By Mohammed Nosseir
The question isn’t whether Egypt’s ‘Deep State’ really exists or is a fantasy. The real issue is, just how far-reaching is the Deep State and what is the extent of its influence after the revolution? Egypt’s Deep State is the most powerful political entity in the country, one that has managed to shrug off the revolution, getting rid of politicians, activists and even a President. This Deep State is to be credited for bringing Egypt back to square one, after the country witnessed what may be labeled as two revolutions. A well-structured, solid mechanism, it permeates across the entire country by means of its organisations, supporters, believers, the media, the police force, and others. This is Egypt’s Deep State – please don’t underestimate it or take it lightly!
Prior to the Egyptian Revolution, political forces had a number of demands concerning restructuring government organisations so they could better serve citizens’ needs efficiently and fairly. However, the four consecutive governments that have come into power in Egypt since the revolution and until today have seen no need to apply any of these reforms. The government organisations in question, and the civil servants employed there, have consistently served the new cabinets well during their terms in office; reforms could create unnecessarily conflict, thereby shortening a government’s stay in power.
The Deep State in Egypt consists of all government authorities, organisations, and even non-governmental institutions (supposedly independent and not affected by the government). These structures and bodies are known to apply complicated bureaucratic practices in the daily performance of their functions and they suffer from substantial over-employment and low productivity. However, they all share a clear mindset; that of blindly following the ruler and, in return, being rewarded with lifetime jobs, promotions, incentives, and sometimes even extra earnings from other sources. Government employees account for roughly one-third of the Egyptian labour force and expend one-quarter of its fiscal budget. This formula, well established for over a century, created Egypt’s Deep State; the most powerful entity in Egypt. Its power far exceeds that of all other parties, inclusive of Islamist groups and revolutionaries.
Furthermore, the Egyptian Deep State is the sole initiator of unfounded political rumours and criminal accusations that apparently play a major role in discrediting politicians and undermining reform projects. Attempting to challenge such rumours or requesting proof of accusations is a waste of time and energy, since the majority of Egyptians enjoy this type of rumour-laden environment. The Egyptian Deep State is moreover responsible for issuing ambiguous laws that on the one hand prevent the private sector from progressing and, on the other, entrap it (along with other citizens) whenever this is required.
When it comes to applying law and order, Egypt’s Deep State is only tough on citizens who dare to challenge it. It is quite lax with everyone else. Corruption, one of the Deep State’s driving forces, has been minimised simply because it has been legitimised. Most government organisations have successfully changed their bylaws, enabling key executives to realise huge earnings through a completely legal system, rather than by receiving illegal external bribes.
The 25 January Revolution came very close to shaking and threatening the Egyptian Deep State. However, instead of reforming Egypt, the revolutionaries focused on getting rid of the Head of the State, along with his key allies. Thus, when the pressure on Mubarak became too strong, the body (Egypt’s Deep State), decided to sacrifice its head (Mubarak) in order to maintain a well-functioning organism that would eventually be able to grow a new head. Although the Deep State today allows citizens to enhance their political participation, it will either contain them or render them dysfunctional should they fail to comprehend the servile role they are expected to play.
Mubarak’s regime was in full control of the Deep State in Egypt, which was led and administered by politicians who knew how to manage influential organisations that sometimes conflicted with one another; they were quite talented in dealing and wheeling with such organisations (including all opposition groups and the Muslim Brotherhood).
Conversely, Mubarak’s son and former President Morsi completely failed to replace Mubarak in this task. Both politicians lacked a basic understanding of the dynamics of the Egyptian Deep State, taking it for granted that they could count on it to serve them. As for the current interim government, its mission upon coming into power was to serve and sustain the Deep State, rather than to confront and reform it.
To be an authoritarian ruler, Mubarak used a number of tactics and tools. One of these was threatening Egypt and the international society with the “monster” (the Muslim Brotherhood) that he had managed for decades to keep on a leash and cage. After his ouster and the pressure exerted on the Deep State by the revolutionaries, the State decided to unleash the monster so that Egyptians would feel threatened by it – and eventually demand that the State lock up the monster at any cost, even at the price of sacrificing democracy.
Egyptians quickly figured out that the monster threatening us has strong muscles, but a dysfunctional brain. Morsi, who thought that he owned Egypt, refused all attempts to reform the Deep State, assuming that it would continue to serve him as it had served Mubarak. Actually, he was somehow trapped by the Deep State into maintaining its status quo. By the time Morsi realised this fact, the Deep State had almost swallowed him – and the 30 June events were like a large bucket of water, dumped on him to help digest him quickly and softly.
Furthermore, Egypt’s Deep State usually appoints a majority of mediocre executives, while making sure to flavour them with a small number of truly competent, ambitious ones whose role is to provide a glimpse of hope to Egyptian citizens. However, it always ensures that each of these qualified executives is tailed with harmful files that can be brought up should he/she ever dares to challenge the Deep State’s entity. Thus, after the fall of Mubarak’s regime, many politicians who were formerly part of the opposition are currently presenting their credentials to fulfill key roles in directing the Deep State.
In conclusion, to ensure the continuation of the current corrupt and inefficient system, Egypt’s Deep State has always been adept at spoiling executives before they can take any steps towards instituting substantial reforms in the country. If implemented, such reforms would be to the detriment of the current hidden rulers of Egypt (the Deep State). The latter is presently working on establishing, through trial and error, a new formula for governing Egyptians. Meanwhile, because the State is fighting terrorism, Egyptian citizens cannot demand that their government provide prosperity. Consequently, prosperity or progress will continue to be illusory goals that we should not even contemplate for years to come.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, Headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.