Three Types of Non-Transformative “Change”
Cairo – If you skip reading the news in Egypt for a day, it would seem that you’ve missed a lot. Everyday there is news of major changes in state institutions – overhauls with the magnitude of urgency that was called for immediately after the 18-day uprising in 2011.
Editors and chairmen of state papers, cabinet ministers, national councils, governors. For journalists, it’s difficult to keep up with the background checks of the new appointees.
In theory, it’s reason for celebration. The jubilation that followed President Mohammed Mursi’s decision to order the retirement of the ruling military generals is a perfect example. But after an initial look at the new names or during the trickling research revelations, the excitement fizzles, and is often replaced with concern.
Early last year, the notion of change was in itself good, a departure from an era marked with cross-sector stagnation. But now, as Egyptians have learnt under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and then the budding reign of the Muslim Brotherhood, change in itself doesn’t bring forth a bright future.
These past few months in particular revealed three types of non-transformative “change.”
The first, which was adopted by SCAF over the past year and half, depended on changing figureheads but is in essence superficial. The new names were from the old order and the failed policies were left intact.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which briefly pitted itself as an opponent of the generals and their rule, is following in their footsteps, but after its own fashion.
It started with a new cabinet of ministers that largely reflected continuity rather than change. The implications of this approach are best observed in the appointment of chief-editors for state-run papers by the MB-dominated Shura Council. The new editors were seen as under-qualified by some of their peers /a>as — the type that won’t mind bending media coverage to suit MB policies. This approach, which prioritized loyalty over qualification — with an especially maddening rate over the last 10 years of Mubarak’s rule —crushed the intellectual weight of many state publishing houses.
The pro-reform journalists inside these institutions were hoping for a fundamental change that would guarantee editorial independence, a reverse of tack towards professional standards, and a purge of corruption.
The second type of so called change pours into the most popular concern: the Islamization of the state and the Brotherhood domination of its institutions and arms. This is most evident in the latest appointment of 10 governors, six of which are affiliated with the MB.
The third kind of change is directly aimed at keeping allies — and some opposition — happy. Like in the previous types, qualification isn’t a priority, but is rather completely sacrificed here. As with the case of the Supreme Press Council and the National Council for Human Rights, the new appointments saw big and famous names, some of who are not remotely related to these fields. The young spokesperson of the Salafi al-Nour Party turned down a seat on the press council following a wave of criticism. Notorious Islamic preacher Safwat Hegazy remains on the new Human Rights Council, even though activists have voiced even more scathing criticisms of his appointment.
Former Brotherhood member and presidential candidate Abdul-Moneim Abul-Fotouh said political considerations “are not different from the hegemony of the party,” urging the prioritization of qualification in selection criteria.
Throughout this, a previous conversation with two TV producers and members of the reform group within state TV keeps ringing in my head. They had expressed concern that the lack of reform would allow anyone to control these powerful institutions for their own benefit, including the Brotherhood.
The type of changes introduced by the MB suggests we are heading in this direction. Comparisons with the decision to replace the top generals of SCAF suggest that unless the Brotherhood is fighting for power, changes are either for show or for subtle control, but not radical or aimed solely at reform.
Yes, there are some promising faces here and there. Yes, some of those MB appointees could purge the institutions they now head of corruption, without using this corruption to guarantee the loyalty of the employees and the rigid bureaucratic system. But they could also cement a growing partisan culture, doused in a religious discourse, to ensure control, whether they address the corruption or not.
As speculations and concerns continue, the hopes for transformative change struggle for sustenance. Names are changing, but the core policies connecting these institutions are still waiting for their long-due overhaul.
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