Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SCAF, MB and Political Failures

The best way to follow events in Egypt is through a judicious selection of Twitter accounts, but in blog form, Issandr El-Amrani has some points worth noting. One is his assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood:
"I often think the Brothers' biggest problem is not that they are fundamentalist, or out of touch with the Egyptian mainstream, or too radical. It's that they are perceived, rightly, as schemers by average people. It's true of their leaders, at least, and it's what has made so many bright young people leave them in recent years and so many others doubt their intentions."

Over the past few decades, much of the leadership class of the Muslim Brotherhood did what other Egyptian elites did, and calculate how best to function in an undemocratic regime where some dissent was tolerated and cooption often a possibility. The leaders of major parties, such as the longtime opposition Wafd Party, have carried this mentality over to post-Mubarak Egypt, with the SCAF as the new rulers and referees in the competition for influence. Issandr also comments on this situation:
"The failure of SCAF's transition over the last nine months is not theirs alone. It is that of a good part of the political class that said nothing when key former regime figures where left alone for months, and Mubarak was in Sharm al-Sheikh with his sons. It is that of the Egyptian elite that went back to its privileged lifestyle and did nothing to address the social injustice in the country. Not to always compare things to Tunisia, but there the private sector, trade unions and the government got together and negotiated 10-15% salary increases across the board. They bought social peace by renegotiating the social contract.

"In Egypt you get the feeling that the upper class has completely ignored the social roots of the January uprising, and at the same time backed a return to similar kinds of politics of patronage, where parties and movements try to buy the poor with handouts and cheap meat at Eid. People don't want to be given charity, they want to be given social rights. This too is political — it's not about economic mismanagement. It's not about an uprising of the poor. It's about the political vision for a social economy.

"Whether it's about police brutality, social change or politics, my feeling is that Egyptians want to feel like they've actually had a revolution. Whoever gives them that feeling might win the people in Tahrir over."

Some people passionately argue that events, not just in Egypt, but elsewhere in the Arab world, have been about rights and dignity rather than economic circumstances, as if the latter were somehow a soiled motive. The two spheres often go together, however.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has a good roundup of analysis.



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