Nasser, An ongoing Revolution, and the future of Egypt

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Time.com

Nasser, Symbol of the Arab World

After post-colonial rule and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle Eastern countries began to form themselves into independent states solidifying their identities. The region united together against their colonial repressers. The years between 1952 and 1970 saw the drive for Arab unity at its strongest. It was an age of solidarity and the pursuit of unity through mass political movements. And it was an era dominated by a leader the likes of whom the Arabs had not seen in a long time. (1)

Gamal Abdel Nasser was a part of the Free Officers movement that took power in a bloodless coup who set about changing Egypt in 1952.  He had his own vision for both a new nation and the Arab World;  he was the first Egyptian to rule in over 2,500 years. (1) Politically, he transformed Egypt into a republic, introducing a centralized parliamentary rule and creating social programs. He was ambitious, charismatic, but came from the working class allowing me to relate with the every-day Egyptian.

Nasser’ s goal was to improve the conditions of the lowest working class by establishing land reforms, free educational programs for boys and girls and developing the country’s medical infrastructure hoping to provide long-needed social and civil services.

Not only did the Arab world take notice of Nasser’s Ambition, but the rest of the world realized that he was a force to be reckoned with. Nasser’s deep belief in socialism was rooted in the idea that if the people felt like they had real equality they would feel more united and act as one entity, rather than act on their own personal interests.

Through his notable actions of regaining control of the Suez Canal from the British and the French, governing both Syria and Egypt, as well as acting a as a man of the people, his  “Nasserism” and his push for a strong, unified Arab identity leaves him as one of the most important political figures in the history of the MENA region, Egypt, and the world.

A new Revolution?

Recently, Egypt made an agreement with Saudi Arabia to give two of its Red Sea islands, under a secretly negotiated border agreement. The citizens were angered because they viewed these islands as long belonging to Egypt. “Despite a draconian anti-protest law, several thousand protesters took to the streets of central Cairo to demonstrate against the border agreement, reviving revolutionary chants of “the people want the downfall of the regime”. (2) El-Sisi was mostly welcomed into the government in 2013, as Egyptians wanted the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi out, even though he was democratically elected. However over two years have gone by, and if El-Sisi doesn’t deliver on his economic reforms, another popular uprising or political-military coup may be in store illustrating Egypt’s political volatility and instability.

Washington-and-Cairo.jpg
CRFS.org

However a revolution is unlikely as the government is fairly authoritative, is military-backed, and is viewed mostly as a better government than Morsi because it is non-Islamist though it is oppressive, squashing dissidence consistently.

Egypt’s Future and Economic Integration

According to The Political Economy of Reform in Egypt: Understanding the Role of Institutions, Carnegie Middle East Center’s Sufyan Alissa explains how economic reform is failing in Egypt for three reasons: “it lacks public support, Egypt has failed to foster a competitive business environment  and the lack of dynamic and transparent institutions.”  (3)

Egypt doesn’t have a reliance on producing oil like many of the gulf OPEC countries, which makes it a poor country but may help it in the future. Economic reform in Egypt is still failing as corruption runs rampant, and many of the citizens go to other countries to work elsewhere having a huge labor migration, as there are few economic opportunities within the country. Egypt relies on outside funds to support its economy, rather than creating real economic development, mostly from the United States and from the United Arab Emirates. Tourism is down after the Russian flight crashed over Sharm-Al-Sheik, and there is little investment in public infrastructure.

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directholidays.co

 

In conclusion, after writing about Egypt for an entire semester, I believe that Egypt has so many resources to capitalize on, but it fails to implement long-lasting reform, as the government has been changing so frequently. The Egyptian people are so passionate, but are unorganized in their causes and are quick to overthrow the government. Egypt is unable to address the socio-economic needs of the country, which includes poverty, high unemployment, increasing public debt, and high inflation. Major reform is needed to improve Egypt’s governance, including holding the bureaucracy accountable, and demanding transparency of the politicians. The military has a huge role in the government, but Egypt needs to allow for more political participation from the citizens.

