The Brittle State

Salama Moussa writes about the Orwellian realities in Egypt today:

The narrative surrounding the January 2011 revolution has done damage to the goal of progress in Egypt. The accepted myth is that of an impossibly brave action against an exceptionally impregnable wall.  While there is no denying the bravery, the Mubarak state was less an impregnable wall than a pile of rubble.  Like a bridge with heft and no strength it awaited the first burst of wind under the right conditions to exhibit spectacular collapse. The Egyptian state will be made stronger and more durable by trimming rather than adding. Everything in Egypt today is the opposite of what it seems. The arbitrarily empowered policeman undermines law and order rather than enforce it. The hectoring Sheikh (or Abouna [i.e. priest]) does not promote morality, just false piety. The constantly declaiming politician does not enlighten, but obfuscates. The preening man in uniform does not protect, but menace. The deeply patriarchal men do not hold the family together, just rob it of half of its strength. The Islamists are menacing not because they are the “other” but because they are a reflection of a damaged self. A country this deep in the rabbit hole has to consider doing the exact opposite of what its instincts demand.

The goals of the 2011 revolution, Bread-Freedom-Social Justice, are catchy, vague and contradictory. The country needs a chicken in every pot not more poorly-baked and subsidized bread. Only an unfettered market will guarantee that, and such a market will initially run counter to social justice, although it will ultimately strengthen it in profound ways. Freedom is a vague concept, notable only by its absence. What will free Egypt from its current chaos is respect for the rules, which may seem initially counter to “Freedom”, but is ultimately its true servant and guardian.  Incremental progress, not revolutionary action, may guarantee the most profound change in Egypt today.

He also provides an interesting lesson in (literal) bridge-building.

But speaking of the state, there is also the concept of Egypt’s ‘deep state’, which according to Amr Darrag, one of the few prominent Muslim Brothers not arrested, caused the fall of Morsi:

MM: What would you say were your biggest mistakes?

AD: We underestimated the power of the deep state. We thought that just having the revolution and elections, the deep state would diminish automatically or gradually.

When parliamentary elections took place and only 13 members from feloul [remnants of the Mubarak regime] parties made it, we thought it was a strong indication that they don’t have much influence. But maybe at that time they were still gathering themselves.

As time passed, we found that they have much more influence. They managed to have their candidate be the second top presidential candidate. If you go through the government, as I did as minister, you find out that they are really deeply rooted everywhere. A more revolutionary path would have been necessary to expedite reform.

When he says ‘everywhere’, Muslim Brothers often mean the Egyptian bureaucracy – bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and the mechanism through which most of the state moves. It can be bypassed, perhaps, but it must be placated.

The Brotherhood believed this ‘deep state’ was against them from the beginning and foiled their project. Darrag points out their ‘mistake’ was underestimating it, but let us suppose his point is true.

The mistake is not in underestimation, but in losing their revolutionary allies who would be willing to confront it with them. But I have yet to hear a Brother articulate this manner of ‘mistake’. What could they have done to keep their very fragile and distrustful coalition together?

Of course, others say the Brothers had no intention of reform, but of takeover. Either way, they failed.

But Salama Moussa’s labeling of the state as ‘brittle’ is at the heart of making sense of Egypt these days: What is the nature of the beast?

How can it be harnessed – either whittled or strengthened – for Egypt’s good? And, who can do it?

Here is his unfortunate conclusion:

The only open question is whether Egypt will be lucky enough to find leaders who can articulate this vision to its people in terms both understandable and respectful. It would run counter to the last decades of leadership, which has been alternately charismatic, theatrical, tedious, and stupid, but rarely effective.

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