Here’s a fascinating article on Egypt’s bleak political landscape. What’s striking to it to me is the similarity between Egypt today and Pakistan in the 60s before the advent of populist politics of the non-religious kind.
Imagine a Pakistan with a very strong JI and a few Mushahid Hussains, Imran Khans, Junejos to balance it out with the ruling junta of Musharrafs, Ayubs, and their families involved in a symbiotic relationship with their nominal antagonists with Bilal Musharraf or Omar Ayub Khan being groomed as a “technocrat heir”. No PPP, MQM, or PML-N. What a hopeless situation that would be.
Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour is the secretary-general of the New Wafd Party (six seats in the lower house), founded in 1983, which takes its name from the party that led the movement against the British occupation after the First World War, and promotes an updated version of that party’s genteel, constitutional liberalism. Abdel-Nour, a banker from a prominent Coptic family, sighed when I asked him about his party’s activities: ‘Our experience as a party has been catastrophic. It’s true that we now have almost unlimited freedom of the press, but it’s useless because we can’t get a direct relationship to the street. The Muslim Brothers have that connection through the mosque, but we’re not even allowed to hold rallies.’
It’s true that our political elite continues to colloborate with the military against itself as Ayesha Siddiqa describes quite well in Military Inc. But at least the establishment hasn’t been successful in destroying all genuine non-religious populist political life in Pakistan the way it has in Egypt. It’s interesting that the two parties PML-N and MQM owe their existence, at least in part, to the efforts of Zia to counter the populism of the PPP with more acceptable alternatives.
Also, this paragraph is quite brilliant. The description of the concentric circles reminds me of the “people’s movement” for the restoration of the judiciary.
As Hani Shukrallah, an editor at Al-Shorouk, one of the new independent papers, points out, ‘the regime has pursued a deliberate policy of selective repression based on class.’ Shukrallah, a veteran of the student left of the 1970s, illustrated this by describing an aerial photograph of a Kifaya demonstration in downtown Cairo. ‘You can see three circles: the first is composed of the demonstrators, a few hundred people. Around them is a circle of several thousand police officers, and around the police is the people. The people are onlookers, spectators. The middle-class professionals in Kifaya can chant slogans like “Down with Mubarak” because they risk, at worst, a beating. But most Egyptians live in a world where anything goes, where they’re treated like barbarians who need to be conquered, and women are molested by the security forces. The average Egyptian can be dragged into a police station and tortured simply because a police officer doesn’t like his face.’ The tortures to which Egyptians are subjected in police stations have been well documented and include electric shocks to the genitals, anal rape with sticks, death threats, suspension in painful positions and ‘reception parties’, where prisoners are forced to crawl naked on the floor while guards whip them to make them move faster.