Egypt is iconic, and I believe will never truly diminish as a country, but in order to flourish the Egyptian people must put more pressure on their government, and must demand a fair and just political process. The people must push for education for all, and for creating public works that can support the people and their aspirations.
Sources:

(1) http://www.aljazeera.com/focus/arabunity/2008/02/200852517252821627.html

(2)http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5528ce9e-0799-11e6-9b51-0fb5e65703ce.html

(3) Http://carnegie-mec.org/2007/10/24/political-economy-of-reform-in-egypt-understanding-role-of-institutions

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Islamists: Better than the Government

What is an Islamist group?

 According to Slatest.com Islamist is defined as “An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam.” (1)  Some characteristics of Islamists include:
• Seeking to bring all elements of social, economic,and political life into harmony with what its adherents believe is “true Islam.”
• Calling for the application of Sharia law, but not all Islamists groups have the same interpretation and have different thoughts on how to apply it. 
• Each Islamist group is specific, some sit on the liberal side of the spectrum acknowledging the existence of nation-states and participating in democratic processes, to the more radicalized end in seizing power violently and denouncing both formal democracy and the nation-state as illegitimate, with much in-between hence the fear of the term Islamist as it has a variety of connotations.  (2) 

Islamism in Egypt

Egypt has experienced the huge impact that Islamist movements have in forming social customs, uniting the population, and even affecting the government structure as many Islamist groups have been a part of  its history. These Islamic social movements often provide social and civil services, in lieu of the government who cannot. In previous blog’s Egypt’s recent inconsistent politics has led to the strengthening of Islamist groups within the country, especially that of the Muslim brotherhood, one of the most famous Islamist groups in the world.

Muslim_Brotherhood_Emblem
Wiki Commons 

In 1928, Hasan al-Banna founded the Society of Muslim Brothers, commonly known as the Muslim Brotherhood which laid the foundation for modern, radical Islamic social moments. (1) The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most established Islamisit groups in the region and has branches in a variety of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Mulsim Brotherhood originally came about in protest to the British and colonial influence in Egypt. Where each colonial or imperialistic power has invaded in an attempt to claim a space as its own, an opposing power has risen to fight back. In Egypt, that was the Muslim Brotherhood.Although the Muslim Brotherhood believes that societies should move away from secularism and move more into incorporating Islam and the Qur’an into for helping guide everyday life, they do not believe in violence as means to enforce this goal.

 

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Algemeiner.com

 

“The Brotherhood is the oldest and largest opposition group in Egypt. It has had widespread support among Egypt’s middle classes, and its members control many of the country’s professional organizations.” (4)  The Brotherhood has consistently built and solidified its support up by attending meetings and protests, holding seats in the government, and providing support to a population in need. Why is this group so important?

Islamists in the Government

Up until 2011, it was illegal for the Mulsim Brotherhood to hold power  under Egyptian law banning all parties based on religion. But in December that year, the Freedom and Justice Party , its political wing dominated parliamentary elections, winning about half of the seats up for grabs.
The group initially said it would not put forward a candidate for president, but Mohamed Morsy ran and in June 2012, became Egypt’s first democratically-elected president with help believed to be provided by the help of the brotherhood.
One thing is certain if America or any other western powers consider invading countries in the Middle East and imposing colonial policies, the support for Islamist movements only grows stronger.

 

Sources:

(1)http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/04/05/_islamist_definition_changed_in_the_ap_stylebook_two_days_after_illegal.html

(2) Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print

(3) Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print. pg. 22.

(4) http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/03/world/africa/egypt-muslim-brotherhood-explainer/

 

Social Movements and their impact

 

april6-movement-protest-anti-morsi-april-6-2013
http://uhuruspirit.org/

 

Pre-Revolution Social Movements

Although many attribute the success of the  Egyptians Arab Spring revolution, or rather the overthrow of the government to more recent crises and concerns, there were many social movements that had been in place for years that led to the Mubarak-led regime downfall. But what are social Movements defined as exactly? “Movements are media that speak through action, their primary message is that they exist and act. Social movements are intricate networks of individual and collective agents (humans and non-humans) that constitute a wave of confrontational social engagements at many levels that encompass different forms of performances and associations marked by their oppositional but proactive character “(1) In short, social movements are the results of various networks working towards something, but do not constitute the foundation of those networks. Therefore, how did these social movements begin and how did they lead to the eventual ousting of a 30-year government stronghold?

