The more things change these days in Cairo, the more they stay the same.
A cabinet reshuffle that has been “imminent” for more than a few weeks, has come and gone and nothing has really changed.
Of the nine new ministers nearly all are either members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and/or its political arm, The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), or considered sympathetic. There is nothing unusual about that if this was a cabinet reflecting a parliamentary majority held by the ruling party. But the ruling party - the FJP/MB - never had a parliamentary majority, even when there was still a parliament. They had a plurality and were the senior partner of an “Islamist majority,” except there was no real partnership in that “Islamist” parliamentary majority.
In any revolutionary context – be it Socialist or Islamist or Democratic – political power, as Mao Tse Tung observed, grows out of the barrel of a gunAbdallah Schleifer
What happened? The Salifist al-Nour Party came in a strong second place and that party’s representation was added to that of the FJP/MB. But al-Nour has now joined the opposition, not joining the official opposition alliance, the National Salvation Front (NSF), but supporting the demands of the NSF. These demands called for Mursi’s Prime Minister Hisham Kandil to be replaced by a “neutral” figure in the run-up to the forthcoming parliamentary elections. They also demand a new cabinet that includes representation from opposition political parties and technocrats as well as Brotherhood affiliates to supervise those elections.
The increased role for MB/FJP members or supporters in the new cabinet follows only a week after Mursi expressed his willingness to go along with a largely critical judiciary in pursuit of judicial reform, implying less partisanship at the top.
The positive aspects?
Well, one of the most articulate members of the FJP/MB leadership, Amr Darag, is now in the cabinet (as minister of planning and international cooperation) which should at least mean more coherent quotations from an official source.
A significant move includes the appointment of the third finance minister since Mursi took office and his Prime Minister Hisham Kandil formed his first cabinet. That and Mursi’s persistent foreign travel –right now to Brazil, having already visited most of the other BRICS countries (a group of successful economies that stand as a growth driven alternative to the faltering EU and a barely coasting along USA). So the basic plank of FJP/MB’s economic program remains unchanged; more foreign investment and when available, grants and loans to get Egypt through this difficult time, with hard currency reserves continuing to shrink.
A bitter comment on the state of Egypt
But this is a perspective that puts the cart before the horse. As long as there is continuing and significant labor unrest, because of the failure of the government to recognize the independent trade union leadership and draw them into a participatory rather than confrontational relationship, as long as the security situation remains feeble, with continuous reports of kidnappings, sexual assaults and car thefts, investments will remain also feeble.
Investment has also been hampered by the impossible traffic jams here in Cairo (often because the increasing modus operandi of choice for protesters is to cut roads). Older buildings, even in historic neighborhoods, are being demolished and quickly replaced by new, high rise buildings regardless of zoning constraints.
It is a bitter comment on the state of things, that in the days before the Tahrir Uprising , one had to have a lot of money and significant influence with the Mubarak family or the leadership of Mubarak’s ruling party to seize land illegally or build illegally, but now, in the new democratic spirit, anyone can do it.
Needless to say the opposition NSF can only repeat its threat to boycott the forthcoming parliamentary elections, since their conditions for participation have not been met, but the NSF is getting less and less media attention, even in the anti-government independent press . This is a movement most visible when the NSF leaders hold yet another press conference threatening not to participate – in whatever – unless its demands are met, and that is what is supposed to pass for political activity instead of cadres building grass roots support in urban neighborhoods and rural villages, responding to local issues.
The consolidation of power
One could argue that the MB/FJP is not governing effectively because all of its energy is going into consolidating power rather than effectively exercising power. But that observation, while correct, is also an over-simplification. The primary concern may not be consolidation so much as patronage. The MB cadre has endured a good part of 80 years in clandestine circumstances – careers and the business interests of its cadre have suffered. Now the movement is in power and the long suffering cadre, by and large with little administrative experience precisely because they were barred from public service, clamor for positions they are not necessarily qualified to hold.
The opposition, however, suspects that consolidation is an attempt to instigate a revolution from the top – but neither new civil servants nor favored businessmen can start a revolution from the top – only the armed forces can. And neither President Mursi nor even the MB Supreme Guide Muhammed Badie is Gamal Abdul Nasr. Furthermore the MB Guidance Council is not the Nasserist Free Officers Revolutionary Command Council.
In any revolutionary context – be it Socialist or Islamist or Democratic – political power, as Mao Tse Tung observed, grows out of the barrel of a gun. In Iran - in the face of massive demonstrations and an initial broad coalition that ranged from the Communist Tudor party and the New Left Marxists of Mujahidin al-Khulq to Islamists to liberal democrats - the Iranian Army collapsed, and Khomeini could at will drastically reorganize the officer corps and quickly bring to arms an Islamist Revolutionary Guard.
Here then is another sign of the times. On April 25th, a festival featuring popular singers was organized by Future University to celebrate Sinai Liberation Day. In attendance were leading political figures, journalists and military officers as well as Future University students. At the end, General Sisi spoke: “Don’t be afraid about Egypt, as long as the Egyptian Army is on its feet.” The applause was thunderous.
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary "Control Room" and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”