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The New Elite

The Elite dynamics in Egypt has very little to do in terms of personal achievement or fame, but more to do with how connected you are with the people in power


Two days ago, Mohamed Morsi, the FJP presidential candidate was announced the winner in Egypt’s first post- revolution presidential elections. For some this is the first real triumph of the revolution, for others it’s a depressing reality signifying how the Muslim Brotherhood- with all of their betrayals- continues to manage to be the only real winner in the Egyptian revolution so far, but for those who supported Shafiq from Egypt’s elite, it meant one thing: the party, for the time being, was over, and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for them to leave to greener pastures elsewhere.

The Elite dynamics in Egypt has very little to do in terms of personal achievement or fame (Being an international football star doesn’t make you part of the Elite for example, same as being a famous Actor, unlike what happens in other countries where Elite is connected to Celebrity), but more to do with how connected you are with the people in power and the families to which they belong, which are some thirty-odd families that have intermingled and inter-married for the past one hundred years. Those families have survived with their status intact a revolution and three presidencies, but they have always suspected that this new revolution might be what finally kicks them in. The moment Shafiq lost, their last vestige of hope to maintain their status was lost as well, and many of them seem to be very uncertain what their next move should be. But why, you may ask? What makes them capable of surviving a military socialist revolution, and not this one? What’s so different this time?

Well, given that being Elite is connected with being in power, when a new Elite comes into Power through a revolution, the old Elite have one of three options: 1) Leave the Country,2) intermarry with the new Elite and assimilate them,or 3) Stay in the country, bid your time with the risk of withering out. Those were the exact three option that faced Egypt’s Elite (back when they were part of an aristocracy) on the onset of the 1952 revolution, when the Army Officers became the new Elite. Some fled the country, some sat on the sidelines in bitterness awaiting a comeback that came for some and not for others, while others went ahead and intermarried with them to keep their social status, and assimilated them into their existing social dynamics and thus survived till this day. Unfortunately for them, that last option won’t exactly work this time, due to the very special nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and how their social circle operates.

Unlike the army officers, the MB have two things: 1) Money and 2) An already semi-closed existing social structure (with its own culture, schools, social values, dress-code, mannerisms, even wedding style), where the leading families are all intermarried. For example, our new President’s daughter is married to the son of Ahmed Fahmy, the speaker of the Shura Council, who in turn is related by Marriage to Saad El-Katatny, the speaker of the People’s Assembly, who in turn is related by Marriage to Khairat El-Shater, the MB’s de-facto leader, who is also related by marriage to a number of very powerful figures inside the Brotherhood Supreme Council. This semi-tribal structure, which exists all over the MB’s inner social classes, signifies two things: 1) We have a rising and complete new Aristocracy in town, 2) Our checks and balances system will not be carried on in public, but rather over familial dinner-table discussions, which is another dazzling Irony of the Egyptian revolution: The revolution that sought to remove Mubarak for desiring to keep power within his family through only his son, has handed over power over the country to a budding aristocracy. Brilliant, isn’t it? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Kind of.

Hence the level of panic that has pervaded through the old Elite families, and why so many of them are considering leaving the country. They don’t fear that this country will turn islamist, but rather that in the new social order, they don’t have a place anymore. Very few of them would be able to marry into this new elite, and even fewer would want to given the huge chasm in their social values, which unlike the last revolution has little to do with social class and more to do with piety and priorities, which are vastly different than their own. Revolutionaries who come from Elite backgrounds joke that the old elite are afraid of losing Tamarai or no longer being able to wear bikinis or partying in Hacienda, but the implications of this new social order are far more reaching than that and it will also affect the revolutionaries.

