Thursday, December 27, 2012

Egypt's Wily Coyote moment

"#Egypt problem is not #Mubarak, #MB or secular opposition. It's the 'deep state'; intelligence, military, security, judiciary, and mafia." -- Carol Malouf @carolmalouf

Malouf identifies a classic problem in revolutionary times, from the French Revolution to the Weimar Republic and beyond.  The new leaders inherit the old bureaucracy, entrenched in its old ways.   There is arrogance, corruption, incompetence and, more often than not, deliberate obstructionism.   Yet the leaders can do nothing sudden, because they depend on these people.  This also happens, as you no doubt know, within companies and all sorts of other institutions.

I have no idea if Egypt is on the brink of some disaster, but it is certainly a world of necessary make-believe. It's on political thin air.  The legitimacy of the new order is constantly questioned, but on what basis?  on the pretence that there are not only established but valid laws, procedures, ways of doing things.   Trouble is, there aren't.  Like it or not, the hundreds of thousands who risked their lives and the hundreds who died to overthrow Mubarak delegitimized, in the most decisive fashion, the whole of the old régime:  its laws, its constitution, its judiciary, its procedures, its authorities.

In other words, if the impact of the revolution were clearly recognized, it would amount to acknowledging a state of anarchy.  But it is not clearly recognized - not because people don't know perfectly well what's happened, but because they do.  A society can't afford to be without laws, judges, police, army, bureaucracy.  That's what gives Malouf's deep state its still substantial prestige and real-world authority.

So we have something like a make-believe state and government.   It joins new elements to the old, but the new elements are fragile - a leader, assembly, and constitution, all thought to be born of illegality and fraud, all thought to rest on bogus expressions of popular will.  By contrast, the old laws and institutions may start to look pretty good!

The dangers of this situation are as obvious as they are deliberately and understandably under-recognized.  On the one hand, push come to shove, there is no government and there are no laws.  What's more, the new leadership only pretends to have power.   It suits the opposition, of course, to take this pretense as reality:  they speak of Morsi's 'power grab', not admitting that is almost all grab and no power.  At the same time, Morsi's own quite necessary and convenient pretense to run a government just as necessarily causes disappointment and frustration, especially among the less privileged classes.   If he's got a government, why doesn't he deliver?  What of his promises?  When will what's broken be fixed?  After all, people make revolutions because they want change, improvement. Yet Morsi cannot very well excuse himself on the grounds that his whole régime, except for the old régime elements, is pretty much an empty shell.

It could all work out.  The make-believe state could gradually morph into a real state with real power.  Morsi could forge a skillful, inclusive, effective administration.  Or not.  Perhaps, though, the prospects for a happy ending will be brighter if both his supporters and opponents are more ready to admit that, before anything good can happen, the deep state needs to be tamed.

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year.

    First off laws don't cease to be effectual because there is a little violence or a change of government. Law, is quite often an expression of culture or a representation of the intrinsic nature of the human condition and thus often lasts far longer than the government that gave birth to it. We in American and Canada still study Roman Law, court laws of Henry II not because the Romans or Henry have military power to enforce law but rather because they have the built our culture of law.

    The deep state doesn't cease to exist as an influence even if everyone who support it is dead. And that is not the case today. Today the deep state has 40-60% support for its policies.

    Perhaps, though, the prospects for a happy ending will be brighter if both his supporters and opponents are more ready to admit that, before anything good can happen, the deep state needs to be tamed.

    What good can possible come to secularists from an Islamic state that outweighs the harm of Islamization of the state? For the National Salvation Front coalition the siding with the deep state is how they achieve good. It is how they check the opposition.

    We've been doing this for a month. You cannot govern a country with 51%, you need widespread consensus that the government legitimately represents the interests of the population. And Morsi does not have that. He cannot get people to do what he wants because they don't believe he represents their interests. He is facing exactly the kinds of problem an Islamic occupation government of Egypt would face. Morsi has won 51% of the vote 4x in a row now. He still can't govern, that's what your post is complaining about. Point proven, majoritarianism is not a viable form of government. If Morsi wants to govern he is going to need to support democracy not majoritarianism.

    Paul Martin's laws mostly remain in effect under Stephen Harper, because Paul Martin and Stephen Harper work together to create the government. If Paul Martin's followers believed, or even worse rightly believed, that the election of Stephen Harper's government meant the annihilation of the hopes for the type of life they want to lead and the dreams they had for their children politics in Canada would be quite different.

    In Egypt's case. Morsi made his mind up. He does not want to be president of Egypt. He wants to be head of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi seems to be quite effectively able to govern the Muslim Brotherhood and get them to agree to his plan of action and support him personally. Because in the Muslim Brotherood, he has a consensus. Inside the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic wing, Morsi is willing to listen to multiple viewpoints and try and arrive at policies everyone can live with. If he wanted to be president of Egypt he'd be doing the same thing in the Egyptian parliament.

    Somewhere Egyptian society needs to work out the compromises for how the state will actually be governed. Morsi has enough power to make sure that doesn't happen in the Parliament. So now it is going to happen somewhere else.

    On the plus side, what may be emerging from this though are a government of checks and balances. Which is a good thing, even though most Egyptians don't currently support it.