Egyptian uncertainties

Piazza Tahrir piena di manifestanti il 3 febbraio 2011.

Mentre il malcontento popolare potrebbe tornare a scuotere i poteri in Egitto, Omeganews riporta il parere di un giovane ma esperto analista circa gli attuali equilibri politici e le possibili conseguenze della fase di transizione che vive il paese, in bilico tra forze improntate alla tradizione politico-militare, la necessità di ascoltare la crescente domanda di riforme e le pressioni ideologiche salafite. La strada che seguirà avrà impatti sulla stabilità dell’area e potrebbe essere un percorso da intraprendere da parte di anacronistici establishment di altri paesi del Medio Oriente alle prese con consapevoli e determinate spinte sociali in essere o pronte a manifestarsi.

OMeGANews: Ziad Akl Mossa is senior Analyst of the Cairo-based Al Ahram Foundation. Last January/February he was in Tahrir Square among the demonstrators whose action triggered Hosny Mubarak’s ousting after a 30-year long Presidency.Mr. Akl-Moussa, may you discuss about these events and explain what exactly moved the demonstrations against Mubarak’s regime?

ZAM: Mainly what moved the people was the high level of corruption a in all different aspects of the Egyptian society, the extreme repression of the state and of course the violent approach the police had against almost all the demonstrations demanding political and human rights. Importantly, the issue of succession in Egypt, that was not been particularly brought to public attention, was a chief catalyst for the protesters in view of the possible election of Hosny Mubarak’s son after the death of the President. Furthermore, November 2010 wicked parliamentary elections which turned out a Parliament totally dominated by the National Democratic Party was certainly among the causes of popular dissatisfaction.

You said the police used a violent methods in reacting against the uprisings: why did not the army intervene against the demonstrators? Were soldiers driven by a sense of solidarity with the protesters or do you think the military establishment caught the opportunity to oust Mubarak’s regime in order to strengthen its position?

During later years there was a heated argument between the army and the regime over the growing role of the police which was visibly favored economically by the country leadership and which started to have a political role particularly inflated by the political regime. On occasion of the massive protests, the army was only called to the streets when the police collapsed. The simple calculation done by the army officials was that investing in Egyptian people proved a lot more profitable than an investment in Mubarak’s regime which lost significant political leverage by the time the Army was in the streets and there is absolutely no historical precedent in the history of modern Egyptian army of firing a shot against Egyptian civilians. The army in Egypt is highly institutionalized, it is an institution on its own which would have survived with or without Mubarak, I think this was the determining factor for them in choosing the people’s side because it was aware of its survival after Mubarak regardless of the political regime. The army as a symbol of national solidarity remains a very strong agent.

May we try to identify and assess which are the powers during current transitional phase that may take the lead in the new Egyptian political framework?

First of all there are the Liberals, maybe we could say they are 25 to 30% of the Egyptian political force, they are well funded since there are many businessmen behind the newly emerged four Egyptian liberal parties. Moreover there are the Leftists who are not wealthy or economically funded as the liberals but who do enjoy a lot of political support specifically between the workers movements in the industrial cities of Egypt. Of course then there are the Islamists: the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots like the Freedom and Justice Party. They have huge popular support but presenting two main structural problems: they are not able to attract new political support since we are not witnessing any new members in the ranks of these movements, we are witnessing just new room of them to express their opinions, greater chances after so many years of repression that allow them to operate legitimately being, as a consequence, more apparent. A lot of the sympathy is with the Islamic values not with the Islamic political agenda these parties try to propose. Huge part of the Egyptian citizens are not politicized hence, in my opinion, the political forces who will dominate during coming period will be able to deliver policies built on agendas and not ideologies. What people care about is how to introduce policies that will affect the society’s quality of life. It seems that the Liberals and the other moderate political forces are more capable of drafting and implementing this policies rather than the Islamists.

May we agree that the Muslim Brotherhood did not play a significant role during the January and February uprisings?

The Muslim Brotherhood was on the streets but not during the first three days of revolution. They were not among the nucleus of the political activists who started the demonstrations on January 25th From January 28th, when incidents became very violent, the Muslim Brotherhood took the street and they had an effective role in countering the violence of the police we had to face in Tahrir Square. The youth were definitely all over Tahrir Square. But we have to bear in mind that the Muslim Brotherhood from 2005 until aforementioned Parliamentary elections held in 2010 was co-opted by the political regime. Generally, people were unsatisfied with them as they were with the regime. Only after that elections, when the regime made very clear there was no more presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Parliament they decided to be against the regime. Even with the military establishment their relation is very pragmatic, therefore the rigid ideological framework they claim to adhere to is not very prevalent as the most determinant factor that is where their interest lives. Currently MB mobilizing capability is weak, it is capitalizing upon Islam but, regarding its specific role in the revolution, MB tends to exaggerate a lot. Its participation was the same as other political and social movements.

Would you consider this growing political awareness within the Egyptian society a factor that might prevent a radical Islamization?

I do not think the Egyptian mentality and dominant culture is a pro extremism one. I believe Egyptians are more aligned towards a center-right government with Islamic values rather than radicalism. Evidence that support this thesis is offered by the demonstrations happened after the attacks against Christian worshipers in December 2010, well before the revolution, hundreds of thousands of Muslims took the streets to condemn those attacks. Meaningful spirit of sectarian reconciliation happened in Tahrir Square with Muslims protecting Christians when praying in the Square and Christians protecting Muslims whom, furthermore defended churches from the police intervention. Egyptian culture does not promote radicalism although it presents some radical elements that try to have influence but they will never be the majority and they will never influence a collective political action.

With respect to Egypt’s foreign policy, since the end of Mubarak’s government was there any significant signal regarding a shift of direction?

The most significant one was the change of the Foreign Affairs Minister. Former one – Ahmed Aboul-Gheit – was not presenting a good face of Egyptian foreign policy which was very compromised, reflecting neither the interests of Egyptian people nor the regime ones. The Army was very specific in making clear that all the international agreements previously signed will be respected in the course of the transitional phase. During the months preceding the revolution, Egyptian foreign policy showed it was going towards a more active phase. In particular the agreement signed in Cairo to reconcile the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, the very active policy towards other African countries, we started also to be active in cooperation with Turkey and with the EU, with the Germans as well as with Gulf Countries. There is growing sense of an engaging and moderate foreign policy. About Israel, there seems to be no provocative action on the ground yet the language changed. This change I think it was very necessary because the Mubarak’s regime foreign policy always put Egypt in a lower position than Israel. I believe people want a tet a tet relation with Israel without one of the two countries being in a higher position. The change in the language does not necessarily mean a change in the discourse. We just simply need a different phase of Egyptian foreign policy but not necessarily a very different phase of policy.

Thank you very much, please accept our best wishes for the future of Egyptian society.