Magdy Samaan

Magdy Samaan

Constitutions, Egypt, Elections, Featured, Islamist Politics, Parliaments, Political Parties, Political Reform

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The literal meaning of Arabic verb falla is ‘to nick a blade of a sword and make it jagged,’ or ‘to blunt an object.’ So if a sword, for instance, is made jagged, it has ‘fulul’ (notches), or it has lost its edge and requires smoothening and sharpening. When the term is applied to a nation, it implies a defeated or a vanquished people.

In the wake of the Egyptian revolution, the term ‘fulul’ has been used to connote those loyal to the deposed Mubarak regime or those who benefitted from it, and has inaccurately been translated into English as ‘remnants.’ The question is, have the cronies of the previous regime lost their power and become the proverbial blunted sword?

The mistaken rendering of the word fulul has in part led to the state of paralysis and the conflict that is stripping the Egyptian revolution of its worth today. Most Egyptians now feel that allowing the army to assume command of this interregnum was a historic mistake, and that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) represents no more than an extension of the previous regime, or ‘remnants,’ as the conventional translation of the word is used.

But the truth is that no chink has been made, no defeating blow delivered yet. With the approach of the first anniversary of the January revolution, Egyptians find themselves governed by the same rules of the regime which they presumed they had gotten rid of when the former president stepped down. Bit by bit, the old faces and practices have reemerged, to the point where the activists now find that it is they themselves that might more accurately be termed the fulul (notches) and that the revolution, if it assumes the role of sword in the analogy, has been blunted and ultimately discredited.

The popular intifada against Mubarak’s rule initially came with the blessing of the military, which saw in the uprising an opportunity to rid itself of a source of irritation, namely, the idea of hereditary succession of power. Although the military establishment – which otherwise represents the solid core of the previous regime – initially aided the revolutionaries and assured them that they would relinquish power to civilian forces, subsequently created in the months following an about-face scenario which would preserve the old balance of power and its beneficiaries and restore military control. The SCAF deliberately utilized the security vacuum and the dire economic situation to play on the ordinary citizen and intimate that the revolution was responsible for these. In the last three months, the military establishment has made its antagonism to the revolution and its instigators clearly known, with accusations resurfacing from the first days of the uprising that Tahrir Square does not represent Egypt and that activists are funded by outside sources bent on wreaking havoc, and so on.

Following the revolution, the effort to expunge fulul from the government was limited to former ruling NDP party members, personalities related to the former president and, more specifically, those who may have been implicated in the agenda to allow for the hereditary succession of power. The SCAF attempted to delude the revolutionaries into believing that the regime had fallen by putting select representatives of this ‘succession wing’ of the old regime to trial, while simultaneously re-introducing ‘pre-succession’ regime figures.

With nearly one year passed now since the uprising, it would appear that the regime which the revolution sought to overthrow is far broader than those implied by the term fulul. How, then, should we categorize the regime?

Following the Free Officers’ revolt against civilian rule in 1952, the military sought a purge of social agents who had themselves been tapped by the proponents of the liberal trend which led the 1919 revolt, and which the Free Officers viewed as unrepresentative of society as a whole. The July officers sought to distribute wealth and influence more evenly and aimed to design a new social network, one founded on loyalty to them.

In the thirty years that Mubarak held the reins of power, this network continued along the same lines set out during the Nasser and Sadat eras – a system of patronage and loyalty won out over direct rule by the military establishment. But in the final decade of Mubarak’s rule, an unexpected change occurred to the ‘loyalty’ model – Mubarak himself decided to upend the system that the July officers set out years ago, giving rise to the notion of his son assuming power after him. This prompted the ascension of new beneficiaries, professing loyalty to the heir apparent and triggered resentment towards the Old Guard, foremost among these the military establishment. An unspoken power struggle ensued between these two camps. The civilian heir was a feckless and unconvincing candidate, particularly in the eyes of the military. Similarly, the Old Guard questioned the share of the political pie accorded to these ‘new upstarts’ - most of whom were businessmen – and disputed their administerial competence, embodied in the person of Ahmed Ezz, former Secretary of Organizational Affairs for the NDP. In Old Guard circles, the resentment grew.

Security services played an essential role in manufacturing the loyalties of key influencers, following one of two methods to produce these social agents: the first was to attract the wealthy, from prominent families, with a particular talent to inspire and use their status to control their respective constituencies. In order to buy loyalty, the old regime would offer benefits and concessions, assuring these individuals of continued influence over their spheres. Examples of this are numerous – heads of the various religious sects, heads of well-known families, businessmen, movie stars, soccer players, etc.

Those who benefitted from this system perceived a kind of threat after the revolution. Some attempted to adapt to the revolution, to change their stripes to suit the revolution. Most, however, worked to curtail the revolution, as was tried in vain at the beginning of the uprising. These individuals found themselves in a similar spot throughout the final years of the Mubarak era, unable to carry out their designated roles, due to the great cost of the dirty game and the corruption stemming from the regime’s succession project. The people were no longer convinced, and societal anger had become greater than the regime could manage. This is what ultimately tipped the scales.

The other model involves the creation – and infiltration - of something like a syndicate for the political elite and civil society, with a view to easily controlling that body. But this elite, which rode the demands of the revolution and claimed to represent it, ultimately lacks political savvy and the ability to construct a solid political base capable of filling the void left by those affiliated with the previous regime, and has gradually returned to its traditional role of ‘domesticated opposition.’

In the twilight years of his rule, Mubarak’s age stunted his capabilities. His son was stunted from the outset by having failed to convince anyone of his capacity to lead. The so-called fulul¬, however, have yet to be stunted in any way. They continue to resist change, and it is they who retain real power and enjoy the support of regional forces which view democratic change in Egypt as a worrisome threat to their own retention of control. Be that as it may, the persistence and courage demonstrated by the youth of Tahrir in recent confrontations could yet turn the tables.

Magdy Samaan is a freelance journalist and blogger for Egypt Source. His work has appeared in the Egyptian independent newspapers Al-Shorouk and Al-Masry al-Youm as well as Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr.

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