by Mohamed El-Menshawy
Without condensing the issue of democracy in Egypt and diagnosing it as a struggle between the Islamist current and what is known as the civil current, democracy in Egypt is subject to many threats. Most notably, an alarming trinity founded on rising exclusionary fascist rhetoric; encouraging Islamophobia; and overt calls to marginalise lower and poor classes.
Many countries have endured chaos, violence, death and terror in order for their people to enjoy the right to choose their rulers in recurring free and fair elections. But it seems the formula of “one man, one vote,” giving all citizens — rich or poor, lower, middle or upper classes — equal voting rights is not favoured by large sectors of Egyptian society who believe they possess more humanity, culture, cleanliness and education than the majority of the citizenry.
This class does not accept that an “ignorant populace” can choose their rulers, and believes “a starving people” should focus on their “livelihood” not politics and elections. This class prefers to be described as the “old elite”, but I believe “Egyptian neo-fascists” better describes them.
Egyptian fascists loyally served Mubarak’s regime and were given senior executive, judicial and legislative positions based on their proximity and loyalty to the head of the regime. Neo-fascists did not object to despotic rule in Egypt or harassing political opponents or violations of basic rights of the citizenry. They agreed to rig elections and approved the unholy marriage of money and politics.
These fascists do not believe in equality among all Egyptians, but that they and their special class are the only ones capable of shouldering the responsibility of leading the country and people. They believe the state in which they assume the most senior posts is a more important entity than everyone and is above all else. They would not mind repealing individual rights to avoid threats to the cohesiveness of the country.
This class directly controlled the capabilities of Egypt’s state, power and rule over the past 30 years, and indirectly for the 30 years before that. It did not contribute to advancing Egypt in any field; on the contrary, it spread corruption while the state apparatus and ruling party were manipulated to maintain the narrow interests of this class.
Since the overthrow of ex-president Hosni Mubarak, neo-fascists tried to regain control of power. The Rebel (Tamarod) movement and 30 June protests were a lifeline and panacea for their losses after the January 25 Revolution removed the head of the state, Mubarak. These fascists use all their resources and networks to demand banning Islamists from the new political scene after 3 July. Poor performance and lack of political judgment, key features of deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s rule, serve as strong arguments used by fascists to pounce on the nascent democratic process.
The Islamophobia component is a complex enigma for anyone with any intelligence. During my stay, studies and work in the US, I have encountered aspects of Islamophobia in various ugly forms that increased after the 9/11 attacks, a decade before Mubarak’s ouster.
Islamophobia can be simply defined as excessive fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims in the West. It primarily aims to promote a negative stereotype that leads to discrimination against Muslims in the workplace, home and education, as well as marginalising them in public life. These campaigns are mainly supported by radical right-wing groups of neo-conservatives who mobilise their supporters to make Muslims appear as a serious threat to the US.
What is truly surprising, however, is the sharp rise of Islamophobia inside Egypt, a country where nearly 85 per cent of the population is Muslim.
Just as in the West, state-run and private media often goes to great lengths to demonise Islamist parties and groups, describing them as imminently dangerous to Egypt’s future. They also accuse Islamists of tending to foreign interests that Islamists supposedly hold more important than Egypt’s own interests; they alarm the public about the Muslim Brotherhood’s infiltration of state institutions, and stage repeated attacks on men with beards and women wearing the niqab (face veil).
The intimidation machine has even caused many so-called intellectuals and decision makers to argue against allowing Islamists to contribute to the roadmap on Egypt’s political future, questioning their loyalty to Egypt.
The final piece of the triangle is related to viral classism that caused large numbers of Egyptians to overtly reject the outcome of the ballot boxes, although it reflected the choice of the majority of voters. These segments rejected a parliament where members from the poor, middle and lower classes won seats, and an elected president who has nothing in common with them culturally or socially.
For many decades, this group of elite distanced itself from the real Egypt and the problems suffered by the majority of millions of Egyptians. This was evident in the education sector where the elite did not mind seeing government schools and university education fall apart, and created for themselves alternative education that they believe is good, in private schools with foreign curricula, such as British, American, French and even Turkish. The same thing happened in the health, transportation and housing sectors.
Today, these people claim to be revolutionary, true only in its worst form, and advocate the need to maintain security at the expense of freedoms — security and freedoms they want only for themselves and their ilk, not for all Egyptians equally.
The goals of the January 25 Revolution were not only to overthrow Mubarak, but also change the dynamic of relations between ruler and ruled. This change will never begin as long as the class linked to the former regime remains immune to the winds of change, as events since 30 June have shown they remain.