The Egyptian Presidency and rediscovering the couch

The Presidency

As Expected, the presidential race in Egypt has taken over the debate in all Egyptian social circles,virtual and real. The Political scene shifts to new front-runners by the second , and rumors around the nominees, and who of them is qualified to run and who has what nationality are both abundant and premature, especially that with every passing moment, the populace realizes more and more that they didn’t know much about the Nominees to begin with, and what they are finding out is not making them happy. And this entire process really got fired up the moment the Muslims Brotherhood announced the candidacy of Khairat ElShater for President.

I am not one to criticize that decision, since I do not share the view that the Muslim Brotherhood is the power-hungry opportunists everyone makes them out to be, and I believe that every decision they made they had to make. They need to remove the Ganzoury Government, cause Ganz-the old NDP weasel that he is- is burning money, spending like a drunken sailor, as if vowing to hand over to the MB a completely broke government, which in reality he will. Their attempt to highlight this was not met with favor from the SCAF, hence the beginning of their fight with them & their desire to remove the government. The ElShater nomination had to be made because of the AbulFotouh candidacy, with the Mid Cadres of the MB are grumbling over why they should vote for someone they don’t know or trust (SCAF’s candidate, whomever he is, as per the deal between them and the MB) when they can vote for AbulFotouh, whom they know and respect.

This forced the MB’s hand, either support AbulFotouh, at which case he would’ve defied the Supreme council of the MB and won, which is a very dangerous precedent to be set in an organization that operates on strict obedience to the Supreme Council’s decisions, or have one of their own run for President, in violation of the deal, to unify the votes of the Brotherhood, and since it has to be a strong figure, and Saad ElKatatny can only hold so many titles, it had to be Khairat ElShater, because no one else would be taken seriously by either their voters or the general public.

The Problem lies in the argument that the ElShater is a card that’s being used too soon, and will create more problems for the MB and ElShater himself, that anyone inside and outside the political scene considers it a miscalculation at best and a spectacularly dumb move at worst. This is an argument that should be respected, since it does have a lot more merit than its detractors believe. It’s a can of worms, and it got forced open, with far reaching consequences than anyone originally anticipated.

The Problematic Nomination

To put in laymen’s terms, the Khairat ElShater’s nomination will cause problems in five major areas: Inside the MB, the political scene, the public, ElShater’s personal life, and the Media.

  1. Inside the MB: The grumbling inside the MB over ElShater control of everything is really irking the members, who are not happy with the Brotherhood’s decisions, positions, and the hierarchical structure that ElShater is attempting to impose on their flat structure in order to fully control them. This is further heightened by the AbulFotouh campaign itself, and how many ex-MB members are coming out of the woodwork with open criticism and dirty laundry to air to the public, which is turning off the Youth of the Brotherhood from its organization and message as well. The speak of a real split inside the MB is not false nor exaggerated, with many members believing that a case of disintegration has afflicted their beloved organization, and its decay will be accelerated by the presidential competition between ElShater and Abulfotouh, eventually splintering a sizeable part of it forever. Even their political messaging, painting ElShater as this age’s Prophet Joseph, has been met with derision even amongst the MB’s rank and file. Win or lose, the MB, as a whole, will be in a weaker state by the time the Presidential elections is over.
  2. The Political scene: The Nomination stoked the rhetoric that the MB is trying to replicate the NDP and completely control all branches of the government. This has lead to: panic-turned-into-aggression amidst the different non-islamist political parties; landing the final straw for all the revolutionary movements; and the calls, by ex-regime sympathizers and nonaffiliated voters, for a military strongman candidate who they want to use fascist tactics to end the reign of the Brotherhood. This further emboldened by the way the nomination announcement was made, given that the Supreme Guide was the one to announce it on behalf of the FJP, which lead to all sorts of questions ranging from how separate the FJP really is from the MB, what exactly are the functions and powers of the Supreme guide and whether ElShater winning will mean that the Supreme Guide will be the one truly ruling the country, since ElShater, like all MB members, have sworn an oath of loyalty and obedience to that man and the MB’s decisions. In all cases, the MB finds itself more isolated than ever, will garner neither support nor sympathy by any other political force in the country by any of the groups, even if it’s against SCAF and even by the people who oppose SCAF the most. There is a word to how they all feel, and its contempt; and it’s not going away!
  3. The Public: The MB’s votes already splintered, the centrists will no longer be swayed by them, especially that the MB announced the nomination as a revolutionary act against the interfering SCAF. People can argue whether this disagreement is real or make-belief, either way the average Mo, who supports the army and fears civil conflict, will be turned off and shy away from them. With every other group already having a candidate that’s not ElShater, one has to wonder on whose votes he is counting.
  4. ElShater’s life: The man who has always been working in the shadows is now supposed to woo the public, who are both getting to know him and his family, all ten children of them. They are a publicist’s nightmare, since most of his 10 children are active social media users and are getting now pursued and interviewed by the Media, where they always end up saying things they shouldn’t say. I don’t think ElShater considered how this nomination will affect his and his family’s life, or more importantly, his professional life. The Presidency requires qualifications, and ElShater’s high profile will lead to people examining his own, and his business dealings, which will never end positively for a population that, fairly or unfairly, has grown resentful of the rich businessman types.
  5. The Media: Nominating yourself to a political office in Egypt, from a personal experience, is one of the most terrifyingly vulnerable experiences that anyone could go through, for it brings you out into the open and allows everyone to poke at you. Given that the Egyptian Media is both unprofessional and sensationalist in its reporting in order to gain customers, their desire for sensationalist news or information that could be turned into a scandal is insatiable, which is usually fed by agents of the security apparatuses in the regime for their own purposes. The moment the nomination door closes I envision a meeting between a government spook and journalists from every newspaper, where he hands them each a different file with all the dirt over a specific business transaction that ElShater or the MB have made, as a gift to the newspapers who need to sell their issues to survive. Expect the following stories: Khairat ElShater and the Business of the MB, Khairat ElShater’s money laundering operations, the land deals of the MB, etc.. They will basically turn him into the Islamist Ahmed Ezz, which will tarnish his image, and subsequently the MB’s, considerably, and enforcing the rhetoric that they are the new NDP and should be treated as such.

