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The Weak State

As the months have trudged by since 30 June, there has been a myriad of talk in the media regarding the creation of the new Egyptian state. The 3 July press conference, showing Al-Sisi with ElBaradei (representing the NSF), Sheikh Al-Azhar, Pope Tawadros, and the Head of Al-Nour Salafi Party, showed the outline of what …

Mahmoud Salem
Mahmoud Salem

As the months have trudged by since 30 June, there has been a myriad of talk in the media regarding the creation of the new Egyptian state. The 3 July press conference, showing Al-Sisi with ElBaradei (representing the NSF), Sheikh Al-Azhar, Pope Tawadros, and the Head of Al-Nour Salafi Party, showed the outline of what this new state will “look” like: an alliance between state institutions, religious institutions, secular parties and the Salafis.

A coalition of very strange bed fellows indeed, but one that was supposed to show the plurality of the Egyptian nation and society united against the one faction that it has rejected: the Muslim Brotherhood. The interim government and the constitutional assembly reflected in their composition this coalition, where everyone is “represented” and the “New Egypt” project was re-launched for the second time in three years. Everyone thought that “we are going to get it right this time,” but as the days go by, this sentiment slowly but surely started being replaced with disappointment and disillusionment.

The months that passed by were pretty revealing to everyone watching as to the abilities of this new coalition to build this new state, and if a new state was even possible. The lackluster performance of the interim government, coupled with the final draft of the new constitution, and the local politicians complete inability to either inspire the masses or showcase ability to govern, lead to a new type of conversation, one that pushed the idea that the best that this circus can offer is a new government, but not a new state.

Amidst political analysts, a new conversation about how we need to distinguish between the government and the state or for example the distinction between ministers (government) and ministries (state.) The government may want something, the state does what it pleases, and the government has to either fight with the state or follow its cue out of fear of appearing unable to control it.

Naturally, this should lead to talks on reforming the state, but as discussed here before, we have only a mirage state: it looks like a state, has employees, paperwork, budgets and procedures, but literally produces nothing. For all of the talk for the need of a welfare state in Egypt, we currently run one of the biggest welfare programmes in the region, one that provides continuous monthly income and benefits to 6m mentally unfit Egyptians who don’t do their jobs and we like to call this programme the “Egyptian State.”

This problem isn’t new, and the ministers of the late Nazif government tried to circumvent it by operating around it. They hired highly paid consultants and advisors that did the work the state wouldn’t. Every Minister that could not get the employees of his ministry to work, and couldn’t fire them for not doing their jobs, created instead a new mini-ministry in his office, one that was manageable and could produce output for him. These mini-ministries operated outside the framework, of checks and balances of the state. Naturally, those consultants found themselves unchecked and in charge of the disbursement of huge sums of money, and were eager to give this money to private sector entities that would also “produce results.” Nepotism took over quite naturally, followed by the expectation of a commission for the contracts they handed out, and finally to keep state employees’ mouths shut, they started sharing those commissions with them, and thus finally integrating themselves within the new corrupt state.

The state employees that ended up getting a piece of the pie loved it, the ones that didn’t hated it. They spoke of the corruption of the ministers and their consultants, who were making money that would normally go to them. The media spoke of the corruption of the “government of businessmen and elites”, completely ignoring the real conversation as to why this was even possible, or why those elites removal didn’t lead those institutions to produce results, now that their corrupt leaders were technically gone. No one wanted to say the truth, that the new mafia had left the building, but the old mafia still operated. The “state mafia” knew they couldn’t be removed as the “state mafia” can’t reform itself.

In the post 30  June world, the state has to showcase that it is indeed strong, and the only way it could do that was through addressing the nation’s number one concern: security. This naturally left the ball in the court of the military, the Ministry of Interior and the judiciary. Given their intellectual bankruptcy as well, they used an old reliable plan: security repression.

Lethal crackdowns coupled with stringent laws and heavy sentencing would surely squash their opponents, the Brotherhood, and restore everyone’s faith in the state. Six months later, with the Brotherhood protests still ongoing despite all those killed, 150 police officers dead, an intelligence building in Sinai that gets blown up on weekly basis, amidst a still ongoing insurgency, everyone was starting to see that the emperor indeed was naked.

Something had to be done to preserve the illusion of the strong state for the public, and since they couldn’t beat their real enemy, the Brotherhood, they went against an enemy they can easily beat and which will provide them the “PR” they need to show how “strong” they are to the now suspecting public: revolutionary figures and activists.

