I have mentioned before that the political life in Egypt can be divided in many ways. In an attempt to analyse the political map, I divided it into three major movements: the political Islamist group, the democratic group and the supporters of a hegemonic state. I went into detail regarding the third group, which is also known as feloul (remnants of the former regime) or the supporters of a nationalistic state, as they call themselves. I concluded that this group presents itself as a strictly conservative one given that will restore the old state. It also presents itself as a revolutionary group since it will renew the nationalistic state project, and will be an extension to the era of Muhammad Ali or Gamal Abdel Nasser. It promises to restore the advantages of the nationalistic state, but will get rid of its flaws. Generally that the most prominent figures of this group joined the Mou’tamar (Conference) Party led by Amr Moussa, and the Egyptian Patriotic Movement led by Ahmed Shafiq.
I will try in this article to present the social background of the group, and the nature of those that it represents, and I will also try to show its strengths and weaknesses.
First, like the democratic group, the hegemonic state group is concerned with luring Egypt’s Copts since they are the biggest opposition to the political Islamist group. We can say that they have largely succeeded in doing this during the previous presidential elections, when Shafiq was capable of acquiring the largest share of Copts’ votes in the first round. That was despite having many secular figures running against him such as Hamdeen Sabahy and Amr Moussa, who are also against the Islamists. As for the second round, almost all Copts voted for Shafiq, and people explain this by crediting Shafiq for being outspoken in his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. He also hinted, many times, that he would use all tools available to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood and send them back to where they belong.
Many people in different state apparatus, including the Armed Forced and security apparatus, adopt the political views of the hegemonic state group, and they are even considered operative members of that group.
Finally, a major section of society’s upper and upper-middle class, especially the secular ones, support that group. Therefore, the leaders of the hegemonic state group address those classes in their speeches, focusing on civil liberties, principals of citizenship, equality in the eyes of the law, and respecting the state’s prestige, and so on.
One of the most unique traits of the supporters of the hegemonic state is that they don’t serve the same social interests. It was noticed that the Copts who support them do not belong to specific social classes, and the same goes for those working in the state apparatus. This splits it vertically and not horizontally as expected, and it brings us to one of its most pronounced weaknesses, which is also a point of strength. This vertical support inside the state apparatus is one of the group’s points of strengths. However, any positive decisions that affect those working in state apparatus would lead to a split in the hierarchy. It must be noted that those workers suffered from the intrusion of the state’s security apparatus, which is supposed to be at the heart of the hegemonic state group. Therefore, there is a social conflict due to the different classes working for the state, and there is a conflict between the younger workers and the state’s security apparatus. These conflicts can lead to the success of the opposing groups, mainly the ruling political Islamist group or the oppositional democratic group by luring those at the bottom of the hierarchy. This happened before in many countries during revolutionary transitional times. This is more likely to happen if the ruling political Islamist group responded to the demands of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, and improved their living conditions.
Another weakness is that the group does not present a project or an inspiring dream. Remarkably, the two historical projects of the hegemonic state group, of Muhammad Ali and Abdel Nasser, were linked to regional ambition. The project failed due to international rejection.
Now, the regional scene looks more depressing than ever. While there was regional emptiness during Muhammad Ali’s era due to the Ottoman government’s weakness, Ali tried to fill that void. Similarly, Abdel Nasser tried to fill the void left by the end of colonisation. Now, the regional scene suffers from being too crowded and competitive. In other words, regional rivalry is now at its peak between Israel, Turkey and Iran, and even Saudi Arabia as well. Egypt’s local economic and political issues do not help, since it cannot adopt a regional project in such circumstances. During the time of Muhammad Ali, the regional project’s goal was to acquire the Ottoman state’s riches, and during Abdel Nasser it was to free the Arab world. In short, there is no regional void which requires Egypt to fill, but there are state-run regional projects that want to employ Egypt.
Conversely, we can say that what makes the hegemonic state more appealing is the Muslim Brotherhood’s inability to run the country. This confirms and fortifies Egyptians’ dream of a strong, fair state. It is a dream that is rooted not only in the eras of Muhammad Ali and Gamal Abdel Nasser, but also in Egyptian states throughout history.
The strength of the hegemonic state group can also be acquired from the receding popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood, and doubts concerning democracy and its promises. On the other hand, the weakness of the hegemonic state group is linked to its lack of a regional project, especially with Egypt’s role in the region being dwarfed. In addition, the group suffers from its leaders’ lack of appeal due to their old age or their links to the previous regime. Finally, the group will suffer the most if those of a lower social status were lured away from it especially that the upper classes are competed upon by all of the three groups due to social reasons and ones related to the state’s identity. Therefore, the hegemonic state group cannot guarantee all of the upper class joining its rank.
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party