The ousted Egyptian ruling party is down but not out.
When Egypt’s government recently dissolved its much feared State Security Investigations agency (SSI), the news was greeted with widespread relief by most Egyptians. However, that relief has been short lived, replaced by growing concern that many of the SSI’s 100,000 members are working diligently and surreptitiously toward overturning the country’s tentative passage to democracy.
The SSI--the main instrument by which former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak maintained power throughout his 30-year reign--was long-renowned for torturing dissidents, rigging elections, and hiring armed thugs to attack regime opponents. Now, despite Mubarak’s ouster, some of its members are suspected of brewing unrest by, among other things, releasing criminals from prison, breeding labor strikes, and fomenting Muslim-Christian riots.
In one of those riots in Cairo on March 8, seven Coptics were killed when Muslims confronted 1,000 Christians who had been protesting the burning of a Coptic church. Additionally, on March 6 over 100 pro-democracy activists in Tahrir Square were beaten by plain-clothed hoodlums armed with knives and machetes. In both instances, the suspected instigators were believed to be leftovers from the Mubarak regime, along with rogue factions within the Egyptian military.
The cascade of unrest has become so great that it led Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to conclude that it was “something organized, aimed at shaking the nation.” Deputy Prime Minister Yahya el-Gamal was more direct. He gravely warned, “We are now facing a counterrevolution, led by forces from the former regime along with hidden hands.”
For its part, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised that it will not allow a counter-revolution. In a statement it released through the state news agency MENA, it said the government was “fully committed to the interests of the people and to implementing the goals of the revolution; and it will stand firm against plans for a counter-revolution.”
To that end, the Egyptian military--which has long-had an uneasy relationship with the SSI--arrested the agency head and up to 100 of its officers suspected of destroying documents. However, most Egyptians are still disturbed that the military has not done enough to root out unrepentant and out-of-control SSI personnel.
As Mohammed Rifaat, an Egyptian activist bluntly said, “Unless they arrest its agents and try them they will form criminal gangs or become guns for hire. They can carry out assassinations for the benefit of the old regime or some of the businessmen linked to it.”
Of course, if a counter-revolution is indeed underway, it should pose little surprise. Unlike Mubarak and his top leadership, the 1.4 million rank and file members who staffed Egypt’s internal security apparatus do not have the luxury of finding comfortable exile in some far-off location. Rather, they have been consigned to the prospect of losing their once-vaunted positions, and, more grimly, to answering for their participation in a 30-year run of government sanctioned terror.
However, Egypt’s security apparatchiks aren’t the only ones being tainted as participants in the counter-revolutionary movement. As the political arm of Hosni Mubarak during his reign and the orchestrator of its oppressive policies, the two million member National Democratic Party (NDP) has begun to quickly and furiously shed its links to the old regime. To that end, the NDP has undergone a very unfamiliar transformation.
According to the NDP’s Secretary General Mohamad Ragab, hundreds of party members had resigned immediately after the popular uprising began on January 25, “even before Mubarak resigned from office on February 11.”
Furthermore, he said, “As for the members who said they are ready to stay with the party, they stipulated that the party must relieve itself of the senior officials who face corruption charges.” To demonstrate that point, the NDP fired 21 businessmen and former senior officials on corruption charges ranging from profiteering to theft of state-owned land.
Still, these changes have not been enough for some current and former NDP members. As summed up by Mohamed Abdellah, former NDP secretary for Media Affairs, “At first I thought that the NDP could be resurrected again but this proved to be quite impossible.”
Then, in reference to Tunisa’s decision to dissolve its ousted president Zine Abidine Ben Ali's ruling party (the Constitutional Democratic Rally), Abdellah said, “There is no need to have the NDP dissolved because it has already become dead and beyond repair.”
Unfortunately for Abdellah, that assessment doesn’t ring true to those who say that the NDP is still attempting to creep back into power. In fact, the liberal nationalist Wafd party has accused Ragab of personally conspiring with Mubarak to prepare and organize for a counter-revolution. According to Mona Mokaram of the Wafd party, “We have a deep fear that a counter-revolution will take place.”
For his part, Ragab responded by threatening a lawsuit: “Those who believe that Mubarak will be back to lead the party again are crazy. The fact is that the NDP has many members who still believe in its centrist ideology, which is based on moderation and modernism.”
Ragab seems to also believe that past NDP success had little to do with vote rigging, intimidation and arrest of opposition groups, but rather with individual members’ popularity, wealth and tribal and familial relations. While some may argue with that revisionist view of Egyptian political history, Ragab raised the ante by saying, “These members were by no means negatively affected by the resignation of Mubarak and his henchmen from the party.”
Yet, while many of Egypt’s pro-democracy groups are genuinely alarmed by the prospect of a counter-revolution being launched by the secular discards of the Mubarak regime, they are also keenly aware that Islamist forces from the other side of the political spectrum may be simultaneously working to co-opt the nascent democratic movement.
Like the NDP, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has undergone some cosmetic changes in order to conceal its Islamist roots. With a newly minted creed of equal citizenship regardless of religion or gender, the MB has rebranded itself as the Justice and Freedom Party. Insisting it is committed to bringing about democracy in co-ordination with other political forces in the country, it has opened its party membership to all, including Christians.
Surprisingly, this makeover hasn’t assuaged those pro-democracy activists and Coptics who are reminded that the MB’s 2007 draft for a civil party, which is to be used as a blueprint for its new political party, has banned Christians and women from running for president and calls for a civilian state with a religious source for legislation. The MB, for its part, chalks up any apprehension toward its motives to being misunderstood.
Secular establishment figures, youth coalitions and prominent legal experts who comprise the unwieldy and outnumbered pro-democracy movement all understand too well that their fledgling democratic efforts are poised to be crushed between the anti-democratic aims of both the MB and NDP.
That dismal prospect most recently surfaced in Egypt’s March 18 constitutional referendum when Egyptians voted on a package of amendments to the Egyptian constitution, the passage of which would pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held within six months.
Since the incoming parliament would be charged with drafting the country’s new constitution, pro-democracy forces urged a “no” vote, arguing that as the best organized parties, the NDP and MB would garner the most parliamentary seats and thus dominate the drafting of the new constitution.
However, residual elements of the NDP and MB -- once bitter foes -- allied themselves in an effort to promote a “yes” vote on the referendum. To the dismay of the pro-democracy movement, this unholy alliance managed to produce an overwhelming voter approval of the reform package.
According to one Egyptian political analyst, the results were “a nightmare” for pro-democracy forces who felt “their revolution being aborted…in what amounted to an Islamist power play.”
Perhaps the election results also signaled something else. As the American sociologist Charles Wright Mills once said, “Every revolution has its counter-revolution -- that is the sign the revolution is for real.” Unfortunately, for many Egyptians, the events of the past several weeks have demonstrated the true authenticity of their revolution.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.