Eid Mubarak, Egypt!

As Gamal Mubarak seeks his father’s throne, will hereditary succession again restrict democratisation in an Arab state?

Though opposition to Gamal’s probable succession to the Presidency is widespread, any viable alternative has institutionally been frozen out of the process, leaving any formal opposition on the margins of politics [EPA] 

Since the advent of Islam nearly 1400 years ago, Eid is celebrated twice a year to mark the end of fasting and the day of sacrifice.

For thirty years, it has literally been ‘Eid Mubarak’ in Egypt, whether or not it will be ‘Eid Mubarak’ for another thirty years in Egypt is uncertain, as the next generation of the Mubarak clan seeks to step into the political arena. The phrase has the sound of a neat political slogan as Egypt’s political and civil societies are whipped up by the current moment of transition or more aptly in-transition.

‘Eid Mubarak’:’Return Mubarak’

‘Eid Mubarak’ in these days of the Eid of sacrifice somewhat carries a different meaning: literally,’return Mubarak’. Which Mubarak? Does it really matter?

Egypt’s First Lady Suzanne Mubarak is a dynamic and successful champion of books and literacy, however it is Gamal Mubarak’s quest for the Holy Grail: rule of Egypt, which garners the most attention.

Eid Mubarak qua Gamal Mubarak may prove challenging for Egypt, Egyptians, Gamal and the Mubaraks. Gamal lacks his father’s legitimacy: a jet-fighter pilot who fought against Israel, commander-in-chief of Egypt’s might armed forces, and, in Western estimation, a peace-maker and a respected global statesman.

Returning the ‘Mubaraks’ may not fully hinge on the 2010 and the 2011 elections. This is at the core of democratic anomaly in the Arab Middle East: Elections distribute power, making it diffuse not unitary. The Arab world may be one noted exception.

Gamal may think playing electoral charades is sufficient to dupe the local and international publics. External endorsement – even American and Israeli – is not enough for Gamal’s political inexperience to be rewarded with perhaps one of the most powerful seats of power in the entire Middle East.

Only one gap term after President Mubarak’s departure and popular endorsement via free and fair elections afterwards should land Gamal Egypt’s highest office, however that might be an ideal that requires the clause ‘if all else being equal…’

Gamal: The Making of a’de facto President’

Gamal – the investment banker – comes into politics with a Smithian mind-set for wealth-making. At least for now it is reflected in his own wealth and that made by the class of millionaires and billionaires that staff the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP’s economic and political predilections reflect his policy preferences.

His vision is not only for a ‘new’ Egypt, but also for what might be termed a ‘New NDP’. As if Gamal were borrowing a leaf from Tony Blair’s political posturing: ‘New Labour’. Gamal views his role not only as the driver of the NDP’s engine of reform and renewal, but also the master engineer of’qiyadat al-taghyeer’ (leadership of change). That is the vanguard assigned to steer Egypt on to a path of recovery and prosperity.

The ‘generation of the future’, the youth organisation sponsored by Gamal, and ‘al-‘uboor ila al-mustaqbal’ (transition or crossing to the future) – the motto of the 2005 NDP conference and Mubarak’s presidential campaign – captures Gamal’s drive to innovate and modernize the NDP and the country. This is one reason the cliché phrase “what is the alternative?” seems to be a ready-made defence of Gamal’s succession used by businessmen, members of the future youth movement and a segment of the country’s young cadres and professionals.

Making the Presidency

Gamal wants the presidency. But does the presidency want Gamal?

Gamal may be focused on an ‘uboor of his own to the presidency. However, whilst the term ‘uboor evokes glorious moments in the 1973 October war when Egypt’s victorious army crossed the massive fortifications of the Bar Lev Line in two hours. However, today, the state of Egypt under the NDP’s leadership hardly inspires such confidence.

Rather, it evokes the ‘abbarah, Egypt’s Al-Salam Boccaccio ferry which sank in February 2006, killing hundreds of passengers. There is ‘no crossing’ without an’abbarah or a ‘ferry’. Right now, the NDP with controversial figures tainted by allegations of corruption by the likes of Ahmad Izz or Abou Al-‘Aynayn, is more like a sinking’abbarah, incapable of’uboor.

Egyptians are dissatisfied with the state of corruption, nepotism, questionable deals involving sale of land and gas and oil reserves, underdevelopment, dependence, and exclusionary politics. The corruption extends now to the internecine fighting amongst NDP candidates standing against each other in many seats around the country. The ‘fittest’ who survive the fierce contest for power must rank high up on Gamal’s ladder of loyalty.