So, the arrests started, followed by heavy sentencing, prompting the very media savvy but very easily emotionally manipulated revolutionary activists to scream “murder” about the return of the police state and the crackdown on activists all over the nation that they “heard of.”

The meme of “the police state is back” once examined against the “security achievements” of said police state would be laughable given the current lawless state of Egyptian streets. It accomplishes its goal perfectly: the population would hear that the police is working and the state is back to being strong (an illusion,) which translates into the belief that normalcy will return because “the state is back.” This causes them to support the security crackdown as “a positive step forward.” Needless to say, once the state runs out of famous activists they can jail for maximum PR effect (and they have,) all of this jazz will be revealed to what it truly is: a cheap trick, an illusion.

Political activism is seductive to the ethically minded individual because it provides a path to “fixing” their world. Political re-activism is seductive to weak states because by crushing the activists they get to showcase that they are strong and distract the public from their shortcomings and weaknesses. It’s a dance that gives both sides purpose, but never actually fixes the real problems that plague a nation.

While both may be delusional to different degrees, only the delusion of the state matters, since it actually affects the lives of the millions of people it is supposed to be there to serve. So please, dear Egyptian citizen, support the imprisonment of every famous revolutionary and demand that the state sentences them heavily, and then wait a week before the following thought starts creeping into your head: Why am I not feeling any safer?  When you are there, take a close look at the strong state you believe now exists, and you may just have your answer.

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  • Ahmed Bata

    The public sector is the biggest, but not the only recipient of welfare. Food and energy subsidies eat up a quarter of the budget. We are all guilty of dipping into public coffers, when our national wealth can be better spent on education and economic stimulus. The MB and what it represents, is the main security menace facing Egyptians. Better civil war, than a new Islamic failed state of Egypt. Its called freedom, and two faced MB don’t want it for you and me. You belittle security, but it has been acknowledged as job #1 for a state, since states were first invented. Having Sinai buildings blow up, intelligence and otherwise, is proof that it needs purged. it is our military overseeing this purge, not the “state”, and our military is not weak. You think activists are holy, but the average joe that just wants to get on with life takes precedence. At this critical time, any significant disruption to the roadmap will not be tolerated, for the sake of us all. We are about saving the state from anarchy. Activists have a role to play when they fight for social justice and government transparency. The activists being arrested now are doing no such thing, even though they believe they are. Instead, they are assisting the devil called political islam. Those activists may be full of patriotism and idealism, but the are short in the brain department. See the big picture. First security, then national goals, using the stimulus from foreign investors and tourists returning to a safe Egypt, then continue on with activism. Have no fear for the revolution. Egyptians will never again meekly follow a corrupt police state.

  • sam enslow

    There has yet to be a revolution in Egypt. There has been a revolt and a coup (yes, you can have a coup with millions supporting it). The state has been cut (a coup), but the institutions of the state have not changed ( a revolution). Castro had a revolution in Cuba, the French had a revolution(s), the Russians have had theirs, but in Egypt only the chairs have been rearranged. It is rather like a “new government” under Mubarak. The new constitution, which apparently few have seen, gives rights that can be changed “by the law”. You are as free as those in power say you are free. Laws mean nothing in Egypt (look at all the street venders and illegal buildings). It is still, “My big friend is bigger than your big friend.”
    The changes demanded by the 25 January crowds in Tahrir Square would have cost nothing. They required good management, that the police stop beating people, justice is swift and fair, the law matters, rights matter, and that Egyptians have at least a chance of improving their situation in life. None of this has been seen. Both the government and, in many cases, the people still believe the people work for the government – not that the government works for the people. The same people who go around claiming that they “rule Egypt” have taken no responsibility for all the problems Egypt faces as a result of their ‘rule”. A strong government is an effective government. Results matter. Accountability matters. The people in the coffee shops believe all politicians are snakes and actors (not a bad belief to hold). They believe the press is a government PR firm and “journalists” are just government hacks a la “Zaat”. Religious leaders of all faiths are questioned and doubted as to their understanding of the religions they claim to represent. No one knows whom to believe or whom to trust. They do know their lives are getting worse and no plans to build a better Egypt are being offered. Unless things change and the people believe change is happening, the real bloody revolution will come.
    “Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philospher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking. Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpetings, and farewells him with hootings, only to welcome another with trumpetings again. Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle. Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation” – Kahlil Gibran, The Garden of the Prophet.

    • Ahmed Bata

      We arent there yet. Before we can address those questions, we first have to defeat political islam. There is no rising from political islam. We can rise from despotism. Besides, the public has yet to see that their desire for dependence on the govt, is part and parcel with our ineffectual government. The population needs lead to the realization that govt facilitates, but it is each individual’s role to actually earn his bread.

