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The Secret Apparatus

Egypt: Radicalizing the Political Bargain Part II

4 minute read

Center for Security Policy| May 01, 2012
By Cynthia Farahat

As I argued in Part 1 of this investigation, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), despite its often inflammatory rhetoric, is at heart a pragmatic and patient political organization willing to ally with any and all parties that will ultimately advance its expansionist international agenda.This is important to keep in mind as contradictory reports as to who holds the real levers of power continue to pour out of Egypt. Whoever prevails in the presidential elections will have the Islamist bloc by his side.

Not only has the MB formed a solid alliance with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), but last month Dostor newspaper reported that Egypt’s Ministry of Interior has crafted a deal with both the Brotherhood leaders and the Nour Salafist party to create and train an Egyptian variation of the Iranian Basij, the youth security forces who along with the Revolutionary Guard have so effectively suppressed any public dissent of the regime in Tehran. Rest assured that this new paramilitary unit will play a major role discouraging any Egyptian liberal democratic protest during the upcoming presidential election charade.

The Egyptian military has leverage over Egypt’s current Islamist unelected unconstitutionalparliament. Last February, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) declared the annulment of parliamentary elections. The court ruled that the past elections violated the constitution which prohibits party candidates to run for both individual seats and seats allocated to party lists. Yet, the MB continued breaching the rule of law by illegally running for seats allocated to individual candidates under the MB, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) list.

The case now resides in the hands of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), headed by Farouk Sultan, a previous member of the Egyptian Armed Forces, a former military court judge, and currently a member of the presidential election commission. This means, of course, that SCAF controls the SCC and, with their MB ties, has a parliament that they can conveniently annul any time. So, the actual battle for power is a decade old internal power struggle that has been fought over two stages.

The First Stage:

The first round of conflict has been taking place stealthily since 2002, and has been contested among three camps. The first camp was Mubarak and his Ministry of Interior, comprised of his son Gamal, and his circle of corrupt businessmen monopolizing Egypt’s “private sector” who only had market power through complete government intervention.

The second camp is the old military guard currently represented by SCAF and Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and the third camp is Omar Suleiman, former Chief of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS), and Mubarak’s Vice President for less than two weeks in early 2011.

In 2002, Mubarak started to groom his son Gamal, to be his successor. In the same year, the name Omar Suleiman started to emerge in Egyptian news as a public persona. For the first time since 1952 the name of the chief of intelligence was no longer a secret, yet, as recently as 2010, hardly anyone living in the Egyptian police state dared to utter it out loud.

Mubarak’s attempt to groom his son, a non-military civilian, as his successor brought the Suleiman camp and the old military guard together for a brief alliance to overthrow him making a military coup against Mubarak inevitable.

The Egyptian military controls almost one-third of Egypt’s economy. Half of the Egyptian work force is employed by the government’s executive branch. With this kind of ballot box leverage over the Egyptian electorate, the military was not about to allow a non-military civilian for the first time in history to become the country’s ruler and commander in chief with absolute military, legislative, and executive power to oversee SCAF’s expenditures.

The Second Stage:

The brief alliance between the Suleiman and Tantawi camps ended in success with the ouster of Mubarak and his son in 2011. Naturally the deposed president and his family were provided with a safe exit strategy since he threatened to “expose everything” about Tantawi and military corruption if something unforeseen were to happen. Now with Mubarak out of the way, SCAF and Suleiman camps commenced their second round of battling each other for power.

The presidential election commission’s leaders have been handpicked by Tantawi; the previously mentioned Farouk Sultan, President of SCC, Abel Mo’ez Ibrahim, appointed by Tantawi as president of the Cairo Court of Appeal, and Hatem Bagato, a judge who was involved with Mubarak’s Minister of Interior, Habib El-Adly.

This election commission of Tantawi favorites swiftly eliminated his main competitor Suleiman, along with other less significant competitors like the MB strategist Khairat El-Shater and the Salafist Hazem Abou Ismail.

Now the expected scenarios in the upcoming “elections” are vague, and many, but the most significant speculations so far are the following:

  1. The military plans to stage a second coup; this scenario can be perpetrated by several means, one of the possibilities is allowing an Islamist like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, or another to become president, in order to justify another military coup.
  2. The elections are postponed intentionally destabilizing the country and, hopefully, forcing the people to demand military intervention to restore “stability”.
  3. Ahmed Shafiq, an army general, former Aviation Minister, and appointed as Prime Minister by Mubarak for a month in 2011, is named interim president for another transitional period. This outcome is unlikely given that SCAF dislikes Shafiq, due to older disputes between the old military guard and Aviation Ministry.

All scenarios are grim, yet there is one constant amidst all the confusion: the Islamist backed military generals will remain in power ever true to their Soviet training.

“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything. –Joseph Stalin

Cynthia’s next installment recounts the now dimly remembered democratic society that prevailed in Egypt for decades before Gamal  Abdel Nasser’s coup in 1952.