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Middle East and Africa

The Unsustainable Ineptitude of the Brotherhood Government

No, they are not all the same. The protest which led to the ousting of Morsi demonstrates that the era of a forced homogeneity has finally come to an end in the Arab world. The scenes of 25 January 2011 were repeated two years later and on a larger scale. Then, indeed, it was a matter of getting rid of a regime that was strong at the level of security but totally discredited in the eyes of public opinion. In recent days, on the other hand, in the squares and streets of Cairo and other cities, currents have confronted each other that have diametrically opposed ideas (and ones that are often very confused) about the future of their country. And although the demonstrators of the National Salvation Front have certainly won the trial of strength that began on 30 June, thanks to the decisive support of the army, the Muslim Brothers can still rely upon a large number of supporters.

 

 

At this crucial point two scenarios are possible. The most favourable one envisages the implementation by all the political forces, including the Muslim Brothers, of the road map imposed by the army in the communiqué of General al-Sîsî. In other words, everything is removed, including the controversial Constitution, and they restart from scratch with the establishment of the rules of the game. This should have been done immediately, on the Tunisian model, but a series of factors (demagogy; a lack of preparation; political calculation) postponed the agreement to a date that never materialiazed.

 

 

And in the meantime, month after month, the leadership of the Muslim Brothers methodically took over all the principal centres of power according to the logic of hegemony and without any serious search for a dialogue with the oppositions. These oppositions were not only represented by the young people of the movement of civil rebellion but also by figures such as Shaykh di al-Azhar or the Pope of the Copts, whom it is difficult to dismiss, evoking a conspiracy, as ‘destabilising foreign forces’. It is significant that the Egyptian crisis produced a fracture in the international leadership of the Muslim Brothers. According to the daily newspaper al-Masry al-Yom, for example, the Tunisian leader of an-Nahda, Rashed al-Ghannoushi, suggested acceptance to the requests made in the public squares and early presidential elections. But, once again, the policy of a head-on clash prevailed.

 

 

In truth, the Muslim Brothers could have invoked a justification for this policy: the priority, in the view of many was, to restore the economic machine of the country, which is on the verge of collapse. The point, however, is that they failed at this level and thus lost the confidence of a substantial part of their electorate whereas, in paradoxical fashion, the excess of power that they had given to themselves and the elimination of systems of control deprived them of the possibility of a change of direction, in addition to having a major impact on their substantial legitimacy.

 

 

It is certainly the case that the speed of change surprised almost everyone: last summer the president of the Egyptian Socialist Party, who was very critical of the Muslim Brothers, foresaw in an interview for Oasis a further five years of Morsi government, although he added: ‘I expect very difficult months…In the distant future all of this will change, there will be a major revolution against political Islam. The Egyptians have changed psychologically, they no longer fear anyone. I, personally, am very happy that the Brothers have had the possibility to take power. We will see what they are capable of, how they will solve the problem of poverty, garbage in the streets, the problem of 8 million young unemployed’. This is the failure of political Islam, to use the phrase of Olivier Roy. Because when a religion becomes ideological, it is on its political results, and no longer the facts of faith, that it stands or falls.

 

 

But side by side with this hypothesis, the scenario that everyone fears, civil war, is also possible. The demonstrators have already left behind them a number of dead in the field and it is known that the Muslim Brothers developed over time a military structure, even though it is not known how large or effective it is. The oppositions do not have a unitary project; various militants are animated by a wish for revenge and the difficult economic situation does not help matters. The reasons why people went into the streets are many in number and the fracture between the elite (who speak about ‘constitutionalism’ and ‘pluralism’) and the people, who are more interested in bread and services that to a certain extent function, is very deep. This is why the next few days will be truly decisive.

 

 

However, one can already draw three lessons. The first is condensed in an observation that the Saudi scholar Madawi al-Rasheed made to us at the end of a conversation in November 2011: ‘The Egyptians deceive themselves when they think that they changed everything in a week. They are wrong. The Arab Spring is like the French Revolution. Decades will be needed before it settles down’. The facts of today prove her right and tell us that in order to understand the change that is underway one must be able to move along the whole of the spectrum that goes from the tweet of a demonstrator to the long-term dynamics of demographic, social and religious change. The work is immense and can only be carried out in a trans-disciplinary way. The alternative is constant blunders.

 

 

The second lesson is that the old and new political subjects who are the protagonists of the Arab transition may rapidly squander the support they have gained. However things end up, there can be no doubt that the Muslim Brothers have lost many of their supporters by the wayside. This warning, which also applies to the other Egyptian political forces or to the army (which has behind it a failed management of the first transition), can only have important consequences for other countries of the region. Indeed, it demonstrates that the Arab governments that emerged from the revolution tend to be judged on the basis of the results that they obtain and not the ideological and identity flags that they may wave.

 

 

It is specifically this awareness that is absent in the way in which the United States of America and Europe approached the question of post-revolutionary stabilisation. I remember a conference, this spring, where the principal thesis defended by all the speakers was that by now political Islam had established itself in a stable way on the other side of the Mediterranean and that one had to get used to dealing with this. In the case, for example, of Morsi this deal was rather clear: mediation between the Palestinian factions in Gaza in exchange for a green light for the presidential decree which conferred upon him the powers of a Pharaoh. Now the scenario seems to be changing again.

 

 

And thus we are going back to the point of departure: the Arabs are not all the same and they are not predestined for dictatorship. A real politik based upon these two assumptions, according to the single yardstick of power relations, is destined in a fatal way to be overtaken by events. Because it is based upon an error that is anthropological even before it is political.

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