      • sam enslow

        You must do these things in order to defeat Militant/Political Islam. Force alone will not do it. Every government untruth, every bribe taken or given, every government ineffeciency, every open breach of the law or injustice provides “arms” to the militants. All politics are local (even personal).

        • bonanzaunobtainium

          You guys are delusional if you really think we’re going to end political Islam. Good luck with that, you might as well nuke the middle east! This is NOT intellectual discourse, its a waste of time!

          • bonanzaunobtainium

            Do you honestly believe that 10 or 20, even 50 years down the road, we won’t have a revival of this sort of political islam, in Egypt or elsewhere in the region? It’s a part of our history and its not going anywhere soon, and so long as we deal with it the same exact way every single time it will continue to haunt future generations. We’re wiping our hands clean now but this will eventually come back and bite us hard in the ass. Its better, yet more difficult, to reform political islam from within, than to try to place its followers in the shadows, where they will be lurking and waiting for the right moment to strike back. These are very divisive times and I don’t expect a whole lot of making up soon so i understand its pointless to rant about it. I’m just saying, buckle up!

          • sam enslow

            “Political Islam” has little to do with Islam, but I understand your point. This is the old rural/urban debate that has been with Man since almost the beginning of civilization. The turbans vs the tarbooshes, the traditionalists vs the effendi.. In the US, it is the religious right Tea Party vs the liberals. Xenophobes vs Cosmopolitians. It is a shame that religion has become a political mask because the religion becomes twisted to justify political actions. Faiths designed to uplift the human spirit become, in the hands of politicians and religious institutions tools for control. Far too often religion becomes a matter of public show rather than personal belief. As Gibran said, your religion, true religion, is how you lead your life. For example, Jimmy Carter is a very religious man, but his focus is on himself. Is he living up to his religious beliefs? – not condeming others for believing or living in ways that do not fit his beliefs. Judging the morality of others is God’s job – not a job for any man.
            “Political Islam” or “Political Christianity” is never defined. Muslim? What Muslim? The Islam of the Salafi or of the Sufi (Rumi). The Christinaity of Pat Robertson or of Kahlil Gibran? The “Liberation Theology” of John XXIII or the institutional orthodoxy of Bendict?

          • Amr Fahmy

            You just skipped one important point,don’t if u knew that in 1948 out of population of about 18M,Egypt had 1M MB, today out of 90M about 300k MB and not active
            2nd point that for 1st time in its History MB not fighting regime they usually allied with from King Farouk to Mubarak with a special flit with Sadat and Mubarak,can someone explain me Al Shater being a billionaire from prison cells?
            MB are fighting the Egyptian people,they can’t survive that

  • wepump

    I’m seeing all these third party Anarchists are only destroying Egypt now Back in 2011 they had a purpose in helping start a revolution But in 2013 they now have no use the 6 April boys and others all who basically add no value now expect in a negative way and not one from the liberal side is providing a way out Only one man stood up so far and he has few backers Stop children what’s that sound every body look what’s going down, keeps playing in my mind and the answer is Egypt

    • sam enslow

      I have always wanted the Egyptian people to listen to Dylan’s “The Times They Are Achanging.” That might aviod “The Eve of Destruction.”

      • wepump

        every time I turn on TV all I see is same thing Death and Destruction we all know why the Islamic are doing it to start the end of days scenario Qaradarwi wants But now the Anarchists are back at play and they need to try something new Build something rather than destroy I understand they see same things as the old days are gone and the times are a changing. But they haven’t opened their eyes yet ITS A TIME TO HEAL AND REBUILD or face a Syria Somalia scenario that the Islamic types want and need

    • Amr Fahmy

      Very well said
      But they have been stopped Thankfully as you so eloquently said
      Egypt stepped in and stopped them!

  • Amr Fahmy

    Tell me how many secular “activist” like April 6 Maher and co have been jailed vs MB terrorists,also do you have any idea of how many terrorist attempts have been aborted,last one was a bomb defused near a school in Sinai?
    Do you really think a couple thousand MB students will be allowed to disrupt Al Azhar that has about 2.5M students if you account all their institutes all over the country? The answer is no!
    Finally do you suggest we return to Nazif gov style? Which was probably one of most efficient since 1952?
    Might not a bad idea after all if we do better wealth distribution not because we’re good and generous guys but I myself selfish,but know that better wealth distribution is my social safety net
    Freedom also

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