With voting in the presidential election scheduled to begin on 23 May,
Egypt is descending ever deeper into anarchy and faction. There have been violent clashes recently with protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, during which journalists were attacked by supporters of the military, one allegedly having his ear sliced off.
Much has changed since the fall of Mubarak. Hopes, once high, have fallen low. The generals seem to be playing a close game, both inciting violence and denying any responsibility for the outcome. They have no interest in who will emerge as president, they say, no desire to cling to power after 30 June, the day they have promised to step down. Yes, of course they will.
There is violence, yes, but there is also an element of comic absurdity. Hazem Abu Ismail is as orthodox as they come. With his long white beard he was the front runner for the fundamentalist Salafi sect. His was a populist platform of religion and revolution. Unfortunately for him he also had an Achilles’ heel – his mother is an American! That is to say, she took American citizenship before she died, a fact he kept quiet about and then denied altogether. Au contraire, Mon Frère; out you go, beard and all.
It’s all a plot, you see, all part of an American scheme to discredit the poor man, so say the Salafists, because of his anti-Western agenda, though it would seem obvious that the ‘plot’, such as it is, originated far closer to home. To air their disapproval the beards massed in
Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where they immediately clashed with Egypt’s dwindling band of liberals. That’s one thing; clashing with the army quite another.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest force in the country’s parliament, was there too. For long they declined to field a candidate for the presidency. All at once the hive mind was changed. Khairat al-Shater was put forward as their drone of choice. All at once the electoral commission, whose edicts are not subject to judicial review, disqualified him. Why? Because he had been convicted in the bad old Mubarak days of being a member of a banned organisation that was no longer banned!
There is a fallback here; there is Aboul Fotouh. He’s well-known to the Brotherhood; he should be; he was long included in their ranks. There is only one problem – he was expelled. Why? Because, contrary to the former party line, he decided to run for the presidency!
Worried by its declining influence, the Brotherhood has now put forward Mohammed Morsy, something of a colourless nonentity. The army, which favours nobody, either favours Amr Moussa, a former veteran of the Mubarak regime, or Ahmed Shafiq, the former commander of the air force and another Mubarak stalwart. He has let it slip that the army, which favours nobody, actually favours him.
The real power in the land is Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has governed
Egypt since the fall of Mubarak. Actually it governed Egypt long before that; it has effectively governed Egypt since the days of Nasser. Whatever the outcome of the election nothing much is likely to change. The state within a state will continue to govern the state. Old soldiers never die. In Egypt they don’t even fade away.