According to a study on the Egyptian 2011 revolution done by the International Review of Information Ethics, there were four different key phases that occurred before the revolution. Each of these phases acted as stepping stones leading up to the 2011 Arab Spring revolution. Literally a revolution cannot and does not happen because of one single issue nor does it happen overnight. These phases included:

1. Launching a Public Presence (2008)

  • In March of 2008, Egyptian workers, other opposition groups, and movements called for a national strike at the Ghazl Al-Mahalla textile factory to be held on April 6 which marked the “bread crisis” in which bread, which was normally subsidized by the government at a certain set price, was increased, thus causing outcry and becoming catalyst for a  demonstration for raising wages. (2)
  •  Before this protest happened Israa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Maher, the protest organizers set up the “April 6th Strike Group” or the “youth movement” on Facebook and invited friends to support the workers strike, calling for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. The outcome was unexpectedly successful. Over 77,000 people joined the group and committed to either express themselves on social media, protest or skip work on April 6 thus propelling social mobilization and  illustrating the resurgence of the labor movement. (2) Social Media was key in developing support for the growing labor movement, but it was not the foundation nor the root cause of the uprising.

2. Building a movement (2008-2009)

  • In response to the April 6 movement and the growing social media presence, the government began to crack down on freedom of expression, and repress the people through online threats. However, the young people of Egypt were determined to use social media and harness the support and power to create a political moment. Israa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Maher were put into jail as well as tortured. Not only were social media sites key in spreading information and garnering support but they also sparked discussions about mutually shared concerns which made people unite over mutual discontent. The news of the torture of the protest organizers was spread throughout  social media, angering the citizens. (3)

3. Strengthening the growing movement (2009-2010)

  • Protests and social discontent grew after the April 6 Strike and with the imprisonment of the protestors in jail. This strike or movement rather became impactful because it brought together different social organizations that found a common base to work with one another and was chastised by the government illustrating that what they were doing was a threat to the regime. Facebook was a key park of this because it became less about using the social media site for networking, and more about spreading information and activism. (4)

4. Uniting around a common concern ( Police Brutality) (2010)

  • Now that this social movement and social media presence was growing, there needed to be another event that helped to push the social movement to the next level that would unite the people. The death of Khaled Saeed by an Egyptian policeman via torture re-sparked the momentum for social protests and brought to surface a more public concern over Egypt’s unjust political system.The death of Saeed was published online, thus triggering international human rights organizations to become involved included Amnesty International which put pressure on the U.S. and the European Union to put pressure for democratic reforms in Egypt.  (5)
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Wiki Commons

Then came Tahrir Square

After these four phases that built upon the momentum of the April 6 Youth Movement or Strike, came the last step that tipped the scale in social movements in resulting in actual governmental change. This last step was the occupying of Tahrir Square which symbolized the population’s, especially the young population’s, political frustration.

Egypt is different from some other countries in MENA because people didn’t unite over the desire to have a single ethnicity or religion, but rather over political, economic, and social frustrations with the government. Without the use of Facebook and Twitter, these social movements would have maybe even never gained the ground that they did which caused the Youth Movement to act as the real catalyst for the eventual overthrow, or “resignation” of Mubarak.

Sources:

(1) Melucci, A. (1994). A Strange kind of newness: What’s New in New Social Movements? In E. Laraña, H. Johnston & J. R. Gusfield (Eds.), New social movements : from ideology to identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press

(2) Carr, S. (2008a). April 6 strike kicks off a year of protests. The Daily News Egypt, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.masress.com/en/dailynews/100950

(3) El-Sayed, M. (2008). Virtual politics. Al Ahram, p. 1.

(4) Singer, M., & Samaan, M. (2008). April 6 activists stand by detained peers. The Daily News Egypt, p. 1.

