Following developments in Egypt over the past couple weeks feels more like reading a dark farce than anything resembling a news report. The death-toll of the violent military crackdown on Pro-Morsi sit-ins has surpassed that of the 2011 demonstrations, making recent events the bloodiest Egypt has seen in recent history. The military continues to go to extreme lengths to squash the Muslim Brotherhood, and their leader, Mohammed Badie, has allegedly suffered a heart attack as a result of the “bad psychological state that he is going through.” The most improbable act of all is, of course, the ‘release’ of Mubarak.
It comes as no surprise to see a variety of deep-state conspiracy theories resurfacing. The most extreme of these theories allege that Mubarak himself had somehow been pulling the strings behind the government and military the whole time. Milder but equally ridiculous theories contend it was the ‘deep state’ of the Egyptian military plotting the whole time and orchestrating the downfall of the brotherhood from Day 1. I’m inclined to agree with others who contend that this is unfeasible, both politically and physically, and what is more likely is that Mubarak’s regime never fully left in the first place (this is a theory I touched on two weeks ago). As such, Mubarak’s pseudo-return should come as both troubling and welcome news.
Troubling first because, as mentioned above, it is revealing of how little political progress has been made. The danger here is in taking this disheartening realisation too hard. For starters, arguably the greatest achievements to-date of Egypt’s revolution has been with civil society. Civil action is more widespread and open than it has been in years. This doesn’t mean the political seen has caught up yet, far from it. But there’s no going back, Egypt has awakened, indicative in both the deposal of Morsi and the subsequent protests for his reinstatement.
Moreover, those who would despair that Mubarak’s release is characteristic of a sinister deep-state that remains unequivocally in control of the country are giving the regime too much credit. To paraphrase the philosopher Slavoj Zizek (himself referencing the Marx Brothers), “this man may look like a corrupt idiot and act like a corrupt idiot, but don’t let that deceive you—he is a corrupt idiot.” In Egypt’s case the situation is of course much more dangerous than that: it may look and act like reckless and corrupt military leadership, but don’t let that fool you—it really is reckless and corrupt military leadership. That is however, all it is, and this should not be mistaken for a ruse to obfuscate some shadowy, more calculated plans.
All the same, some continue to suspect more elaborate conspiracies complete with hushed conversations in wood-panelled rooms, Sisi quietly stroking a feline in the corner. Oh, and for good measure, elsewhere someone is on the phone to Israel about that Zionist/Brotherhood/US takeover. Theories purporting a deep state are as overblown as the counter theories claiming some sort of US led cabal conspiring against the people of Egypt.
Again, the real danger is that yes, the brutal military regime never left, but this is not a result of some larger conspiracy. Sisi is far from a mastermind. The man came up under a corrupt regime where violence was the lingua franca—the whole military leadership is filled with Sisi’s. By recognising violence and corruption for what it is, we can do away with the time waste of trying to decipher intentions and focus on what’s important: stopping the violence and corruption.
This is precisely why Mubarak’s transfer to house arrest should be welcome news. As I said above, his return to the public eye is a reminder of how little political progress has been made since his ouster, a lamentable fact at first glance, but not without its silver lining. The simple reason being: Mubarak is a troubling reminder of how much Egypt still has at stake. Perhaps we were all too hasty to start throwing around the labels of feloul, after all, the man has not fully passed to zemaan.
This reminder should be capitalised on though, not dreaded. If Mubarak’s comfortably smug face returning to the television after a week of horrendous violence wasn’t enough to remind Egypt how much is left to accomplish, I don’t know what is. Indeed, Mubarak’s state—or more precisely, the Sisi-style military complex, never quite left. All the same, this mentality should not be overstated in its intelligence. Most of their attempts at sophisticated media manipulation and other hallmarks of a deep-state often just end up infuriating foreign diplomats.
One thing is certain, the military is now trying to send a message to the youth revolutionaries: we can do to you what we are doing to the Brotherhood (odd timing considering their tenuous alliance). This is their biggest mistake. In trying to play the same intimidation card they have been playing for years the military has made a severe miscalculation. The youth, revolutionaries, Brotherhood, et al are far from the docile sheep they once were. While certain elements still lack the necessary leadership and organisation needed, they have found their voice all the same. Once these factions ignore the conspiracy theorists or those who would throw their hands up and lament the futility of fighting a “deep state,” working towards progress can begin anew.