 

The AbulFotouh Vendetta

In the midst of all of this, it’s hard not to believe that the AbulFotouh’s campaign is becoming less about AbulFotouh leading the country, and more about the very personal political cage-match between him and ElShater over the MB. The whole thing is looking more and more like a personal vendetta between those old frenemies, and upon close inspection it does open up a few questions about AbuElFotouh himself. For starters, who says that he is really fighting a reformist fight inside the MB and that’s why the Old Guard forced him out, and not that he is simply someone who found himself slowly but surely being excluded from the circle of Power inside the MB and all the monetary & personal benefits that comes with it, and is therefore waging this war against them for revenge purposes, and using the reformist rhetoric to hide his true agenda? Would that really be an unfair presumption, given that this is exactly the situation that most of his supporters who are ex-MB, like Mohamed Habib, are ex-MB for precisely that reason? Or that he, more than anyone, knows- and doesn’t care- that his candidacy is slowly but surely destroying an old organization that he proudly states to be honored for being a part of and loves dearly, for his own egoistic reasons and ambitions? What kind of reformist strategy that aims to not embolden the reformist wing inside an organization and lead to its enforcing its will, but rather to cause them to split with the organization all together and join his camp? How will this lead to anything other than the other camp solidifying their power with what’s left of the organization of loyal supporters and beneficiaries, and having their rule or antics no longer challenged or questioned by anyone internally?

I am not saying that AbulFotouh is evil or malicious, but a little skepticism and cynicism are both utterly necessary and healthy before supporting a man, who happens to be a politician, for the position of highest office of the country, especially that his CV, while respectful and all, doesn’t qualify him for a position of that magnitude to begin with. Also, in the midst of all the ruckus, no one has done a proper job of documenting and examining his positions to begin with, especially that the man is infamous amidst those who are paying attention of changing his position based on the venue at which he is speaking. Quick, can someone tell me what is AbulFotouh’s position regarding the Israeli Peace agreement, or Sharia implementation? In the former he has three different positions that correlate to the target audience of whichever TV Channel he went on, whether liberal, State-owned or Islamists, and they range from respecting the Peace Process and the agreement with some reservations, to stating that it’s against Egyptian sovereignty and must therefore be changed, to rejecting any ties, agreements or relations with Israel completely. Don’t take my word for it, research it, and while you are at it, please see what he says about Sharia in secular Channels like ONTV and contrast that with what he says on Islamist channels. Try it. It’s a rather fun exercise.