(5) Al Malky, R. (2009). The death of youth activism in Egypt? The Daily News Egypt, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/editorial-the-death-of-youth-activism-in-egypt.htm

(6)https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/bitstream/handle/1773/22359/Baron_MoreThanaFacebookRevolution.pdf?sequence=1

Egypt’s Military Involvement

The Military is the key to running the country

The Egyptian Military has historically always had a major role in the development of the nation-state. It was the military that pushed for the removal of the regime of Hosni Mubarak and then for the removal of the democratically elected President Muhammad Morsi, making the military responsible for the political power of Egypt two times within three years. Similar to other countries within MENA, the military is intertwined with the ruling power, and if you do not have the military leaders as a supporter, you can and will be ousted which has  been proved in the past.

egytpain guards
National Geographic & Ed Giles

The ousting of Mubarak served as a primary example of the power of the people, or rather the military and it set fire to the Arab Spring. The military could and did overthrow its government, but it did not do so in a coup d’etat, but rather through pressure. After the 2011 “resignation” of Mubarak, (aka military pressure on him,)Egypt’s power then came under the authority of the Military Council, with its official name being the Supreme
Council of Armed forces. Marshal Mohammed Hussien Tantawi was in charge of this council which was originally attending to be transitional until the president was to be elected a few months later. (1)

Present day military-political involvement

After Muhammad Morsi was democratically elected in 2012, two years later Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who was in charge of the Egyptian armed forces, led the coup that took down Morsi and brought the head of the military into power.

“Egyptian supreme commander Lt. Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi deposed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, after the military’s supreme council had issued the president an ultimatum: meet street protesters’ demands for a more inclusive government that would strengthen the voice of opposition parties or be forced from office.Since Mubarak’s ouster, the military has portrayed itself as a guarantor of national integrity and as a neutral defender of the people’s hard-won freedom. This week, hordes of protesters are hailing the military as guardians of the revolution.”(2)  Therefore, the military is seen as an actor based on the interests  of the people, or so they claim.

Historically, the military has always been behind the scenes…

Egypt gained its Independence from Britain in 1922, however, the British occupied Egypt with soldiers for 25 more years. The Egyptian army wasn’t  strong during the world wars, and the British controlled the country with their strong, and huge army.This changed in 1948 when the state of Israel was established which led the way to the Arab-Israel war, in which Arab armies were defeated by Israeli’s.Egypt then became embarrassed, and blamed the monarch King Farouk, staging a 1952 coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, which was then called a the Egyptian revolution of 1952 which established the state of Egypt that the world knows today. (2)

During Nasser’s time as President, another way with Israel was fought during the Six Day War of 1967, in which the military lost  the Sinai peninsula to Israeli defense forces, thus undermining not only the image but the actual power of Egypt’s military credibility.

When Anwar El Sadat became President after Nasser’s death in 1970, Sadat  reformed the Egyptian Military and led the third fight in conjunction with other Arab states against Israel to attempt or regain the Sinai  land that was lost previously.

The Egyptian army technically lost, but it regained the Sinai peninsula during the 1978 Camp David Accords, and it regained its confidence to later become a credible and powerful military force.

Foreign Aid from the United States to secure Egypt as an ally and to prevent another conflict with Israel has also bolstered Egypt’s military receiving the second highest amount of foreign aid towards its military.

egypt

The Military’s Effect on the Future of Egypt and the impact on its Economy

Something that has been highlighted in previous blogs is that Egypt’s economy is constantly hurt by its ever-changing politics and economic policies. The Washington Post makes a good point in stating that  “There are two basic realities to consider to understand the army’s dilemma. First, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that effectively rules Egypt today is very different from the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) that took power in Egypt in 1952. Second, one of the most basic lessons of Authoritarianism 101 is that there are two dangers to a prolonged military rule: Splits in the officer corps and the personal ascendancy of one general over the others.” (4) Therefore, Egypt’s political future remains uncertain as there can always be a split of officers and generals who are competing for power. There could be a coup d’etat at any time and el-Sisi, although a long time general, could be ousted by those who helped to put him into power.
Effect on the Economy