Take art and culture for example: How many amongst the MB Elite do you know to be Patrons of the arts? How many don’t have a problem with the current taste in music or in movies? How many painters, sculptors, singers or actors do you know that come from a Muslim Brotherhood background while adhering to their social code? How many would be willing to allow the current cultural scene to exist without trying to interfere with it or limit it in one way or another? The Muslim Brotherhood may have many virtues, but being fans of cultural diversity was never really one of them, and unlike the Army officers, their issues with it will not change with time or assimilation, as opposed to the old Elite, who may have had many short-comings and negatives, but they were very proud and supportive of the Egyptian arts and culture scene. Ask any art gallery owner how financially safe they are feeling right now, and you may get a sense of what I am talking about.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. While many of the old elite, whether pro or anti the revolution, may take flight very soon, many of them realise and intend to capitalize on the one major difference that differentiates this revolution from the one before. Power could be seized through democratic process and so they intend to stay and continue to fight this fight. There are still new parliamentary elections coming by year’s end, and thus a chance for survival, co-existence and offering competing visions over the course this country can take. Unlike the past year and a half, one should expect a surge of many of the old elite joining existing or new political parties as members, financiers or even political candidates, because they finally realise that relying on decades-old connections will no longer cut it, and that the only way for them to survive is through participation in the political process. For many of them who don’t want to leave, the Era of being a member of the Kanaba party is over.

In the meantime, it will be very interesting watching the direction that our new elite will take, and how they will confirm their new status amongst the Egyptian society elite dynamics, and whether they will try to integrate in it and its institutions or separate themselves from it. To cite the most superficial of examples, whether they will choose to buy properties in the gated communities or summer-escapes of the old elites or create their own? And on the other end of the spectrum, how will the old elite and their institutions deal with them in return? Will they acquiesce and take them in or fight and try to block them out, like they have for years? Personally, I will be observing the covers of Society magazines for the next few months, and if I see Khairat El-Shater being on the cover of Enigma magazine and his kids in their yearly “In-crowd” listings, I think we will all know which direction this fight is going.

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  • mannas

    But isn’t the very definition of a revolution is replacing the old elite with new ones, or an existing rising elite seizing power from an old ailing one (recall french and american revolution, Bonaparte’s family replacing the Bourbons eventually and wealthy American landowners kicking out the English authority). If you just think of that you would realize how much the MB are the most brutally realistic and visionary group in Egypt now, i don’t blame them for that but i blame people who are expecting them to change. Great article BTW

  • Nannette

    Who cares about the concerns of the elite when you have millions in poverty!

  • Aisha

    As always, Sandmonkey offers a different perspective on prevailing topics. If the Muslim Brotherhood abides by the true principles of Islam, it won’t seek overwhelming power, and won’t become the new elite.

    The MB should not allow itself to turn into South Africa’s ANC-a party which started out on the ideals it was built, but has now degenerated into a power-hungry, wealth-driven elite.

    To the editors of DNE, please show some professionalism by correcting the grammatical inaccuracies of this article.

  • Anon

    This writing needs some serious copyediting.

  • Ayah Abdelhamid

    Couldn’t have analysed the situation any better. Perfection.

  • Rami

    For those self rightous individuals who keep pointing out that we should only be concerned with the poverty levels, I beleive this article address an equally important element. Much like the 1952 revolution, the Egyptian cultural identiy will undergo a transformation and Unlike 52 revolution, a hard turn maybe around the corner.. and the elite are the canary in the coal mine

  • Mohsen

    Dear Mahmoud;

    Firgive me for wrighting in Englissh. It is easier for me.

    Your writing has always inspired me.

    Please allow me to share some crystal ball thoughts with you and your readers.

    My moto is:

    قبل ما تحلم بحلاوةالبر التانى, صلح اكوبرى الأول

    On the other side lies our dreams of a greater Egypt. To get their we must cross the turbulent river. But the bridge is broken.

    In my narrow, but focused vision, the bridge is the Egyptian economy, and its foundation is security and stability. Thus I was a Shafik supporter.

    And then cape Morsi. Of course, I was disapointed and depressed

    وعسى أن تكرهوا شىئنن وهو خير لكم

    Look what we have. Lord & behold; political peace. Peace on the street. that’s the foundation of the bridge.