Gamal’s Succession: Done Deal?

The 2005 constitutional amendments are in place making it difficult for anyone to stand for – not Muhammad ElBaradei the former International Atomic Agency’s supremo, Amr Moussa the Arab League’s chief, Al-Ghad’s leader, Ayman Nour, and not any Muslim Brotherhood (MB) figure – much less contest the 2011 presidential elections. The judiciary has retired from supervision of elections. ElBaradei has more or less been silenced by a sustained campaign of character assassination.

Many of the free forums and media outlets have recently been gagged through closure. It is fallacious to think exclusion targets only Islamists: all ‘ists’ who are not affiliated to NDP have been confined to the margins of politics – secularists, feminists, unionists, and human rights activists, and independent journalists, not forgetting the liberals and the growing number of bloggers.

Fearful of any type of confrontation with the state, the embattled Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is in a state of confusion: both with and against the 2010 parliamentary elections. The MB’s Shura Council voted in favour of participation in the polls only by a slight margin, not by any means a majoritarian or consensual decision.

Many prospective candidates, largely from the MB but also from other political parties, have been barred from registering in time for their candidacy to be officiated.  A divided MB will contest the 2010 elections with up to 30 candidates less than in 2005, even if with a higher number of female candidates.

Plus, the trumpet-blowers from Al-Hayat to the satellite TV channel, Al-Arabiyyah, have done their shares of Gamal-selling and packaging. Posters of Gamal have covered the walls for some time to test the public’s political pulse.

All of this downsizing and overstating of Egypt’s civil society and opposition is not aimless. The aim: the 2010 elections are about ‘crossing’ Gamal to the 2011 presidential polls. The results matter to Gamal; they are likely to deliver a largely univocal monochromatic newly enlarged 508-seat parliament with reduced MB deputies, and dissident MPs.

The rest will be autocratic history, barring one detail, the unknown factor in Egypt’s politics: the armed forces. Whether they can be confined to the barracks and out of politics is what will make a difference to Gamal’s presidency in the long run, even when Gamal is eventually confirmed in his father’s succession. The armed forces are said to be unhappy and the top brass should not entirely be written off as being the regime lackeys or neutral towards hereditary succession.

Elections: No Democratic ‘Eid’

Like ‘Eid’, elections have become a recurring routine in Egypt. Neither the 2010 nor the 2011 elections will prove to be a democratic ‘Eid’. Festivities will be limited to those who seem to be setting the stage for ‘rigging’ every step of the political process. They are effectively defacing Egypt’s republicanism and purging it of republicans, actually and potentially.

The 2010 and 2011 elections combined will be Egypt’s most definitive political events since the 1952 Free Officers Coup. They are certain to be President Mubarak’s last set of elections at the helm. They will be almost entirely rigged. They have been designed legally, administratively and politically to be amongst the most exclusionary. The partial boycott by ElBaradei, amongst others, is meant to delegitimize them. The elections will be the least contested, the results the most contested. They will be bloodied too.

Ironically, for purposes of damage control Gamal may be left with one bitter pill to swallow – letting the MB win 50 to 70 seats – or risk turning his personal political management and the 2010 electoral charades into a laughing stock, with onlookers from all parts closely watching his every move.
The MB may find itself awkwardly between a rock and a hard place.

Thus it will be faced between the scenario of effectively being’given’ seats in ‘Gamal’s parliament’, almost a ‘deal’ with Gamal and unwittingly co-option into the succession bandwagon, and the scenario of persisting with the ideal of participation and discrediting the new leadership’s political judgment and acumen in the event of massive loss of seats in the new parliament. This could further haemorrhage the MB, thrusting it in the throes of new factionalism and internal fighting. 

Egypt Matters

Today the Mubaraks’ Egypt looks a skeleton of its old dynamic self. It is inward-looking, security-obsessed, role-less, confused, stagnant, ailing and ordinary. In 2010 Egypt is evocative of King Faruk’s time in the early 1950s.

But Egypt matters. It matters to the Arab world. It matters to the Middle East. It matters to the world. So much yearning remains for the majesty that is Egypt, Umm al-Dunya,’the mother of the world’. Egypt’s genius that once contributed a great deal to Arab, Islamic and world civilization is today admired at a distance and as matter of antiquity. A return – literally ‘Eid’ – of that genius could fire democratic renewal and cultural renaissance, however this is highly doubtful under a return to dynastic rule. 


Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source : Al Jazeera

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