Egypt: The Brotherhood Seeps into the State

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Supporters of Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi cheer during his speech in Cairo's Tahrir Square, 29 June 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Sarah El Sirgany

Published Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cairo - Names are flying as to who will be heading Egypt’s ministries under the leadership of the new president, Mohammed Mursi. Yet any tangible transformation in the country’s age-old, corruption-riddled bureaucracy requires more than just a change in figureheads.

Analysts project a more deep-rooted and widespread wave of replacements and promotions in a bid by the Muslim Brotherhood to wield control of state institutions. It’s not clear whether this will lead to a restructuring and purging of such institutions, a gradual change in their culture in accordance with the Brotherhood and their more conservative Islamist allies’ social agenda, or simply preserving the same bureaucratic practices while changing the loyalties of those in charge.

An estimated six million Egyptians work in the public sector and according to a Ministry of Administrative Development report, they are systematically resistant to change. The administrative apparatus suffers from various deficiencies, including inefficiency and bureaucratic stagnation, the report said.

Bureaucracy will be the terrain of many of the Brotherhood battles in the next phase, according to Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst with the Century Foundation.

The MB could use the sympathy of lower level employees and try to get some of the third tier leaders on its side to support the new ministers, explained activist and software engineer Alfred Raouf. He envisioned a long-term scenario of bureaucratic replacements that aim at giving the Brothers a foot in numerous institutions. “After having your man in… restructuring can come later,” he said.

Mursi is facing the challenge of keeping these institutions functional, preferably with improved efficiency, while pushing for some reforms.

Several analysts and activists agreed that combating corruption is a certainty during the reign of former Freedom and Justice Party head, Mursi. The MB and its political arm, the FJP, promised a corruption-free economy and can’t risk disappointing the bulk of their voters at such a delicate political stage. These voters won’t be happy to continue paying the bribes that have become a key part in any paper work in Egypt. It’s not clear, however, how far would the Islamists go in their corruption battle and how effective their efforts will be, especially in the first year(s).

Moustafa Shouman, founder of the ‘Ma7liat’ initiative, said that the mere change in figures would bring corruption down a notch even if the initial target was just to switch or influence the loyalties of these institutions.

“The Brotherhood will dismantle the deep state. This is to our advantage even if they are only doing it for their own good,” added Shouman, whose initiative raises awareness about municipal councils and prepares young activists to contest the elections of these bodies, which control the day-to-day administration of local communities.

“I expect them to push their people in the sectors that service citizens,” he said.

Hands Off

The influence, however, isn’t expected to reach any of the top institutions, namely the ministries of interior, defense, foreign affairs and information. In these four arenas, Mursi is facing a mix of closed institutions infused with overlapping loyalties on one hand and growing military control that has tried to replace Mubarak and his party’s men over the past 16 months.

“At the end of the Mubarak regime, the country wasn’t a military state. The military was the silent guarantor without much of a political role. Nothing like the 50s and 60s,” Hanna said. The military’s role has changed towards “more formal power.” In addition to the retired generals holding administrative posts, many sectors now feature more officials with direct links to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The Ministry of Information, which was briefly scrapped in the wake of the January 25 uprising in 2011, is now headed by a retired general.

Members of Independent Media Personnel group, working on reforming the state media towards editorial independence, say that for them it will need change from the top. “Our number is small,” Dalia Hassouna said, comparing the small size of the group with Maspero, the state TV and radio building that houses over 40,000 employees. She described an anti-Islamist cultural legacy and high profile corruption that would prevent most from switch alliances.

Such antipathy to the Islamists is stronger in the ministries of foreign affairs, interior and defense, whose hierarchical structure is even more immune to change or infiltration.

“Fundamental reform will be off the table, so the idea will be to parachute in people at the top to run these ministries. That’s hard when you don’t have loyalty from the bottom up,” Hanna explained.

Mursi’s discourse in his speeches in his first week remained true to the MB discourse, under which an all out confrontation with the ruling generals in the near future is unlikely. He tried to appease his voters that have been chanting against the military in Tahrir Square, while praising the generals repeatedly. The conservative nature of the Brothers sways in favor of slow and gradual change. This will be relatively easier in sectors like health, education, trade and economy.

Workers in each sector admit the differences between the ministries in terms of resistance to change. Each presents a different set of challenges that require its own mix of bottom-up and top-down approaches.

In these institutions, the MB, which has promised a coalition government and power sharing with other political forces, faces more than just the bureaucratic system and SCAF control. The regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his now-dissolved National Democratic Party have developed rooted networks of interests, in addition to the direct interests of the employees involved regardless of political affiliation.

The actors in this camp are not always unified, whether in strategy or goals.

Despite the old rivalry between SCAF and some of the top NDP leaders, SCAF has asserted itself as the “primary political force,” according to Hanna. “SCAF isn’t the NDP, it isn’t the bureaucracy; they are different things.”

“SCAF isn’t loyal to those people [NDP]. [The generals] want to use their networks,” he added.

“The political battles over power are unfinished. That’s bad news in terms of anything getting done.”

In this confusing picture, Hanna believes there’s room for maneuvering, not just for the MB.

The Others

Until the cabinet is announced and ministers start their work, it won’t be clear how willing the MB is to share important portfolios with the ultraconservative Salafis and non-Islamist groups and the scope of authority of these new leaders.

The ministry of education is of particular significance in this power struggle. Whoever controls it has the power to change more than just the bureaucracy; they can influence the curricula and gradually change the culture. The Salafi bloc has called dips on it — in parliament a Salafi MP headed the education committee.

“The question is whether there is a role to be played by actual opposition,” Hanna said.

“We as secular revolutionaries — liberals, leftists or social democrats — lack the very basics of political experience and democratic practice, let alone knowledge of how to manage state affairs; our conduct in its entirety has merely been that of a protest movement, not of a political body that can assume and wield power,” Raouf wrote in April, calling for revolutionaries to take the political path.

Political parties have to connect with the grassroots, and work on social and economic issues, Shouman said. People have to stop being passive and understand that their role doesn’t end with casting a ballot, he added.

One of the top concerns is that the Brotherhood will preserve the corruption within state institutions and like Mubarak use these powerful tools to maintain their hold on power. Hassouna, who didn’t see change in Maspero in the near future, was still fearful of a similar scenario.

“We have to protect state institutions against politicization and preserve their service nature,” Shouman said.

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