‘Why does everyone hate the Brotherhood?’

Ibrahim Eissa, a fierce critic of the Mubarak regime and the editor of Egypt’s Al-Dostor newspaper, has a very interesting set of articles on the  hysteria surrounding the possibility of the  Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt.  Why do so many prominent voices disparage them and act as if their taking power would represent as serious threat to the public welfare?  What has the Ikhwan ever done to deserve such negative PR?  And more importantly, what evidence is there that suggests any imminent possibility of the Ikhwan actually taking power?

My translation/ summary:
“I heard an Egyptian businessman say that he was going to liquidate all of his assets if the Muslim Brotherhood took power.  I wondered what caused him to have such fear  since the Ikhwan has never reached power, in fact the only thing they have reached is Tora Prison. … A government person once complained to me that “you want to government to permit free elections and avoid intervention so that the Brotherhood wins and takes over the country.”    I replied ” Isn’t this an acknowledgement that the NDP’s platform has failed and has so little popular support that they need to manipulate elections to keep the MB from taking over?”   This wasn’t the first time I heard from high-level NDP officials that they need to manipulate elections for the interests of “the people.”   Everyone in Egypt, from the Government to the Opposition, even the people themselves, seems to think they have a unique understanding of what the people want.  As if  the the people are little kids who can’t think for themselves. … This is also the story that Gamal Mubarak and his allies sell to the US and the West to justify their interference in elections.

The Coptic Christians are equally frightened of the Ikhwan.  Notice how the Church maintains a silence on most issues, except for one occasion — when an MB candidate is running for office.  In this case, they break their silence and call on people to vote against him. … Coptic fear is manipulated by State Security who spread rumors such as  that the MB is trying to convert unmarried Christian women to Islam. 

There is also strong anti-Ikhwan  sentiments  from certain Intellectuals despite the fact that they are snobs who don’t “meet with the masses except in their elevators of buildings,” nor do they even know their neighbor’s names.  Yet, they still feel qualified to talk, in the name of the people, about the dangers of Egypt becoming a “theocratic” state.  (Of course the masses don’t know what a theocracy means). 

What’s strange/ unfortunate  is that these rumors reached their high-point during the Israeli aggression on Gaza whose people began to pay the price for being governed by a Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood.  All of this talk about the danger of the Ikhwan reaching power in Egypt leads people to lose their judgement and to believe that what Israel is doing is only a natural attack against Hamas terrorism.  As a result, the Palestinian Resistance pays the political price of this local hatred of the Ikhwan and leads to a preference for Ramallah- based forces which are a tool of Israel. 

Given this anti-Ikhwani hysteria, now we are compelled to take a serious look at the question “Is it possible that the MB can actually reach power in Egypt?’  Tomorrow, God willing, I will try and answer this question.  But I want you to remember that he Brotherhood has been around for 81 years and never reached power.    Tomorrow,   I will tell you the end of the story-  that the Brothers will never reach power in Egypt, either through elections or by force.”

Expect part two tomorrow along with my thoughts.

Speaking of Next Presidents…..

Who says election cycles are long only in America?  In Egypt, Presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and people are already planning.   But unlike America, what’s going to happen in Egypt is far more difficult to read.

Here’s what we know:  According to  Michelle  Dunne, if the stipulated constitutional procedures are followed, the most likely future President is Gamal Mubarak.  For example, each party’s Presidential Candidate must have served one year in a position of high party leadership and within the NDP there are only a few who would meet this requirement, which,  at least technically, rules out a candidate from the armed forces. 

However, in recent speeches, articles and interviews, Dia Rashwan, one of Egypt’s top commentators, has put forth several critical points of note:

1) A United Opposition Against Inheritance (Tawreeth);  Rashwan is calling for all opposition parties (defined as anyone not affiliated with NDP) to unite and reach a common anti-Tawreeth position. 

2) Next President Will Come From Army:  Rashwan predicts and supports this.  Contrary to common Western perceptions, Egyptians do not hate their government, but are not  happy with its performance.   In Egypt, the armed forces are prestigious, highly respected and seen as the nation’s caretaker.  In this context, Rashwan is not calling for more military dictatorship, but rather he sees the military as the sole institution that can put Egypt back on a Democratic track.

Points of Note: (from interview in Al-Dostor 11/5, p.4)
– Gamal Mubarak’s chances are weak because in Egypt the military is the chief source of power and Gamal has no connection to the military.  His chief source of power is his father (who will only be around for so long) …  President Mubarak has not given any indication that he wants his son to be President.  Since 2003 we have been talking about a struggle between the New and Old Gaurds within the NDP.  If there was a clear sign that President Mubarak wanted his son to be the next President, these struggles would not have occurred. .. The only clear sign is that he is not the next President but the son of the current President who practices politics. 

