I have – alongside Steven Cook, Philip Giraldi and Gonul Tol - a short piece out in the NYT's Room for Debate on the subject of deep states. The other articles are largely Turkey-focused (because of one interpretation of the AKP's recent electoral victory an inversion of the deep state as experienced in Turkey in the 1980s). I take a slightly contrarian view on deep states, pointing out that shadowy networks of interests are not always bad and arguing that in Tunisia, these worked to avert a wider crisis that could have easily gone in the direction of what happened in Egypt. Generally, though, when you hear about the deep state, it's not good news - and when you don't hear about it, it does not mean it's not there.
Paul Mutter writes in with a Egypt-Russia comparison.
With the Muslim Brotherhood taking a clear majority in the parliamentary elections (followed by the Nour Party), SCAF now finds itself with a more concrete array of forces to work to manage.
SCAF is neither incompetent nor omnipotent. But "uncivil society" – a term historian Stephen Kotkin uses to describe the Eastern European equivalent of "the hybrid military-civilian deep state and its manipulations" – has strong roots in Egypt. And while many former Warsaw Pact nations offer encouraging examples of how newly emerging civil society can mitigate the old guard's machinations, there is one former Warsaw Pact member whose post-communist history does not offer an encouraging example for Egypt's near-future, and that is Russia. The convergence of Egypt's civilian and military management with the aspirations of both the Brothers' and Salafis' leadership.
Rodric Braithwaite, London's last ambassador to the USSR, could just as easily have written these words regarding Washington's relationship with Egypt:
We lectured the Russians on their corrupt politics and their violations of human rights. We gave them expensive and often irrelevant economic advice. We insisted they adopt western foreign policy aims, but ignored what they thought were their legitimate interests... We interfered in their neighbourhood. Our advice was discredited as Russians came to believe that we were untrue to our own principles and unable even to run our much vaunted liberal economy properly.
Thirty-plus years of engagement with Sadat, Mubarak and now, SCAF, have meted out a similar legacy for Egyptian civil society: an unpopular foreign policy in the near-abroad, clear human rights hypocrisies and questionable economic assistance that mostly benefited entrenched party hacks and up-and-coming oligarchs within the walls of Heliopolis Palace; giving Egypt a ruling elite not unlike the oligarchs who called at Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin. An oligarchy that, as in Russia, included the leader's own family circle, making anti-corruption prosecutions extremely difficult. The coziness between Yeltsin and Clinton was not lost on Russians. And 30 years of warm embraces between Mubarak and US presidents hasn't been lost on the Egyptian people.
Mubarak's order was crumbling, and it was apparent that the U.S., caught off guard by the scale of the demonstrations and fence-sitting of the military, was not in a position to use its muscle to help its old friend stay in power. His cronies decided to take their chances by establishing themselves as the power brokers for a future order. Like the supposed "liberals" of Russia, they will only offer new freedoms with strings attached.
But despite these daunting challenges, civil society in Egypt (and now, Russia) continues to protest against the troika of military-intelligence cliques, well-connected corporatists and pliant parliamentarians that dominate the political scenes. Still the power brokers, the throne whisperers, SCAF will strive ever harder to set the tone for post-Mubarak politics. The leaders of the US and Israel, but not Tahrir, will be on their side.
This week’s translation comes from al-Tahrir, the newspaper edited by Ibrahim Eissa that is among the most critical publications of SCAF and the security services to come out since the January uprising. The writer of this column is Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, a former high-level Egyptian diplomat who has woked on the Middle East peace process and in Sudan in various capacities, both for his country and the United Nations. He is also a novelist — his latest book has just been shortlisted for the Arabic Booker — and teaches International Relations at the American University in Cairo. His website is here. We previously feature Ezzedine (a friend of ours) in this hilarious video, in which he berates state television by introducing them to the concept of remote controls.
This column echoes a lot of my own thinking about recent events, notably hinting at a trend within the Egyptian deep state that is seeking to re-establish itself, manipulating politics (including the elections) and pushing SCAF towards confrontation and state media towards incitation against the revolutionary movement. This is a worrying development, even perhaps raising a question about whether one hand of the state knows what what the other is doing.
As always, we rely on the fantastic Arabic translation services of our partner, Industry Arabic. If you need anything translated from Arabic — a technical or legal document, a media article, a report — check them out.
Goodbye to Military Rule
By Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, al-Tahrir, 20 December 2011
The coup-makers who dragged the Military Council into adopting the approach of the State Security Investigations Service (SSI) in the way it handles revolutionary forces have damaged the Military Council, the image of the army and the army’s status in the new political order.
For 60 years, military men have constituted the solid basis of the Egyptian state, and dominated the state’s backbone and institutions. Military men exercised this dominance in two ways: the first way was by building up a military establishment that was strong, sprawling and completely independent of the civilian sector, whereby no one had the right to hold the armed forces accountable for anything it did or did not do. The second way was by building up a strong intelligence apparatus under the control of soldiers, including the General Intelligence Services. These agencies – along with the State Security Investigations Service – are what provided direct control of civilian state institutions. No one was appointed in any government institution without their approval; no one assumed any public post without their approval; and no minister carried out a policy in the face of opposition from these agencies, whether this policy was related to security or any other matter, ranging from urbanization to culture, and including transport, antiquities, social affairs, communications, administrative development, financing, local administration, and of course foreign policy.
The solid structure of the Egyptian State is a military structure. It wears civilian garb in the form of ministers, experts, university professors, diplomats, legal scholars, and some political professionals. However, they are all aiders and abettors, while decision-making powers always revert to the real decision-maker: the military structure. The Military Council sided with the revolution against Mubarak in order to protect this state.
Over the past 10 months, it has been trying different methods to contain and divert the revolution, and “pave the way for stability” – that is, getting the state back to work according to the old system. What those in charge have not realized is that this system itself is in need of change, and that it is no longer possible to rule in the Soviet manner. This is understandable, as it is almost impossible to change deeply-rooted concepts. Even when the Soviet Union fell, the higher-ups in the Egyptian State thought this was due to Gorbachev’s mistakes, or the fact that he was an American client. They did not believe that the Soviet Union fell due to the security state’s failure to rule and compete in a world where the rules of politics are changing. They chose the easy, complacent interpretation, and persevered in their way of doing things.
What the Military Council has not realized is that the explosion in January was the outcome of a blockage in the regime’s arteries, and not just Mubarak’s. What the Military Council has not understood is that the state’s solid structure – the security regime – is the real problem, and not Mubarak.
If the Military Council realized this, they would strive to change the political equation for society to enter the state as a partner. If they realized this, they would have reached an understanding with civilians in February over a joint form of rule that would close the curtain on the past and protect the independence of the military establishment in the future. It seems, however, that they haven’t realized this, they didn’t believe it when they were told, and they didn’t listen.
Instead of this, they listen to the ones staging a coup against the revolution, who portrayed to them that violence, terrorizing the people, and control of the state media would put an end to mass support for the revolution and to the revolutionary forces themselves, one after the other.
What is the result of this? The result is that these coup-makers are tearing down with their own hands the structure they’re trying to protect. They’re sullying the image of the army in the eyes of society and are placing it in the same category as the Interior Ministry cronies involved in murder, torture and abuse. The result is that these coup-makers are provoking the people’s ire and resentment against the army. In the past, these feelings of outrage, resentment, and fear would lead to submissiveness and surrender. Now, however, they will motivate society to gain control of the army, open up its files, hold it accountable, and to do other things the coup-makers were trying to prevent.
Coup-makers, go home. You’re bringing down the structure on top of all of our heads.