What is happening to Egyptians?

Interview with Shaden Shehab about Egypt’s political, economic and social dilemmas – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Galal Amin, December 17, 2013.

Three years after the revolution Egypt is still in a state of turmoil. Why?

  • Egypt is definitely in a mess, economically, politically, culturally, psychologically and security wise. It is not just a minority that feels this. Everybody does. But before trying to explain this we need to remember how different our feelings were in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster. Then we were exceedingly optimistic. We felt we had got rid of a corrupt regime and that Egypt could turn a new page.   
  • That past optimism heightens our present disappointment. There is a feeling of shock when we contrast our feelings before and after. The same thing was repeated — though to a lesser degree — following 30 June. Five months ago we again thought we were on the way to finding a pathway out of our economic, political and security crises, but we were again disappointed.

So why aren’t we?

  • No one can give a definite answer. Some will emphasise one factor in a complex equation, others a different factor.
  • The two revolutions through which we have passed can be called à la mode revolutions. They are revolutions in a new fashion. In the past a revolution was deemed to have succeeded when the people who made it took over and began to govern. This was what happened in 1952. The young army officers who made the revolution took over and implemented revolutionary decisions like the land reform law and the dissolution of political parties.
  • The 25 January Revolution was made by the young and not so young but then others took over. First came the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which appointed prime ministers associated with the old regime. Then we had presidential elections in which the public was presented with a choice between Ahmed Shafik, a member of the old regime who wanted to drag Egypt back 30 years, and Mohamed Morsi, a man barely known to the public and who wanted to drag the country back at least three centuries. Then 30 June brought a series of non-revolutionary figures to the fore, whether in government — with the exception of two or three ministers — or the interim president himself.
  • Our revolutions of 2011 and 2013 were peaceful, they were neither a coup d’état like that of Nasser nor violent like the French and the Russian, which is why it was admired around the world. But we paid a price for this. I’m not saying there should have been violence but we must look at what actually followed.

But who was going to fill the gap given the absence of any credible revolutionary leaders?

  • I don’t agree this was the case. Young revolutionary figures with leadership qualities could have been included in the government but they were not. Many people including myself proposed the idea of a presidential council that would have consisted of young people but it was rejected by SCAF. It will always be resisted.
  • The so-called dialogues that took place one after the other were between the people who belong to the older generation. Younger people were never given a chance. The issues and measures that were being discussed could never be described as revolutionary.

Many argue that the youth movements failed to throw up any convincing leaders. If they had the public would probably have rallied behind them.

  • But whose fault is it? The media didn’t help. Those who were in control didn’t make it easy. There were some young people who wanted to become presidential candidates but one way or another they were excluded.

There is a perception that the only thing Egypt’s revolutionary youth are capable of is protesting against the regime. They are not fighting to become part of the decision-making process or presenting solutions of their own

  • But there is no avenue open to them except to protest. They never saw any opening or received any encouragement to be included in the political process, whether under Mubarak or after.
  • However, I don’t blame people who no longer sympathise with the revolutionary youth. The fact is many are sick and tired of the economic situation.

But Tamarod comprised young people and it played a leading role in the 30 June Revolution. Some even go so far as to argue it was instrumental in organising the mobilisation that got rid of Morsi’s regime. Why were they successful?

  • The people were fed up with Morsi’s rule. It was dislike of the Muslim Brotherhood that moved the people.

Will the referendum on the constitution — the first step on the roadmap — lead us beyond the current mess?

  • I am pessimistic, not just for the short term outlook but beyond it. Of course, in the long run, some progress will have to be made. Unfortunately, real progress will take some time.
  • Formulating a constitution has taken too long and in the end is not the real issue. The most important thing is how whoever is in power interprets it. The endless bickering over one or two words; I’d like the people who engaged in these quarrels to give one practical example of how it might make a real, concrete difference.

Will things be clearer after presidential and parliamentary elections?

  • To put it bluntly, the influence of foreign powers is much more important than people think. In Al-Mashrek Al-Araby Wal Gharb (The Arab East and the West) and Keset Al-Iktesad Al-Masry (The Story of the Egyptian Economy), I wrote about how, over the last 200 years, the ups and downs of the Egyptian economy have been MAINLY a result of foreign interference. We may appear to be more independent now but really we are not.
  • There is one new development that offers optimism, and that is the Iranian nuclear deal which is likely to be good for us. Without going into details the deal is not in Israel’s interests. It represents a fundamental shift in American policy. There is a degree of clarification happening in the international arena and it is possibly to Egypt’s advantage. It opens up an opportunity for better decisions to be made by those at the top of the decision-making process, and for the Muslim Brotherhood to be dealt with more firmly. Qatar’s eclipse in regional politics will have a positive outcome. It has been playing a far from positive role.

Yet the message being fed to the public is that there is a foreign conspiracy against Egypt and that we must unite to face that. Are there not attempts to escape the yoke of foreign interference?

  • How can this happen when no one admits that we are being played with? Without first acknowledging what is happening we cannot move on.

What qualities should the next president possess? … //

… Some observers predict a third revolution:

  • I don’t think such predictions hold much water, not when people have passed through two revolutions already and seen how little has changed.

(full interview text).

NSA Update Dec 27, 2013 / 11.20 MEZ:

Links:

Video: Christmas 1914, All Together Now, 3.59 min, on Socialist Unity, by John Wight, Dec 25, 2013;
(also on YouTube: ALL TOGETHER NOW – THE FARM, 3.58 min, uploaded by Rick Rogan, June 15, 2013);

Hopes for the future: In the clash between a past that refuses to be past and a present that has yet fully to come into being, we must all reaffirm the essential values of the Arab Spring, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Galal Nassar, Dec 17, 2013;

Finding its feet? Aid from the Gulf has been the lifeline for an Egyptian economy hard hit by violence in 2013, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Sherine Abdel-Razek, Dec 17, 2013.

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