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From January to June: Egypt’s ‘elite’ question

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By virtue of my studies, my work and my own individual perversions, I happen to be one of those who enjoy reading political theory. However, I do not intend to actually write about political or social theory. I simply wanted to point out to how in different political and social theories from different times, perspectives and theoretical trends, the elite are always a factor that influences the final outcome of social and political change.

If we examine the role of the elite in both 25 January and 30 June, we will understand how different the outcome of each is. But let’s agree first on what exactly I am referring to when I say “elite”.

By “elite” I mean a small group of people that do not represent a majority, but rather share common interests and possess means and measures to be influential within society. Their influence makes them a part of the decision making process which usually has national consequences. Four main elite groups have been present in Egypt for the past two years with varying degrees of influence: Mubarak’s political and economic elite, the military elite, the Islamists and the revolutionary political elite. Even if other groups emerged at different times, these four were always the most dominant.

During the last 10 years of Mubarak’s rule, there was an obvious decline in the extent of influence of the military elite and an ever-growing influence for the new political and economic elite within the former National Democratic Party. During those 10 years, the Islamist elite did what they know how to do best, they survived, co-existed, one more time proved their solid resilience. The Muslim Brotherhood specifically kept active bridges with Mubarak’s elite and the political opposition, which will later become the revolutionary political elite. But at that time, this elite was fragmented into emerging social movements like Kefaya and 6 April and new parties like The Democratic Front.

What happened on 25 January was a series of changes resulting from a series of conditions, but the most obvious changes were the emergence of the military once again, the temporary unity between the Islamists and the revolutionary political forces and the decline in the influence of Mubarak’s elite mainly due to the state of paralysis that this elite found itself in from all possible sides after it has lost its major allies in the presidency and the no longer existing NDP.

The military elite at that time stepped in to prove that the time has not come for it to be marginalised. The military intervention at that time to replace Mubarak’s regime was a step reassuring the army’s control over the very core of the state. However, the army had to pay the price of Mubarak’s mistakes and its own mistakes as well when it withdrew from public life, and that price was giving up direct leadership due to the lack of proper and suitable political elite.

At this moment, the cost of resurrecting Mubarak’s elite was too high, and the military tried more than once to leak some of that elite into government positions, but such moves were always popularly rejected. The two remaining forces were the Islamists and the revolutionaries. On one hand, the Islamists were organised, willing to compromise, backed by an economic elite, unwilling to jeopardise the interests of the military or criticise it and more and above, they were politically and financially backed by the United States and Qatar. On the other hand, the revolutionaries were not exactly what the military was looking for. The revolutionary elite suffered from the lack of leadership, ongoing division and fragmentation, a lack of sufficient economic and financial backup, the declining ability to mobilise, the occupation with diverse issues and the recurring confrontations and criticism between them and the army.

As soon as the army realised that the power elite would be composed of whomever the military elite will choose to ally with, it was not difficult to make a choice. Hence the military-Islamist alliance began in the summer of 2012 with Morsi’s Presidency.

Therefore, it is important to note that the revolutionary elite did not exactly bring Mubarak down, it simply created an opportunity that was used by both the military and the Islamist elite. In fact, the revolutionary elite did not induce sufficient change that would allow it to choose the extent of its influence; it simply waited for the opportunities created for it by both the military and the Islamist elite.

Simple logic entails that the military-Islamist alliance was built mainly on the principle of protecting strategic interests. At that time, the army’s strategic interests included things like the budget of the armed forces and how public it is, the regional order and how it should not be changed, the ongoing provision of US military aid and the strategic control and intelligence presence in Sinai.

Several months into Morsi’s presidency, and specifically in November 2012 with the catastrophic constitutional declaration which made the President’s decisions immune, signs of conflict between both members of the power elite started to be obvious.

At that time, the Islamist elite had decided to selfishly control all it could and rigidly reject reaching out to any other elite force when its alliance with the military elite started to clearly wane.

