By Ali Hussein Bakeer
It is impossible to achieve things in the country without pitting every political faction large and small into an argument against each other and against the political structure. Although some observers argue that this is an overstated problem, a small stick is enough to break the clockwork. Yet as the stick gets bigger it will become increasingly difficult to fix the watch.
The Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is facing significant challenges in this transitional phase of Egypt’s new political life. The facts on the ground do not suggest that his mission will be achieved quickly or with ease. This is not least because the remnants of the old regime have entrenched themselves in various aspects of the state that can influence public opinion, effect the decision making process and as a consequence influence the track of revolution and reform in the country.
The Egyptian public unfortunately still lacks an understanding that these changes need time and effort. Many people want to observe the fruits of radical changes within a couple of months, yet this is neither a logical nor a practical demand. Some Egyptians have even demanded an account of president Morsi’s engagements in the first 100 days of being in power, as they believed he didn’t get enough done.
As any observer of Egypt can point out, currently the biggest problem facing the country is the influence of the previous establishment in many of the strategic and vital power centers of the state and their effect in shaping public opinion. This situation makes it nearly impossible for the system to function naturally, let alone preventing radical decisions to be taken quickly. As a result it is impossible to achieve things in the country without plunging every political faction large and small into an argument against each other and against the political structure. Although some observers argue that this is an overstated problem, a small stick is enough to break the clockwork. Yet as the stick gets bigger it will become increasingly difficult to fix the watch. In short the institutions that have been formed in the past, preserve their influence and resist political change even actively fighting it. What is hard to understand is that they present the public with no alternative political plan and focus solely on the toppling of Morsi.
A Four Dimensional Obstacle
These institutions still have an influence mainly in four different aspects of the state: legal, economic, media and security.
The judicial level: The problems experienced while removing the public prosecutor Abdul Majid Mahmoud, shed light on the previous establishment’s power centers in the system. A court that had tried and released 24 of the most prominent and powerful figures in the Mubarak regime. These figures were charged and tried for their responsibility in the “Jamal (camel) incident”, where paid mercenaries by the regime charged at peaceful protestors on camel back armed with sticks resulting the death of several protestors.
President Morsi tried to discharge the public prosecutor, but he was surprised by his inability to do so. This was because according to the current law, which belongs to Mubarak’s era, no one can just dismiss the public prosecutor. This legal guarantee was enough to tie his hands. Furthermore this legal privilege gave the deep state and opportunity to support the prosecutor in question. Yet in the end Morsi succeeded in dismissing the prosecutor on 22 November.
The economic level: The importance of the economic influence the old regime has can be discerned by observing the role the corrupted economic elite plays in the country. In this sense the class of the most corrupted and powerful businessmen, who enriched themselves on the back of others, looting public funds and manipulating the laws all with the support afforded to them by the old regime, still exists. A large number of this economic elite still plays a sensitive role, acting in increasing solidarity and unison than previously. In an environment in which existing laws were designed to protect such people, it is difficult to instigate legal prosecution against them.
The media level: Supporters of the former regime occupy a wide chunk of the media sector in Egypt. There is no indication that the regime is taking measures to eliminate or minimize this influence. On the contrary, there is evidence of increasing support from the economic elite to the media sector. There are indications that this media power is being utilized against President Morsi and his colleagues. This power is directed towards the new administration, especially when they try to implement measures that would clean the country from remnants of the old regime. This causes the reform process in political, economic and security matters to slowdown and increases confusion in public opinion.
The security level: Lastly it is important to talk about certain military and security obstacles. There is no doubt that the Morsi’s dismissing of the leaders of the Military Council that ran the country after the toppling of Mubarak, also known as the “old guards”, can be described as Morsi’s biggest achievement in terms of putting Egypt back on the track of democracy. However these reforms are not sufficient as they target solely the leaders of a very powerful deep state structure. The people working within the ranks of the intelligence, police and army are still largely made up of supporters of the old regime. The state doesn’t have the staff to replace these people, and is for now dependent on the staff of the old regime. This presents an important obstacle to cross.
The laws and regulations in Egypt still shackle President Morsi and his government because they were designed in a way to fit the former regime, not the current one. These factors that delay the transitional period, reforms and stability and increase the political polarization in Egypt, give the deep state and the supporters of the former regime hope to disrupt the march towards democracy through a complex process of adaptation to the new reality in new ways and new methods.
On the other hand, till now, the president’s actions and his government don’t give the impression of an organized plan to root out the deep state and clean the old center of powers. Despite some actions presenting the impression of such a plan, this was more often than not an exception.
To sum up, what can be said about Egypt is that the road still long, difficult and especially hard for the Egyptian people. The strong polarization that currently exists between different groups only makes it harder. This polarization can only be seen as a waste of time and effort for everyone and doesn’t help reaching the new Egypt. No matter what happens it is imperative that the revolution be completed.
Ali Hussein Bakeer
USAK Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
This article was originally written in October 2012 and published in December issue of the Analist Magazine of the same year.