Tag Archives: Hosni Mubarak
With the saturation of the media by celebritisation and trivia there is no shortage of non-stories to be consumed by participants both willing and incidental, but the past week has engendered one of the year’s more unlikely ones: a female newscaster sporting a hijab has been spotted on Egyptian state television. Prima facie this is a development of genuine significance insofar as it marks a liberalisation of state policy towards those who up until recently have been excluded from the country’s official narrative: in the entirety of Egypt’s fifty-two year televisual age, Fatima Nabil is the first presenter to wear a headscarf identified with religion; the relaxation of a protocol which forbade this in spite of court rulings to the contrary can be viewed as a positive development in terms of advancement of the rule of law.
Yet away from Cairene television studios – though not that far away at all – the continuation of a very different ‘protocol’ serves as a stark reminder as to where the true challenges in this substantial republic straddling Africa and Asia lie: organic rubbish is clogging the streets of urban Egypt. Despite the inception of a ‘Clean Homeland’ campaign by the nation’s first elected president – the bespectacled, media-unfriendly Mohamed Morsi – the issue of stray waste, a problem that was promised to be solved within 100 days of Morsi taking office, shows no sign of disappearing.
The contrast between the relative ease of addressing a simple issue pertaining to religious identity and solving a large-scale practical problem is unflattering to Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (‘FJP’), a political organisation created and backed by the Muslim Brotherhood which performed strongly in the January 2012 elections to the lower house of the Egyptian People’s Assembly but has since seen its support erode alarmingly in subsequent months; the advancement of the FJP’s Morsi to the presidency this summer could not disguise a sobering 24.78% first round showing in a contest dominated by a liberal vote condemned by its failure to unite behind a single candidate.
As those familiar with waste management issues will doubtless be aware, there are potentially many ways to address the problem of rubbish collection, sorting and recycling: the training and employment of state employees specialising in refuse collection activities; the outsourcing of this same function to private corporations such as Veolia Environnement S.A.; the involvement of local stakeholders, in this case Cairo’s Zabaleen (lit. ‘garbage people’), in recycling operations; or combinations of these or other methods.
To deal with this issue successfully, however, requires both political will and technocratic skill, with the dysfunctional example of Hosni Mubarak’s administration – during which European companies were awarded lucrative contracts with limited obligations, and the Zabaleen needlessly incapacitated following an apocalyptic mass hog cull – and its ultimate fate still fresh in the memory. No variety of head couture on television can veil the reality of sewer-like streets – but will the powers-that-be in Egypt recognise this before their electoral credibility erodes yet further?
Long before the phrase ‘Arab Spring’ had been coined, one of the principal justifications given in some Western countries for supporting the often violently authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (‘MENA’) region during the post-1945 period was the purported danger of Islamic fundamentalist (or, in more recent times, Islamist) rule. Now-deposed presidents such as Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were said to be bulwarks against a ‘Green Peril’ of radicalised zealots that would sweep all before it en route to transforming the Greater Middle East into a cauldron of ideological extremism.
The movement that cropped up time and again in this analysis was the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt (‘the MB’, ‘the Brotherhood’), a rather opaque organisation that was at once an integral part of the dictatorial system – particularly under Hosni Mubarak – and regularly terrorised by it. A 1928 establishment, the Brotherhood – with its considerable network of businesses, significant membership from the professional classes and organisational capacity built up over decades of operation – was, in the absence of a stern dictator such as Mubarak, destined to rule Egypt apparently ad infinitum, transforming it (one presumes) into some kind of emirate in the process.
Yet within eighteen months of Mubarak’s ousting, this narrative already seems to be highly questionable:
1. An Underwhelming Start. The first clear signs that the conventional wisdom might not be so wise occurred in the Q4 2011/Q1 2012 elections to the People’s Assembly of Egypt and the Shura or Consultation Council, the respective lower and upper houses of Egypt’s bicameral parliament: the MB’s newly-founded political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (‘the FJP’), polled 37.5% in the People’s Assembly ballot and 45.0% in the Consultation Council counterpart – good figures, but hardly the stuff of full-spectrum domination. These numbers begin to look slightly disappointing when one bears in mind that many other entities that are sure to be powerful electoral forces in the future had not yet coalesced into anything like coherent platforms; in other words, in this sense the Brotherhood may already have peaked.
2. Electoral Slide. This impression of the Muslim Brotherhood’s distinct fallibility only grew with the recent first round of the 2012 presidential contest (23rd-24th May 2012). The MB’s eventual candidate – the bespectacled engineer Mohamed Morsi, put forward following the banning from running of furniture salesman Khairat El-Shater by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – is estimated to have only just crept over the 25% mark, with none of the four candidates positioned closely behind Morsi in the polls holding political positions analogous to the Brotherhood.
3. Parliamentary Performance. An excellent recent report by Al Jazeera English icon Sherine Tadros illustrated why the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral performance has slid so dramatically in a matter of a few months: even to their natural sympathisers, their performance in parliament has been anything but inspiring; they are acknowledged as ‘good people’, but not necessarily the solution to coax Egypt out of its economic malaise. And herein lies the crux of the matter: no party in Egypt – whether it be Islamist, liberal, liberal Islamist, socialist or radical – is likely to enjoy much support for long if it does not implement solid policies to remedy the country’s chronic youth unemployment, acute security deficit and hopelessly inadequate public services.
