Is the Mubarak regime making a comeback?

Economic decline and political violence have led some Egyptians to be nostalgic about Hosni Mubarak’s reign.

Egyptians women shout slogans during a d
Amid continued unrest, some Egyptians are questioning the 2011 revolution [AFP]

Cairo, Egypt – Nostalgia for the rule of deposed President Hosni Mubarak is not hard to find on the streets of Cairo these days.

“Those were better times. There were no thugs on the streets then. Where is that security now?” asks Aliya Ali, a homemaker in her sixties.

Despite on-going court cases against Mubarak on charges of corruption and of killing protesters during the 2011 revolution, the former autocrat was released from prison recently, to be held under house arrest.

Just hours after the news of his release, a Facebook page had sprung up urging Egyptians to support Mubarak for a presidential bid in 2014.

A serious presidential run is unlikely, but behind the hyperbole, some analysts say that Egypt’s transitional period is seeing a resurgence and rehabilitation of some elements of Mubarak’s failed regime.

Familiar faces in the cabinet

The key posts in Egypt’s transitional cabinet, formed after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July, went to liberal politicians or technocrats. Hazem el-Beblawi, a renowned economist and co-founder of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party, became prime minister. Another party figure, Ziad Bahaa el-Din, took the role of deputy prime minister, while Mohamed ElBaradei was made vice president for external affairs, although he later resigned the post to protest the army’s crackdown on pro-Morsi demonstrators.

Michele Dunne, who runs the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council think-tank, argues that the reshuffle was “an attempt to put a liberal face on the cabinet and to put into place, especially in key positions, people with whom the international community is familiar and comfortable.”

The military seems to be confronted with a situation where it has little choice but to accept former regime remnants, either because of the experience factor, or because of NDP's entrenched patronage networks.

by -Amro Ali, Middle East analyst, University of Sydney

“There was an attempt, at least at the beginning, to claim that the Egyptian military was restoring democracy, and therefore they had to put in place figures that were credible,” she told Al Jazeera.

The choice of ministers did elicit positive responses from key international players. US Secretary of State John Kerry said of the new lineup: “I know a number of them personally, and I know they are extremely competent people.”

But in the less high profile roles, some of the jobs went to veteran bureaucrats who had links with the Mubarak regime.

Dorreya el-Sharaf el-Din, a television presenter and journalist who was made minister of information, is a former member of the controversial policy secretariat of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).

A number of other ministers: transportation minister Ibrahim el-Demeri, agriculture minister Ayman Abu Hadid, housing minister Ibrahim Mehleb and planning minister Ashraf el-Arabi – had held either ministerial positions or senior roles in the state bureaucracy during the Mubarak years.

Amro Ali, a Middle East analyst at the University of Sydney, argues that the inclusion of some former regime loyalists in the cabinet was partly inevitable. “The military seems to be confronted with a situation where it has little choice but to accept former regime remnants, either because of the experience factor, or because of NDP’s entrenched patronage networks.”

Hesham Sallam, a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University, agrees. “Now that this pact between the deep state and the Muslim Brotherhood has collapsed, the deep state is once again scrambling for alternatives behind which they could hide and manage their own interests without overt intervention in day-to-day governance. In some ways the most obvious options are the long-time insiders of the Egyptian bureaucracy – known for their past cooperation if not formal affiliation with the NDP.”

Return of the police state

Perhaps the most controversial appointee to Egypt’s transitional government is Adel Labib, a police general who was named minister of local development.

Labib provoked considerable opposition during his time as governor of Alexandria in the last years of Mubarak’s presidency. “He was highly unpopular and became synonymous with repression,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

Gruesome human rights abuses occurred under Labib’s watch, says Ali, including the notorious death of Khaled Said from police torture in 2010.

Labib was appointed to a third governorship in 2011, under the rule of the military council, and retained by Morsi on his coming to power, who kept him on despite his unpopularity before sacking him in June.

His return represents another key component of Mubarak-era politics that seems to be resurgent – the police state.

Dunne believes that Egypt is seeing “an attempt to reconstruct something like the role that the military and the intelligence and the internal services played under Mubarak. During the two and a half years since Mubarak was removed, the internal security services and intelligence were on the retreat, keeping a low profile.”

The security services, which were not subjected to needed reform during Morsi’s presidency, are now “very much resurgent,” says Dunne.

One example of this resurgence is the appointment, in August, of new provincial governors – powerful positions that under Mubarak were largely occupied by retired police or military leaders. Of the 25 governors appointed in the August reshuffle, nineteen were military or police generals, some with chequered histories of dealing with anti-regime protesters both before and after the 2011 revolution.

“During Morsi’s era we saw a lot of Muslim Brotherhood figures appointed to be provincial governors. It’s clear that whoever is in power will try to put whomever they trust into those positions,” says Dunne.

A partial comeback

Dunne is sceptical as to whether all the elements of the Mubarak political system will make a comeback. The group that gathered around Gamal Mubarak, at one time touted as a vibrant, reformist successor to his father, were “not popular with the army.”

“We know that’s one of the reasons why the military went along with the 2011 revolution – because they were unhappy with Mubarak’s succession plan. So I don’t expect to necessarily see all the NDP figures come back, but I would expect to see some of them. Some of them could make themselves useful to the military and security services, and we’ll see some of them coming back into ministerial positions.”

Sallam argues that the government is not the only place where “Mubarakism” is gaining ground.

“People like [newspaper owner] Ibrahim Eissa are now comfortable scolding activists for objecting to Mubarak’s release from prison, and private newspapers that were once home to progressive, revolutionary voices that opposed the Mubarak regime and its return are now providing prominent space to voices supportive of the police state.”

Back on the streets of Cairo, businessman Ahmed El-Naggar says he probably wouldn’t vote for Mubarak in a future presidential poll, but he has no objection to seeing prominent figures from Mubarak-era politics back in power.

“I remember [former prime minister Ahmed] Nazif. He made some good changes to the economy. Egypt was really moving ahead then; international companies wanted to come here and invest. I think if we see these kind of experienced figures come back onto the scene, that’s a good thing.”

Source: Al Jazeera