If, as an Egyptian citizen, you believe that your voice counts, you are completely misguided! If you are an acknowledged politician intensely involved in drafting the Egyptian parliamentary election law or constitution, believing that you are playing a positive role in its political development, then you certainly are quite a naïve politician.
These matters are predetermined by the ruler and his strong support in Egypt’s deep state before any meetings (or even balloting) take place. Politicians and citizens who are involved in these processes are only there because their happy smiles make the overall picture look better.
From the early fifties to the present moment, Egypt has been ruled autocratically, using a top-down approach to governing, albeit with a single recent change; the creation of a false impression of significantly enhanced political participation – an impression that millions of Egyptians take to be true.
Prior to 25 January 2011, the regime did not put much effort into claiming that Egypt was a democracy. After the revolution however, those in power are devoting more effort to ensure the realisation of their desired outcomes through three fundamental steps; the development of a structure designed to lead to the desired decisions, the framing of any given political issue, and the creation of an environment that influences and supports the desired outcomes.
Policies, laws and constitutions are easily divided into two categories; those dealing with a very small number of critical issues that determine the country’s direction and the remaining bulk that complements Egypt’s socio-political structure, but does not affect the country’s direction. Decisions falling within the first category are made entirely by the ruler. Those that remain (the second category) are there to provide a role for politicians to play and to keep them busy. Although not allowed to come within an inch of the critical issues, politicians may nevertheless be under the impression that they are a part of the decision-making process. This political structure is built upon a number of laws that are constantly changing – not for the good of our country, but to support and ensure the realisation of outcomes desired by the regime.
The regime begins by framing a political issue. This was quite easy to do after the 25 January Revolution, by choosing the combined state of lack of security and instability Egyptians are not used to. In reality, the majority of Egyptians are poor, and have been living insecure lives for decades. The members of this majority, however, are not ‘influencers’ but marginalised. On the other hand, the ‘influencers’ (the better-off section of Egyptian society) are willing to trade-off all attempts to establish democracy in the interest of restoring security. Those are the ones that the regime always serves.
Unfortunately, citizens think of security in the form of police officers or military troops, not as justice implemented by enforcing the rule of law. This phenomenon has given an inflated boost to anyone with a military background, credited with the ability to restore security and stability, a claim enhanced by the intensive violence presently taking place in neighbouring countries.
Having established a frame for a given political issue, the regime then needs a number of players (preferably with no direct links to the government or the ruling regime) to support it, enabling the ruler to claim the existence of a degree of political participation. Key politicians, intellectuals, and celebrities are the most suitable players in this structure.
The deep state exerts considerable effort to engage, manipulate and sustain a number of these people in order to attain the required results. In return, the state helps these chosen players to maintain their respective positions in various organisations and political parties. Some of the politicians, celebrities and intellectuals involved are aware of this phenomenon and happily accept their assigned role; the rest learn about it when they get the final handshake from the state.
Well-established democratic countries apply a bottom-up approach (from the base of the pyramid to its top), wherein politicians attain their status and legitimacy based on their popularity and their success in elections. In Egypt, conversely, the status of politicians stems from their ability to be close to the ruling regime, to be included in its circle of influence and to occupy primetime in the media. Over time, this gives them a sort of legitimacy that they eventually claim.
Some politicians may object to the above argument, asserting that they express their genuine opinions on numerous occasions. While this is perfectly accurate, the fact remains that in any given meeting such sincere politicians are always in the minority. Their participation is invited only to provide a nominally democratic framework. In the end, the majority will favour the ruler’s desired outcomes. Credit for such meetings goes to the person who organises them and who selects the participants.
Many Egyptians claim there was no viable alternative to Al-Sisi during the latest presidential elections. This is a completely false argument that was successfully propagated by the deep state. But many fine persons could have made excellent presidential candidates. They were all marginalised in favour of a single person who could address the security challenge. Although Al-Sisi was undeniably an extremely popular candidate, the regime still needed to guard against the swinging mood of the Egyptian people. It was therefore always careful to keep only a single person (one strongly linked to the security issue) on the scene, and to diminish other candidates – particularly those with military backgrounds and the same kind of experience who might have been perceived as possible alternatives.
We must congratulate the Egyptian deep state for the success it has achieved in facing the real challenge; the creation of a false happy environment made up of a narrative of success, triumph and prosperity, ensuring that ordinary citizens are both eager and obliged to be a part of this “Happy Family”. The first attempt to reach out to citizens – a device that claimed to cure many chronic diseases – was unsuccessful and rapidly failed. It was quickly replaced by the Suez Canal extension project, a first-rate narrative with excellent financial rewards Egyptians happily and quickly accepted. The principal objective of this canal was not only to enhance Egypt’s resources, but also to serve this narrative.
During Mubarak’s era, senior government executives used to be in the driving seat, designing and implementing media programmes targeting the vast majority of Egyptians who lack basic political knowledge. While I doubt that these executives exist today, media professionals have now acquired experience in driving and manipulating society in favour of the ruler without the need for supervision. The result is millions of Egyptians who believe, and are obsessed with, totally false stories, all well designed and perfectly implemented by State and private media.
The regime sets the rhythm and the media plays an essential role in orchestrating the melody, hosting guests who sing in favour of the regime, the purpose being to entertain the entire society while guiding it in favour of the regime. The various media channels are engaged in fierce competition, each striving to be the loudest, to have the most singers and to be the best in tune with the song. Citizens have a choice of joining the happy crowd, by either singing or humming, or becoming marginalised. Obviously, the vast majority (people not capable of giving deep thought to the matter) tends to join the crowd and be included in the “Happy Family”.
The process described above appears to be a brilliant and successful stratagem. But will it last? I definitely have my doubts. Egyptians are by nature not good at building and organising entities, especially political organisations. Establishing an alternative to the current strong regime would therefore seem to be quite difficult. On the other hand, Egyptians have always had high expectations and extensive demands for any given leader – demands and expectations that are far beyond the leader’s capacity. The Egyptian people have now become good at demolishing entities and organisations and may thus manage to dismantle the structure described above – without possessing the ability to replace it with an alternative one. President Al-Sisi, who appears to be happily working within this structure, can keep Egypt safe from this struggle by declining to use the old deep state tactics and opting, instead, to build a modern state that respects the essence of democracy.