A Mediterranean country that straddles two continents, today Egypt added a new dimension to its strategic value: democracy, or to be more precise, its first ever presidential election which historians are likely to judge as worthy of bearing the label ‘free and fair’. With over 50 million voters eligible to indicate their electoral preferences over no less than two days of balloting action, it is no exaggeration to term this one of the most significant occasions in the Middle East’s modern epoch.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this contest is the enthusiastic use of technology in the campaigns of the various presidential campaigns, with the social networking sites that played such an integral part in the downfall of the previous incumbent very much to the fore. The candidature of frontrunner Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh – a former senior member of the somewhat unwieldy Muslim Brotherhood movement who has forged a unique electoral umbrella including Tahrir Square revolutionaries, Coptic Christians and disaffected Salafis – was to our mind particularly eye-catching, but not necessarily for obvious reasons.
Yes, at the time of writing Dr. Aboul Fotouh’s Facebook page has an eye-watering 540,000 ‘likes’, a figure high enough to make almost anyone familiar with the exceptional slog involved in obtaining even a handful of such approvals incandescent with jealousy; yes, his Twitter following:followers ratio of 1:237,860 is something that appears beyond even our own collective appeal.
But even Dr. Aboul Fotouh’s Internet presence is not flawless.
As evidenced by the above picture, he has forgotten to change his Joomla! favicon, meaning that the world at large can see that his traffic-heavy homepage is built using one of the world’s most popular open source content management systems. Could some open-source governance be too much to expect from the physician who could possibly be the next president of Egypt, and who has been publicly endorsed by one Wael Ghonim?
Batons crunch and bullets fly as Tahrir Square, the symbolic epicentre of the Arab Spring, is once again the scene of historic protests. Incredible numbers of people are once again thronging the centre of Cairo, demanding an end to a period of military rule which has stretched the credibility of the word ‘interim’ far beyond breaking point. In echoes of the mass demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, Egyptians are chanting for the resignation of the increasingly reviled ruling Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, a man who despite his relatively brief tenure may already have too much blood on his hands to remain in power for very much longer. Major international actors and commentators are struggling to react in anything other than meaningless – and outmoded – platitudes.
Yet our subscribers and readers will, in all likelihood, be amongst the least fazed of all observers. As our blog post of 9th October 2011 spelt out with no little irony, ‘Revolution 2.0′ has been on the cards in Egypt for quite some time now. But if this was fairly obvious to us, why has it caught so many people by surprise?
While we cannot speak for everybody, we at Mediolana do believe that most analysts failed to recognise one crucial fact: the Egyptian Revolution is a qualitative movement. Like most people in most historical eras, citizens in today’s Egypt have a desire to exercise basic freedoms. In epochs where the power of the state was highly circumscribed by technological limitations, the state and its acolytes were rarely in a position to shape public opinion, let alone institute regimes characterised by systemised brutality along high modernist lines. By taking to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria once more, urban Egypt is rebelling against not just the despotic rule of one man or a single strata of society; rather, it is attempting to demolish the apparatus of oppression that has defined life in the country for much of twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
By overlooking this vital element to the protests – that they were not merely about economic factors such as the excruciating cost of living and a paucity of jobs – many of those who were meant to be able to anticipate and perhaps drive the news agenda have been caught unawares. The burgeoning readership of Mediolana cannot be counted amongst them.
The Arab Spring has brought the watching global public some surreal moments, from the dictator-in-denial speeches of the former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak to the remarkable improvised theatre of the increasingly isolated Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. But arguably even these events were cast into a pale shadow by the written statement promulgated on 8th August 2011 by King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud.
In the statement, the current King of Saudi Arabia made his displeasure concerning the current crackdown on the uprising in Syria known: ‘What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia…Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms…Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.’
There is a clear paradox evident here: the titular head of a country which is recognised worldwide as a highly repressive state is communicating a dire warning to the president of another highly repressive state to implement swift and concrete political reforms. But why would a leader of Saudi Arabia – a country whose response to the Arab Spring cannot even be described as lukewarm, and which craves a continuation of the status quo like few other polities on earth – issue such a statement, one that has the potential to awkwardly rebound?
After some contemplation, it seems cogent to posit that Saudi Arabia is experiencing what we at Mediolana term ‘the paradox of indispensability’, which goes at least some way towards explaining King Abdullah’s enigmatic words; these might in fact be seen as foreshadowing events in his own domain. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has possibly never been more indispensable to the global economy, particularly its American component: it is increasingly apparent that we live in an era of fonduenomics, where economies are dipping in and out of recession with increasing frequency, an occurrence that is largely contingent on the price of oil; consequently, petroleum-rich entities such as Saudi Arabia are theoretically in a position of great political and economy strength.
On the other hand, the Saudi Arabian model – a curious mixture of Wahhabism, authoritarian rule and a domestic economy massively subsidised by energy revenues – seems to be under significant stress, which is evident in a number of ways:
1. A world of increasingly borderless information has helped engender a disconnect between the average Saudi subject and the official state ideology: the Arab Attitudes Towards Iran, 2011 report published by the Arab American Institute Foundation reveals that a stunning 98% of Saudis have a ‘favourable’ opinion of Turkey – an officially secular country synonymous with social liberalism in the Arab world – compared with only 26% and 6% possessing favourable views of China and Iran respectively.
2. In an era increasingly shaped by Peak Oil, Saudi Arabia is likely to find itself weakly placed once demand and/or supply for its lifeblood export declines precipitously. It is therefore trying to diversify its economic base both through megaprojects such as the construction of King Abdullah Economic City – a brand new metropolis with a projected population of nearly four million people – and gargantuan real estate ventures along Dubai lines; ultimately, these are expressions of underlying fragility.