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Egypt: The Storm that Never Happened

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) promised it backers, the Egyptians, and the world that Egypt will witness a storm on January 25th which may topple President Abdel Fatah Al Sissi. The date came and passed and almost nothing happened. Few demonstrations here and there took place however, but with no response from the general public.

Two factors played a role in making the day a storm that never happened: The wave of threats by security authorities that force will be used against protestors and the isolation of the MB. The failed attempt by the group reflects as well the degree of Egyptians’ uncertainty of what will follow Sissi if he is to go.

The MB recently suffered one of its biggest ever organizational cracks. Its traditional leadership staged an internal counter offensive against the block of its members which called for an overall “renewal” of the group. The rebel block criticized the leadership of the Guidance Office (Maktab Al Irshad) mercilessly during almost a year in which it controlled some organizational bodies in Egypt and outside. The critics blamed the Office for the tragic end of former President Mohamad Morsi and the isolation of the organization. The traditional leadership fired the rebels and regained control over the organizational forums they used.

One of the prominent leaders of the MB, Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, tried few months ago to intermediate between the two factions inside the organization. He proposed then that internal elections be conducted with the two sides refraining from running. The old guards considered the Sheikh’s proposal ill-willed and rejected it.

They also rejected the mediation effort of Khaled Mesh’al, the leader of Hamas which is an organization of MB in Gaza. The old guards carried on with the plan to assert the traditional leadership control. The acting Murshed (Leader) Mahmoud Ezzat fired all the rebels. There was little organizational backlash after the decision which ended a protracted period of internal disputes and reinstated the full control of Maktab Al Irshad. Yet, this did not reflect in any noticeable way on the continuation of the organization popular isolation in Egypt.    

However, this isolation should not be mistakenly taken as support to the current regime. What is clear now is that Egypt is going down the same road of former President Hosni Mubarak. This risks to lead to domestic troubles yet again. If the MB are to make a comeback as they did after their prosecution under Gamal Abdel Nasser, they will face no resistance from any real political force. Currently there is none in Egypt, hence no power to confront the MB other than the government’s security agencies. If the government is to collapse again, as it did five years ago, the MB would be the only organized force using the vacuum to grab the political power.

Urban youth are considered by the Mubarak State, which rules now after regaining power, as a source of troubles and are denied any political rights. They are needlessly looked at as a threat, hence turned into enemies, and no serious attempt to gain their support was ever done.

On the other hand, the regime is still unable to forge a proper social coalition to base its diminishing, yet still real, popularity. The reason is simple: Sissi is either unable or hesitant to use his personal weight in the street to lineup the wings of the state in one cohesive whole. The level of internal fighting inside the State machine is indeed alarming. The components of the State did not yet strike any internal modus operandi if they ever will.

In previous cases, like that of May 15, 1971 “political massacre” run by former President Anwar Al Sadat, the Presidential Palace staged an internal coup designed by the former President himself to get rid of the Nasserists who were then controlling almost all of the State machine. Sissi had an opportunity to do the same when his popularity among the Egyptians was enough to make him almost untouchable. He squandered the opportunity or he may have been over cautious of the threat of the MBs.

It is obvious that Sissi is not a gambler. But trying to straighten up the State machine in one coup is better than losing his political fight by points. And it is certainly better than resorting to crude police tactics as the ones currently used. The President seemed to have taken the responsibility of rebuilding the State without considering the misdeeds of this very machine once it is reinstated. Now, it is this machine that represents the most serious threat to the whole regime, the same way it did in the countdown to the 2011 revolt. The problems facing the regime are seen from the narrow perspective of the security agencies and not in any profound political evaluation.

Sissi seems to be fighting on several fronts at the same time. His bid is that economic improvements will improve the general conditions in which the regime finds itself faced with. Yet, so long as he refrains from playing the role of the Maestro with an orchestra which plays in harmony, it is almost impossible to reach the safety shores. In Egypt, there is now neither a Maestro nor an orchestra. The maestro is absorbed by the huge economic challenges while members of the orchestra are either fighting each other or each playing according to his own notes.

The MB tried to portray the few unnoticed protests and bombings last January 25th as a storm. But it was a windless storm. The MB still has a long way before it finds another opportunity similar to the one given to them by President Sadat. The organization is not the same. Egypt is not the same. And the regime is aware of their existential threat to the State in Egypt.

As we said before, the MB before the Arab Spring is not the same organization as it was after that storm. The Islamist organization looks at terms like the people, public revolt, revolution, control of the State, popular political activism and political mass organizing in a different way. One of the major effects of the Arab Spring is that it settled the historical caution of the organization towards the masses and the idea of a political popular revolt.

The impact of this transformation ended once and for all the gulf that existed between the organization and direct political activism amongst the public.

And Egypt is indeed not the same. Regime’s security agencies seem to mistakenly equate the potentials of public revolt with a group of activists. Reality goes exactly the opposite way. Activists on their own cannot create a revolt. But a public revolt creates thousands of them. This is why the question that should face this security machine is not “who?”. It should be “Why”?

And to answer this second question, they will find one of the keys if they look at any close by mirror.     

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