During the short-lived rule of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood complained bitterly about the “deep state” (the bureaucracy, military, security services) while liberal-secularists accused the Brotherhood of consolidating power throughout Egypt in order to push through its conservative social policies. In rebutting these claims, each side accused the other of sheer paranoia.
And now, the impending decision on former dictator Hosni Mubarak’s release from prison will only give further political ammunition to the polarizing narrative in Egypt – and ultimately tip the balance in favour of one of these opposing arguments.
For almost a year, liberal-secularists had spoken out against what they saw as the “Brotherhoodization” of Egypt, with the Morsi government and its Muslim Brotherhood supporters exerting greater control over Egyptian state institutions. They pointed to the removal of General Mohamed Tantawi and the appointment of General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as head of the armed forces; the rushed constitutional process; the appointment of Islamist state governors; and the sacking of the Cairo opera house’s director. Most importantly, liberal-secularists have complained against Brotherhood attacks on the judiciary, which started with the overthrow of the prosecutor-general and lowering the retirement age of judges in order to remove old members of the bench. These decisions have been noted as evidence that the Brotherhood wanted to forever change Egypt into a “Brotherhood dominion.”
Meanwhile, the Morsi government and its Brotherhood backers claimed they were forced to fast-track the constitution last December and were unable to implement reforms and policies because of the “deep state” – where powerful Mubarak-era cronies continued to dominate key Egyptian institutions. Throughout Mr. Morsi’s time in office, his supporters claimed that at every turn, the isolated President was unable to change the country because of fervent resistance from the judiciary, bureaucracy and liberal media. After taking office, they realized that the civilian government was a mere fig leaf for democracy; the real power-brokers were Mubarak-era business elites, the military, security and intelligence forces.
Proponents of the “deep state” claimed that Mr. Mubarak’s financial cronies withheld domestic investment and co-ordinated their capital exodus to raise the carrying costs of Egyptian bonds. And that private newspapers and television stations spread (mis)information about the Morsi government.
Bureaucrats allowed the interruption of electricity and fuel supplies to create artificial shortages and line queues throughout the country. On rumours of energy shortages in liberal Egyptian media, fuel prices further skyrocketed causing panic buying and hoarding. The Morsi government, as a precondition to an International Monetary Fund loan, had tried to implement a smart-card system to better target subsidized fuel for the country’s poor. Fearing the government could track fuel supplies, corrupt petroleum ministry officials with ties to Mubarak-era cronies refused to implement it.
By the time Mr. Morsi had taken power, security and intelligence forces let law and order lapse, allowing for rival soccer fans to fight each other off the field and religious violence against Coptic Christians to go uninvestigated. Traffic police disappeared from Cairo streets, and notorious thugs called beltagaya were sent out by illusive forces to cause mayhem and incite further hatred toward the Brotherhood. Adding insult to injury, when demonstrations against Mr. Morsi began on June 30, Egyptian police stood by and watched the ransacking of the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo.
The day after Mr. Morsi was removed from power, Egypt’s fuel shortages were no more, its electricity supply went uninterrupted and traffic police suddenly went back to work.
So who wins the debate in Egypt’s exchange of accusations between the “deep state” and “Brotherhoodization“?
The majority of Egyptians who supported the popular coup believe the “Brotherhoodization” needed to be countered with a new revolution. Well, the release of Mr. Mubarak, the deposed dictator imprisoned since the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution, would be a clear vindication of the existence of the “deep state.” To the Brotherhood – as Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22 poignantly once said – “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Bessma Momani is a professor at the University of Waterloo and Balsillie School of International Affairs, and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Brookings Institution.