    Hmmm .. time to reset the Shafik scenario and think again (in my case dream again).

    From what I’ve learned and saw happening in the last 2-3 days.

    We have a well educated and humble president. He must be intelligent to achieve the education level and faculty positions that he reached. He appears to be a weekling,and also appear to be aware of it. Thus humble.

    He is also is religious (which is a plus, if not fanatic). He is loyal to the MBs. But above all, it is clear that he loves Egypt (Patriotic).

    Being intelligent. He should know that his failure would be fatal to the MB.

    That, combined with being patriotic, constitutes his main motive to put Egypt’s welfare a t the top, top, of his priorities.

    Being aware of his humble leadership, and presidency talents. He should, and I’m sure he is, be aware of the fact that his success will be determined by surrounding himself with the best team of advisors/performers. And to put together such a team he must look outside the MB box. And that opens the door to all factions of the Egyptian society. Hey, that’s democracy.

    يوضع سره فى أضعف خلقه

    Hey, I think I’m begining to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally.

    There are Two hurdles on the way to the bridge, that he has to overcome:

    Take the Oath in front of the supreme Court’
    Fulfill his campain promisses in selecting his team.

    If he fails to cross thes hurdles. Then back to square one. Back to depression. Back to thinking of the Algerian experience. Oh my God, Egypt could not tolerate anymore delays; it is now at the verge of disintegrating.

    Please God help Egypt, through Morsi.

    While I have your attention please promote this simple thought:

    For Egypt to provide free college education is a good thing. But provide it only for those who couls achieve employment at grduation. In other words, do not allow entring Government Universities numbers more than the market could support. Benefits are:

    Save mobney and resources
    Improve quality of education through smaller number of students
    Direct high school graduates to other more needed paths, such as skilled labor, if we want to compete with China, Korea, Malizia, ..etc
    Reduce Unemployed College graduates who become a burden on society
    Save young people from wasting 4-5 precious years of their life pursuing a mirage.

    May God bring the best to our beloved Egypt.


  • gs

    Great article but unfortunally the muslim brother hood will
    Take place of the exsisting elite now and we will not find
    Our country like before when i saw tahrir square i though that’s
    Afghanestan not egypt .the shapes, looks, faces, changed ………..

  • Yehia

    In agreement on the brotherhoods tribal structure to cement internal power and it’s inevitable spillage into mainstream governance.
    However, the premise of the argument is loosely based on broad generalizations regarding Egypt’s multi layered social structure.
    A closer look at Egypt’s social heritage, that most often than not, had no wealth based social barriers, though it did have with regards to education, manners, and culture.

    Again like several of the recent published articles by various authors, Egypt’s society is portrayed as exceedingly polar. A closer look needs to be taken and conveyed.

  • Hany Sabry

    I don’t agree with this article many egyptians of the middle and upper middle classes fear the brotherhood because they feel their “militant” values will not encourage any diversity in any sphere – not just the elite have this problem – furthermore egypts elite includes many self made millionaires and billionaires who had no connections whatsoever – finally I am surprised u think the revolution is not about social classes?????? And that it’s about piety and morals???????

  • Hany Sabry

    Also why do u moderate comments? I have never seen this before????

  • Noha Sallam

    Oh my God! A long article worrying about the old Elite and the new Elite and how things will change for those and those, with hints praising the old Elite as patrons of arts and culture (knowing that most of them are involved in corrup practises one way or the other, and that they were not and are not patrons of anything that is menaingful or valuable). Anyway, it seems that oridnary people that consititue 99% of this country do not matter so much to the esteemed writer…pathetic!

  • I’d just like to point out that inter-marriage among MB members was mainly because they were prosecuted by police and mistreated in many places for the last few decades. No one wanted to get into that kind of trouble except who has been already familiar with it. You made it sound like they were isolating themselves and not open to the community. You’re biased after all.

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