Hazem Salah Abu Ismael People

In the midst of the fight within the MB’s camp between the financiers and the rebels, it’s important not to forget the third Islamist heavyweight, Hazem Salah AbuIsmael, whose base is the much ignored segment of islamist voters, the crazy fanatics, just because it has come to light that his Mother was a US citizen and thus should be legally disqualified from running. Neither will AbuIsmael give up his candidacy that easily without a serious legal challenge, nor will his supporters accept such a decision without causing problems. AbuIsmael may not have the widest base of supporters, but he does have the most fanatic ones, and they have already vowed violence if he is not allowed to run. Given that they are so loopy that they believe that 1) He is the most honest man in the country, even though he did caught redhanded in public lying about his mother’s nationality; 2) his Mom’s passport was fabricated by the US as a conspiracy to disqualify him from running, and that the SCAF are in on it, so it’s not out of the range of the possible to imagine them clashing with everyone from the supporters of his political competitors to the army itself for his sake. Think am exaggerating? Think again. It’s already happening.

Omar Soliman’s candidacy

On Top of this mess, comes the nomination of Omar Soliman as the proverbial icing on top of our political shitcake. The Ex-VP of Mubarak, and the man who is regarded worldwide as one of the world’s most powerful spooks, is throwing his hat in the ring one day after announcing that he is not running, and turning the entire political scene on its head. He has huge name recognition and technically has the most presidential of all CV’s presented, but he is also a military man, an intelligence man, and Mubarak’s VP, which are all huge weak points against him. Also, the assumptions of his winning the support of the population, fair and square, is suspect. The man operates brilliantly in the shadows, but the moment he is thrust into the light, like last year, he can’t escape looking scary as hell in the Media. Ironically, this is the main reason his supporters love him, for he looks like the kind of strongman daddy-figure that they need and crave. His supporters believe that he is the only one capable of stopping (and hopefully locking up) the Islamists for good, and just like the ElShater’s supporters, they have given him an Islamic-based packaging: The Messiah-figure. He who will solve all, bring back security and order, and save this country, especially from ElShater and his ilk. While as equally naïve as ElShater’s Joseph thing, there is one main difference: Soliman’s supporters actually and truly believe that he is really the messianic savior that they need, and have shown that in the speed and ferocity they have shown in collecting his support credentials. As of now, our election has the modern day’s Joseph, the Messiah, and the Demigod known as AbuIsmael. Oh Yeah!

The Six Truths

This all leads to my conclusion, which is really comprised of the following 6 simple truths:

  1. Public Support is Bullshit: After Saad ElSoghayer’s ( a famous Sha3by singer in Egypt) stunt of collecting 55,000 letters of agency to run for President in a week and showing up with his supporters, the trick of giving the image of massive public support by showing up with thousands of supporters (a.k.a the AbuIsmael strategy) no longer works. It’s actually impossible to gauge who has real public support now, since almost everyone who is running can mobilize thousands in a country of 50 million voters.
  2. Our Intelligentsia and Elite are failures: The course of this revolution, and the nature of the candidates, makes it obvious the depth of failure that has befallen that our country’s Elite. The entire Egyptian Elite and Intelligentsia, and not a single acceptable, plausible, electable presidential candidate? Are you kidding me?
  3. The newly-elected President won’t be able to solve anything: Whomever wins, our next President will have to deal with a MB & Salafi controlled Parliament that might not last very long, a military that very much acts independently and follows its own agenda, a government that is unlikely to solve any of the compiling problems, and yet to be defined, by parliament’s constitutional committee, powers, responsibilities and job description. Either way you look at it, at least one of those forces is a problem for each candidate.
  4. We are heading into a crisis: While for most people the fight within those forces will determine the shape of the state, they forget that there is no state to speak of right now. We are heading into a crisis as a country, with the failing economy, rising prices, the failure of almost every sector of government services, and the outbreak of crime. Also, the idea of the strong President who will solve it all is breaking, since whomever will win will be someone that the majority either hates or voted for because they had no other option. We are entering the era of The Minority President, so what pull can he really have?
  5. We will finally know the true size of each Player: All of our impressions about the candidates are based on media interviews and social media presence, which are misleading at best. Who would lead a better campaign, Soliman or ElShater? Can Abulfotouh really get the centrist votes? Where is the Moussa campaign? Do the people actually know those candidates; especially that none of them has managed to score more than 18% recognition amidst the public in any poll?
  6. We will witness the show of a lifetime: Everything that already happened is nothing, since the official campaigning has not even started yet, and we are playing democracy with a population that so far doesn’t have democratic values, nor does it have any impartial media to inform them. This will be insanely entertaining!

     

Basically, we are about to encounter two months of political mayhem that no one can control or stop, so relax, get the popcorn, rediscover your couch, as I am rediscovering mine, and enjoy the show.