– Who supports Gamal within NDP?: 
The biggest businessmen are neutral and not linked to Gamal Mubarak.  He  has the support of a small number of businessmen who are connected to him personally and have benefited financially from this relationship. 

What about point 72 of the Constitution requiring one year of high party service?  Doesn’t this eliminate an armed forces candidate? 
If the armed forces decided to run a candidate they could probably get the necessary 250  signatures from the NDP and MPs (to get around that rule) .  On the possibility of an armed forces candidate coming from within the NDP, Rashwan notes that only two (Safwat Al-Shareef and Zakarias Azmi) have high level military experience… He also rules out possibility that army would support Gamal if he agreed to certain conditions, noting how hard it would be for them to ensure them once he took office.

I think Rashwan’s analysis is correct and have heard the same thing from other big name Egyptian commentators.  The big question, therefore,  is “how much power does Gamal Mubarak lose the minute he is not son of the President?”  One major Egyptian intellectual puts it at 95%.  If this correct, he has little chance of becoming President. 

I have argued in previous posts that Gamal Mubarak has the ability to gain enough public support to become the President.  He will have the support of some, such as the Copts, irregardless.  If he is perceived by the people as a serious reformer, he could gain popualr support, or at least, would not face widespread public opposition.   Perhaps this is why Rashwan is making such a push to have the opposition parties take a united stand against Inheritance.

Trends to watch in Egypt

I’ve been meaning to blog about specific articles on these topics but I keep procrastinating.  Here are a few trends  to watch out for in Egypt:

1) Gamal Mubarak vs Ahmed Azz:  Proving your Street Cred
Everyone assumes that Gamal is going to make a run at the Presidency, whenever that might happen.  To do so succesfully,  Mubarak  must gain a certain level of public support, which he could do.    What’s holding him back is the widespread public perception that the Egyptian government is run by corrupt self-serving millionaire businessmen.   Gamal Mubarak’s challenge is to prove his “street cred.” 

Two major NDP players and symbols of Big Business are well known to the Egyptian public.  The first is real-estate and construction mogul Talaat Mustafa, who is now on trial for the murder of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tammem.  If he is convicted and goes to jail (he currently faces the death penalty) this would probably help Gamal Mubarak because it’s hard (or at least harder) to argue that the Fat Cats are above the law when one of the most powerful is sent to Death Row for a crime that wasn’t even committed in Egypt.  As Dia Rashwan put a few months ago “they are sacrificing a member of the family to save the family.”

The second figure is Ahmed Azz, a traditional politically ally of Gamal,  who (allegedly) monopolizes the steel industry, and  is probably the number one symbol of Fat-Catism.   Say the word monopoly in EGypt and people will think you are referring to Ahmed Azz.    Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, without saying Azz’s name, has made statements arguing that Monopolistic practices are not permitted in Islam.   Any politician trying to prove their populist credentials (anywhere in any country) will try to distance themselves from billionare industrialists.   Selling yourself as different is essential.   Al-Dostor had an article last week talking about tension between the two (looking for link).  In the future, look for Gamal Mubarak to try and sell himself as “different” as part of a future Presidential candidacy.  

2) The Lebanon File: From the Foreign Ministry to the Mukhabaret
I have heard this from many different people and sources:  the balance of power within the  Egyptian foreign policy establishment seems to have shifted in favor of  Omar Suleiman’s Mukhabaret (Intel) and not the Foreign Ministry. 

The Lebanon file is one place where this is playing out.   Al-Dostor had a recent article titled “Has the Lebanon file moved from the Conriche Al-Nile to East Cairo?  (The Egyptian version of “From Foggy Bottom to Langley).    Egypt wants to renew its role in  Lebanon.   Lebanese President Suleiman will visit Cairo next month and Egypt is trying to restore its relations with Hezbollah, which is being handled by Suleman’s people.   Al-Dostor noted how Suleiman’s number two recently paid a visit to Beirut in an effort to coordinate these meetings. 

The shift in power  is most clear on the Israel-Palestine file.  Egypt doesn’t talk to its own Muslim Brotherhood, so its very difficult politically for them to meet, at the political level, with the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (HAMAS).  Hence, meetings between Egypt and Hamas have been almost exclusively at the Security (ie Suleiman’s people) level.

3) Dia Rashwan’s Proposal for How to Deal with the post-Mubarak political scene:
The noted Egyptian political commentator Dia Rashwan has recently put forth a political “action plan” for Egypt’s opposition.  He has some very interesting ideas which Media Shack readers will want to hear about.  Mr Egypt is currently putting together a post on this topic.  Stay tuned.