April 28, 2011

Who's who in February 2011?

Original Post: February 19th, 2011

Over the past few days, I've been having discussions with everybody I know about the current and upcoming political situation (and honestly who hasn't?). It's obvious that this is everyone's
favorite topic today and there seems to be too many opinions to be able to reach a consensus. Some fear that the old regime has not gone away, some are optimistic that significant change has happened, some are skeptical from the army and some just seem to be frantic about the continued activities and protests. With all the different players in the scene today, many of them new comers and many from the old times having to operate under new conditions, it is difficult to know how / where things will go, which coalitions will be formed and which players will survive the coming few months. One thing is sure, there will be lots happening in Egypt in the coming weeks and months.

I tried to summarize to the best of my abilities and as objectively as possible, the different players that I identified through my discussions and their perceived agendas / aspirations. The dynamics that will develop over the coming period are anybody's guess, in such a new and developing scene, the power available (or will be available) to any of those forces is difficult to estimate:

The army
Historically, the army has been a parallel organization to the regime. An independent nation within the country, managing its own resources, motivating its own people and operating in silence. It had ties to the regime through the president and the Cabinet, contributed slightly to the economy and interfered in civilian decisions on a very high level and on some strategic issues (land, allowed technology, etc.). It played no role in politics but was always in the background as the stabilization power for the government. Even at the time where Mubarak wanted to push his son onto power, as much as they did not appreciate a civilian government and / or Gamal and his entourage, they kept their concerns to themselves to a large extent. Throughout the past weeks, they've maintained a very delicate balance between neutrality and support to the regime, always ensuring that they appear neutral to the wider base of the population. They continue to maintain a soft facade (which is slightly exaggerated and concerning in my opinion) that seems to be appealing to several segments in the society. Some concerns about a possible agenda to retain power seems to be on some critics minds.

The army's objectives - in my opinion - are to: 1) Get out of politics and pull their troops off the streets as soon as possible, 2) Ensure that any new civilian government will not step into their domain nor take away from their powers, 3) Some concerns regarding their loyalty to the old regime and their role in maintaining parts of this regime in power and / or securing a safe exit for its members.

The old regime
Obviously, the old regime has not been dismantled. Whereas the head and some of the top people have disappeared from the spotlight, several clues are confirming that they are still an active player in the political arena. The clues include: 1) key players have not "yet" been faced with charges or even investigations (Such as El Sherif and Azmy on the political level and Rasekh and Thabet on the business level), 2) heads of state media, known for their corruption and manipulation of the media (Ahram, Akhbar, TV, etc.) have not been replaced, 3) Sporadic incidents of abducting activists still going around after the 11th, 4) Maintaining the Mubarak cabinet in place until today, 5) News of the old guard still active in politics (such as Mofeed Shehab being nominated as head of the Arab League even if it's not clear if this was not a rumor). Nevertheless, it will be difficult for the old regime - unless through a coup d'etat supported by the army - to operate in the same manner as it did before. The big names will have to disappear completely from the arena and the smaller names be pushed forward. Even with that, it will be difficult to return to the same methods, at least in the short and medium future.

The old regime's objectives: 1) Remove traces of its corruption and secure a safe exit for its members 2) Attempt to maintain some ties to the system hoping to regain power in the future. 

The Muslim Brotherhood:
Historically, they were portrayed as the biggest threat to a free democracy, providing the legitimacy and raison d'etre to the regime. The revolution has changed the situation dramatically on one hand by exposing their true size and on the other hand by creating divisions between their ranks as what to do next, especially as there are voices within calling for changes in their fundamental ideology. They remain a power to be reckoned with, a power that is well organized, a long term planner not interested in immediate and petty gains. They announced that they will not nominate candidates for presidency (and I tend to believe that), they also declared that they support a civil society which is tolerant to all beliefs (I'm not sure how much I believe that) and have even mentioned Turkey as a model (which Turkey? that of 10 years ago or that of today??). On the political level, they remain the only organized force with a wide base of followers and the ability to mobilize scores of voters. Recent news about some of their members defecting and forming independent parties. Whether these divisions are genuine or just a maneuver to move away from a perceived monopoly by creating multiple parties, is not clear yet, however, I am confident that those new parties will continue to coordinate very closely.

