Sunday 17 June 2012

Same as the old Boss

Egypt is moving forward into the past.  Yesterday and today the country has been voting in the final round of the presidential election, a sort of take it or leave it choice between two equally uninspiring candidates – Mohammed Morsy, a colourless brother of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Safiq, a brother from the old Mubarak fraternity. 

Safiq, a former air force commander, is the favoured candidate of the state within a state that has governed Egypt for generations, no matter if the outward face was Nasser, Sadat or Mubarak.  We had a clear indication of the shape of things to come on Friday, when Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, a collection of Ancien Régime stalwarts, dissolved the country’s first freely elected parliament, claiming voting irregularities.  All at once power reverted to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). 

Actually it’s all a bit of a joke; they never really lost power in the first place.  What we have seen since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is a game being played out at the expense of the people of Egypt, with SCAF on one side, the Brothers on the other.  In terms of popular support the Brothers appear strong, but appearance is nothing in this land of the sphinx, a land where power comes not from a popular mandate but the barrel of a gun.  Last month I concluded an article (Old Soldiers Never Die, 13 May) with the following words;

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.

They certainly do not.  There is Field Marshall Tantawi, head of SCAF and Egypt’s éminence grise, who will continue to exercise power regardless of any popular vote.  There is Ahmed Shafiq, a man who previously let it slip that he was the army’s preferred candidate, not at all reluctant to praise Mubarak and criticise protesters, not at all reluctant to scare Egyptians with the prospect of an Iranian-style Islamist state if the Brotherhood wins.  He has pledged to rule with an ‘iron fist’; he has pledged to defend what he calls the ‘deep state’.  He has pledged to be, well, Hosni Mubarak. 

My, how depressingly predictable it all is.  Even before the dissolution of parliament, a coup in all but name, SCAF issued decrees granting officers the right to try civilians in military courts, a return to three decades of martial law that was allowed to lapse for a mere two weeks. 

If Shafiq wins all well and good: it will just be business as usual.  But if Morsy comes top then we shall see; we shall see how the ‘deep state’ reacts.  It will not be with equanimity, that much is certain.  I can give you one possible scenario.  Parliament has gone.  The President can only be sworn in by parliament.  Without such affirmation he is powerless.  Egypt is in a constitutional deadlock.  Into the breach comes…I think it safe to leave you to draw your own conclusion. 

It seems obvious that the dissolution of parliament on the eve of the presidential election was really a cue for the Brothers to leave the stage, withdrawing in protest, allowing Safiq to walk in to office by acclimation, a new Pharaoh.  They have not, so stage two of the counter-revolution in the revolution that was never a revolution is already in preparation.  The reintroduction of military courts is a clear preamble to a general declaration of martial law.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

I'll Tip My Hat To The New Constitution
Take A Bow For The New Revolution
Smile And Grin At The Change All Around
Pick Up My Guitar And Play
Just Like Yesterday
Then I'll Get On My Knees And Pray
We Don't Get Fooled Again
Don't Get Fooled Again
No, No!


  1. Most revolutions in history take the form of tiffs between cliques of the ruling elite. Revolutions are no substitute for progress or liberty, which are much harder to accomplish than regime change.

    1. Calvin, yes, I agree. Personally I do not think American Revolution is an appropriate term for the War of Independence, which was based, rather, on conservative principles as, paradoxically, was the so-called English Revolution of the seventeenth century.

  2. Better the SCAF than the alternative, the radicals should be collected and well?

    1. Anthony, that was certainly the view of some of the people I met in parts of Egypt firth of Cairo last November. The traders in particular are afraid that the Islamists will drive the tourists away.

  3. Hello Ana.

    1. That's a brilliant observation, Nobby. You are really selling me on Chesterton!