This will be SO AWESOME! :D

Comments

  1. If MB betrayed SCAF by its nomination, it doesn’t explain why it would fully pardon him (after his much earlier release) just a few weeks before his nomination to enable him to run. Other senior breakaway MBs said about this that it’s obvious that they have a deal.

  2. Moussa got something like 30% or more (leading with notable margin) in the polls just before El Shater entering the race, with Abu Ismael somewhere in 20%.

    I’m of course not Egyptian and cannot judge what does “Where is the Moussa campaign?” mean in real terms.

  3. The poll is right here: http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/36/122/38270/Presidential-elections-/Presidential-elections-news/Moussa-leads-presidential-race-at–pct,-but–pct-o.aspx

    “Amr Moussa, remained on top with 31.5 per cent of the votes”

    “Abu-Ismail who received 22.7 per cent of the votes”

  4. Magda Habib says:

    You as one of the so called Elite and who tried his hand in the past elections ,should not encourage us to go back to the couch, but try to suggest something that can be done, even if it is the swan dance , as everyone is so deflated now , and it does not help to feel so helpless.

  5. Waleed Sonbol says:

    What your proposing – to grab some popcorn and watch – is probably the most reckless thing one can suggest. In fact, when looking at your 6 simple truths, it is that mentality that leaves #2 very true.

    Instead of talking about a media, you can use your “micro celebrity” status and educate the public. You can put pressure on the candidates. You and your groups of “educated and talented” friends (used from one of your previous tweets). Hold community workshops about people should want. What they should look for. What democracy really is. Go to these candidates functions and if there is a Q&A session, ask the important questions.

    You have the ability to make a difference just through your twitter feed. The unfortunate part is that once u lost your election you went from hope for the future and the revolution continues to nothing but criticism of candidates for the most ridiculous reasons (why the fuck does it matter if El Shater has ten kids – there is nothing more unprofessional than asking that question) and lets all sit back and just.

    The MB have been playing the long game for decades. The liberals gave up after a year. If that continues, I would rather not have any liberals in charge – the last thing a great country needs as it gets on its feet, and ascends to it’s rightful place as “oum el donia” is group who whine better than they lead.

    • Waleed, you have a point in that the public needs to be educated, and who better to do this than those involved in the revolution, as they really are more educated in politics than the average Egyptian citizen.

      That said, how would Mahmoud, or anyone, go about reaching the majority of people? The media seems to be controlled, and not the least bit interested in helping to educate people in the ways of politics.

      I’ve been saying for months that the people need the truth, that Mahmoud is a good person to educate, but if there is no platform from which to do this, no way to reach the masses, then he will be preaching to the choir.

      Remember, the majority of Egyptian voters are not reading Twitter. If they are to be taught about politics and how to become democratically saavy, it has to be done on the ground, out in the field.

  6. Dude, best blog post since forever. Insightful and short.

  7. Not one of my favorite posts. It is cynical and passive.
    I do believe that it is hard for seculars (non-Islamists) to win in the immediate and short-term but they need to target, let’s say, 2020 as the year they take Egypt back. For more details check these posts on Liberal Koshari:
    http://www.liberalkoshari.com/2012/03/2020-make-it-year-egyptians-take-egypt.html?utm_source=BP_recent
    And:
    http://www.liberalkoshari.com/2012/03/egypt-what-if-scenario.html?utm_source=BP_recent

  8. Your Arab Spring was premature, thrown when the ground was still frozen and the seeds of true democracy, freedom and equality had zero chance of taking root. I fear you are in for a much harsher and longer winter than you ever experienced under Mubarak.

  9. k sabra says:

    what we had for the last 30 or 60 years is like cancer… you can’t cure cancer with Asprine. we will need much more work. the hardest part will be working with the public. changing the people is too hard. what our generations did was we quit, we can say we went thru a lot, 2 revolutions, 4 wars and complete change in every aspect of our lives… you are just starting don’t give up… no body thought you can get rid of Mubarak but you did it… now we can dream and we fear no body… this is a great achievement… so please don’t ever think of destroying that… that goes to all your generation. thank you all

  10. Maryanne Stroud says:

    And last night’s events have tossed everyone on their heads as the election committee declared most of the important candidates ineligible to run. It’s pretty hard to be working towards a goal of a particular candidate under these circumstances, so it would make sense to expend as much energy as possible on grass roots education (like, omigod, actually working in the villages and poor neighbourhoods) so that people can make whatever choices they make with a modicum of real information. Since many people have video enabled phones but no internet connection, spreading information through phones by bluetooth would be a good project for our extremely tech-savvy activists.