The MB's objectives: 1) ensure that a democratic process is put in place, 2) gain control or at least large representation in the Parliament, 3) hopes to start infiltrating government organizations (police, army, media, etc.) and 4) maintain control over institutions, labor unions and syndicates.

The old opposition:
They are largely a mirror and a bi-product of the old regime. Nothing glamorous or attractive about them; those parties were only allowed to exist because of how harmless and ineffective they were, which is exactly what the old regime wanted. Their only advantage in those new times is the fact they have some experience in the political arena, they've run elections and understand how a parliamentary scene might look like (at least the old one), how to mobilize "some" voters, etc.. This gives them a slightly better head start over the new political parties being formed today. Their ability to coordinate and work together is very limited, so they will - probably - each push a presidential candidate and end up fragmenting their voters. Unless some of them are able to re-invent themselves and bring their fundamentals up to speed, their previous experience will mean very little, especially if a truly democratic and transparent system is put in place creating a new order that they are not familiar with. In my opinion, they are one of the biggest threats to a new order as they tend to be a legitimate force (unlike the old regime) with the same old mentality, hoping to run elections the only way they know, through thugs, bribery and forgery.

The opposition's objectives: 1) Maintain the old voting mentality, 2) Provide presidential candidates, 3) Gain representation in the parliament.

The new parties:
Even though it's not yet clear who is who in those parties, what their ideologies are and whether all of them will survive long enough to become active players, they are expected to stir things up to a large extent. Along with those parties are the different activists and semi-political players (such as April 6th, Baradei, Zuweil, etc.), I call them semi-political because they do not seem - as of yet - to belong to any organized political parties, but retain the ability to mobilize voters. It does not seem reasonable that within the coming 6 months those parties will be able to nominate presidential candidates and support them in organized election campaigns. Some of them might end up merging or coordinating with others, but it would still be extremely challenging to have a significant impact on the upcoming presidential elections. Their lack of political experience, shortage of funds and  shortage of voters will make it very difficult to become effective in such a short period. Even if elections are postponed for a year - as many are calling for - it will still be too narrow of a time frame for them.Their biggest chance is to work together to consolidate their votes. Beside the political aspirations, the upcoming civil society and the semi-political movements, have a clear objective to reform and shed all traces of the old regime, maintaining their ability to mobilize protest would be a tipping force in upcoming changes. Some concerns regarding the "new" movements is that some of them could be just new packaging for members of the old regime.

New parties' objectives: 1) Ensure a new democratic process is in place, 2) Nominate and support presidential candidates, 3) gain representation in the parliament.

Independent candidates:
Some names have been suggested such as Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafik, etc., who probably have more appeal to a wider base of voters than any of the old opposition or the new parties. Their links to the old regime will be their key disadvantage, nevertheless, their familiarity with the system, their political experience, their perceived integrity and possibly the support of the army, make them a very viable option for a large percentage of voters. Whether they will need to belong to an official political party or not, will be determined by the current constitutional amendments and could lead to a shift in the balance of power of some of the old opposition or the new parties. In my opinion it is likely that some of the older more familiar faces will have better chances of becoming the new elected president than any new candidates.

The Egyptian population:
In a highly manipulated political scene that lead to complete apathy we have not been recognized as an effective player. Parliamentary candidates could careless about convincing people as long as they could bus scores of voters (whether paid for or favors from good friends) to the ballots. And even in those last elections, forgery meant you did not even need to bring any people to the voting booths. With the energy in the air today (hoping it will last) it is very likely that the turnout in a new election will be unprecedented and appealing to the Egyptian population will be a determining factor in the outcome.

In conclusion:
I believe the old regime has lost significant power and whatever is left will only be able to operate under a new umbrella and according to a new order. The army will ensure that a new order does not hinder its position. The MB will continue to have a significant impact on the vote, even if not putting forward their own candidate. Civil society and new parties could have an impact if they chose to consolidate their efforts and familiar faces have a significant chance to appeal to the wider base of the population. The end result of all those forces interacting and the dynamics that result is yet to be seen.

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