“No one knows the army’s real share of the economy, but it is estimated at around 40 percent of the GDP. They manage a large number of companies and public institutions and participate in infrastructure development, urban projects (such as the subway or the airport of Cairo), not to mention the consumer goods industry and their investments in key sectors such as tourism. The military-business network attracts important foreign investment partners, in part because the sectors where its influence is bigger are also those with the greatest profit potential. Loans from international financial institutions facilitate their efforts to establish companies with Gulf conglomerates and western multinationals. The army is benefiting from this influx of investment, equipment and technology, and controls many of these companies.” (4)

In reality, the army runs the country and therefore is the deciding factor in Egypt’s political and economic development. The United States supports the military and thus gives it legitimacy. However, if there keeps being a constant change and no stability within the ruling government, Egypt’s future remains bleak.

Sources:

(1)“Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces”. The New York Times. 10 February 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2011.

(2)http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/07/130705-egypt-morsi-government-overthrow-military-revolution-independence-history/

(3) https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/cristina-casab%C3%B3n/egypt’s-military-economy

(4) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/06/02/a-new-political-dilemma-for-egypts-ruling-military/

(5) Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print

The West is not the best

 

 

washingtonconsensus
apjjf.org

 

The effect of the Washington Consensus on Egypt was disastrous, to say the least. The neo-liberalistic policies proposed by the West to bring economic prosperity to the country only backfired and may have contributed to Egypt’s Arab spring as well as the current political instability that marks the nation. However, Egypt was previously thought of as a Washington Consensus/neoliberalism model for other countries to emulate as it has continually received financials support from Western Donors under the government of President Mubarak. It  was  labeled a “world’s top reformer” by the World Bank for four consecutive years. (1)  “The US Government alone has distributed close to 114 billion USD in economic and military aid to Egypt for its geo-strategic importance and regional influence, much of which has been predicated on the implementation of neoliberal reforms.” (2) (3)

Why then did the Washington Consensus ruin Egypt?

The basic concept of the Washington Consensus, a term originated by John Williamson in the 1990’s, states that “markets promote growth better than states. For countries enshrined in fiscal imbalances generated by ISI policies and international shocks of the 190’s, the view was that stabilization had t0 precede and then be followed by structural adjustment or microeconomic change.”  (4)

These policies focused on such things as:

  • Fiscal discipline
  • Tax Reform
  • Unified and Competitive exchange rates
  • Tade Liberalization
  • Proviatiziion
  • Deregulation

The Washington Consensus included  many more policies that limited government intervention within the economy and promoted free trade, privatization, and deregulation the most thus pushed for market inspired growth rather than top-down, government policies.

Sounds good, right? Get the government out of the economy! But that thinking is wrong as neoliberal policy often provides and an inadequate understanding of the needs of the nation, and doesn’t address the reasons as to why there are civil unrest and social problems within a developing country. Neoliberal policies work for some, but definitely weren’t a right fit for Egypt.

 

tomtoles_socializedwallstreet_091808
foreignpolicy.com

 

 

Between 1980 and 2010 the Egyptian elite successfully implemented neoliberal economic policies while retaining political control through the exploitation of middle and working class citizens, thus widening the inequality gap between the classes class. This enabled the Egyptian elite to implement a form of crony capitalism through directing state resources into the hands of a few at the expense of the many. (5) When people realized they were getting ripped off, they got angry, thus leading to the Arab Spring ignited by Tunisia who experienced a similar class-class stemming from neo-liberal policies as well.

As stated in the first post on this blog, many view Egypt’s revolution as a country fighting for political freedoms, but in reality, the problems that sparked the revolution that Egyptians were enraged by were economic ones.

Sources:

(1) “Most Improved in Doing Business 2010,” World Bank Group

(2) Huffington Post, (2013), “After $300 Billion in US Aid to The Middle East, Still No Stability,” Huffington Post

(3) Sharp, J. (2014), “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service

(4)  Richards, Alan, John Waterbury, Ishac Diwan, and Melani Cammett. A Political Economy of the Middle East. Boulder: Westview, 2015. Print

(5) Bogaert, K., (2013), “Contextualizing the Arab Revolts: The Politics behind Three Decades of Neoliberalism in the Arab World,” Middle East Critique, Vol. 22, No. 3, p. 213-234.