Once again the revolutionary elite did what it could do best; create political opportunity for others. Now the relation between Tamarod and the different security networks in Egypt is something that I do not claim to have reliable information for. For me, Tamarod’s affiliation with the army or the security networks prior to 30-6 is a rumour that I can neither prove nor deny. But we could safely say that all elites were mobilising against the Islamists who proved more than once that they are unfit to rule.

The final result of this mobilisation was the current alliance led by the army, financed by Mubarak’s economic elite, administered by the revolutionary political elite which saw in this arrangement a satisfying solution and finally supported by a relentless propaganda by all kinds of media, whether public or private.

After a very short period, the revolutionary elite started to divide over the amount of influence allowed to it by other members in the power elite, specifically the military. Al-Baradei’s resignation is a perfect illustration of that reality.

What happened in 30-6 was a very bold announcement that the Islamist elite is no longer reliable for protecting interests or even for performing its most fundamental functions. At the same time, it was an announcement that the military elite is no longer leaderless. It was also a sign that some revolutionary political forces have abandoned their resistance policies and revolutionary goals, and have managed to reserve themselves a place within Egypt’s new power elite.

Post 30-6 elite simply reassures that the military is the hardcore of the state, that multi-layered security forces are wide spread in all of Egypt and can easily control the bureaucracy and that the revolutionary elite could be domesticated to work within a specified non-radical framework of change.

The Islamist elite was taken out of the picture and has started a new process of survival and co-existence that is very far from over. But what happened to the Islamic elite after 30-6 requires being in an article on its own.

In the end we must realize that revolutionary change is not made by states or by professional militaries or by economic forces that have an interest in a former status quo. The power elite that rules Egypt today will not produce revolutionary change, it simply wants to assure its existence through implementing the least amount of change possible while resurrecting an irrelevantly patriotic and a pseudo-national rhetoric.

Figuring out where this power elite would take this country is an important question that we sometimes forget to ask.

About the author

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

  • Reda Sobky

    I think your account does not take into consideration the actual generational desire for a better life especially political and economic life for the coming progeny. It appears there is a genuine desire to build a modern state to enable internal and external competition. Yes, the forces seem to have jockeyed from state to state but the entire fascist recognition phase, including exit, took a couple of years..that is record time. It appears an accelerated phase of social evolutionary change (possibly consciousness also) has been set in motion. It is true some traditional power holders still interpret events based on their significance in the past. Now there are new forces in the equation and it seems to me that there is a collective desire to raise accountability to a higher level to enable better decision making. The deposed could have confounded your calculations by leading a national consensus instead of hogging power but they were champions at alienating others and being abrasive or even violent and murderous. It is possible that what you mean is “game theory” because it appears that game theory interpretations could make better sense here as alliances are kept and broken depending on choice dynamics that seem to repeat.

  • sam enslow

    The problem of the so called elites (those with money) is that they are not elite at all. They live off the accomplishments of their grandparents. They did not earn their positions. It has been said that those who brag about their family tree are, indeed, like trees. Their strongest parts are underground. True elites take responsibility for their actions. The elites of Egypt lead in the creation of the mess in which Egypt finds itself. The elites will fight all reforms needed because they themselves benefit from the flaws in Egypt’s economic and social structures. “Must not upset Daddy.”
    If I hear one more member of the so called “elite” mention “The great Egyptian people,” I will puke. These people want nothing to do with the people of Egypt. They strut their fake designer jeans and brag about their cars (bought by Daddy) and hold their noses so high in the air they are lucky they live in a desert or else they would drown. They believe their status allows them the privlage of talking down to all others who have one pound less than they do. They thrive on showing their “elite” status or fake “elite” status.
    The elites still refuse to believe the Salafi and Brotherhood won in elections because they actually talked and worked with “the people.” Today even, political party leaders stay in Cairo with their entroages. Their status as “Big Men” keeps them from traveling to Upper Egypt and to the villages and actually talking with the people to find out what they want. Being a television personality doesn’t eliminate the need for personal contact (Oh No!). Egypt’s elites need to get over themselves.


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