. But centuries of paternalism do
not crumble overnight. The consoling words of the Brothers
and the old regime, both of which promise a return to
something like normalcy after more than a year of volatile
street politics, seem to resonate with many voters.

The playing field has opened considerably since the
uprising, but it remains constricted by the continued
dominance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The
SCAF considers itself the guarantor of Egypt's stability,
and, strange though it may seem, of the revolution. As the
International Crisis Group has shown in a superb report,
Lost in Transition, the SCAF genuinely believes that the
revolution's goal was to prevent the succession of
Mubarak's son Gamal. It views those who criticise the army
in the name of a more sweeping revolutionary
transformation as a dangerous fifth-column - indeed, as
counter-revolutionary conspirators. As the head of the
SCAF, Field Commander Muhammed Hussein Tantawi, recently
put it, 'we will cut the tongues of those who make false
allegations against our troops and our men.' When it comes
to dealing with the military, Morsi and Shafiq are men who
know how to hold their tongues.

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