Mahmoud Salem / December 9, 2013
“Old Regime Remnants”, “The traditional forces”, “The ruling elite”, “Mubarak supporters” and “Army Boot-lickers” are all names used to describe what some people believe to be Egypt’s strongest political force, the felool. They are the fourth player in post-revolution’s Egypt political field after the Islamists, liberals and revolutionaries; yet, there is very little written about them with regards to their socio-economic make-up, their logic or their interests. They are the enigmatic “Others” that everybody mentions in their analysis, yet nobody tries to explain them in any terms other than “Backers of the military”, which makes their political behaviour and choices of candidates perplexing to anyone who doesn’t share their mindset. This is an attempt to do just that.
The quick and dirty political definition for them would be social conservatives, even though that’s not completely accurate. On the political map, they are exactly in the centre, with a few elements on the centre-right and centre-left. The supreme majority of them don’t believe themselves to be politically ideological, despite being very dogmatic in their beliefs, due to their exceptional flexibility in playing the political game. While the majority of them are regressive in their mindset and beliefs, they do have a progressive minority that is both their face and their brain, many of whom were the faces of the NDP and the Nazif government during the latter years of the Mubarak era. In terms of demographic segmentation, they are present and influential in all social and economic classes all over Egypt, outnumbering the Islamists only in the upper class elite, while existing as their counter-balance in every other class all over Egypt. Their representatives may be their elite, which is why they are usually framed in the context of an unholy alliance of interests of Egypt’s Businessmen, tribal leaders and big families, but such analysis ignores their large voter base, which is none of those things. In truth, what binds them together is a mindset, a number of commonly held and shared beliefs.
More than anything, the felool desire a “strong state”, which revolutionaries always confuse with their desire for a “police state”, a common mistake on their part. For the felool, a strong state is the state that does what’s right for the country’s best interests in spite of internal objections and/or external pressures. A good example for that would be the greatly unpopular harsh economic measures employed by the Atef Sedky government back in the late 80s and early 90s, which they believe led to the 90s boom; or, for the sake of a more recent example, the way the Egyptian government handled the Ghaza war of 2009. They refused to be dragged into the conflict, or to open up the Rafah’s crossing despite internal and international pressures to do so; they refused to join Saudi or Qatar’s emergency conferences on the matter, mediated the crisis quietly between the Palestinians and Israelis, sealed a secret agreement of cessation of hostilities two days before Obama took office, hosted an international conference to “mitigate the crisis” with the attendance of high profile European leaders, took the credit for ending it, and Obama walked into his first day in office with the crisis resolved, thanks to Egypt’s “wise leadership”, which is why one of his first phone calls in office was to Mubarak, and Egypt was where he gave his speech to the Muslim world. To them, this is how a strong state operates: in the country’s pure best interests, nationally or internationally. Everyone else’s opinions or objections be damned.
The felool are not blind to the country’s woes or conditions, but believe that mismanagement, and not necessarily corruption, to be the mortal sin of the Mubarak regime. They are supremely results-oriented and care more about achievement track record than intentions or plans, which is why they hold the Nazif government as the best government in Egypt’s recent history (given the country’s annual growth rate, economic stability and increasing FDI), or why Ahmed Shafiq was their candidate of choice in the presidency (a man of the state, managed and improved a huge ministry, rebuilt Egypt’s airports), as opposed to Amr Moussa, whom they viewed as a “ wishy-washy talker” with no “tangible achievements”.
Their number one issue is the economy, which is fair given that they are the ones who created the modern Egyptian economy of the past 30 years. The younger generations do not recognize that there was a time where the only products available in super markets came from government factories or were imported; so when the first Egyptian private sector can of tomato sauce or Juhayna milk was introduced in the super markets, it was an event to behold. The felool are the ones who created those factories, and ended up creating entire economic segments in Egyptian society, from steel to ceramics, from Cars to FMCG’s, from supermarkets to malls. They built 6 of October, New Cairo, the North Coast, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh and contributed directly to the expansion of the tourism sector. They are the ones who travelled to the Gulf to make money to invest in Egypt in the 80s; they are the ones who built the telecommunication sector in the 90s, and they did it all without private education, and literally from scratch. According to their calculations, it was all set to pay off during this decade, until the revolution came and “destroyed it all”, almost permanently with the ascension of Islamists to power.
Despite claiming to represent him, the felool don’t hold a lot of faith in the average Egyptian citizen, whom they believe to be ignorant, lazy, violent, a borderline criminal and unproductive unless forced to be and if left to their own devices, will get the country nowhere. This is the core of their widely held saying that we, as a people, don’t accomplish anything without “a boot on our necks”, which they justify by citing numerous horror stories of people they hire, manage or work with. This is also the reason they are so resistant to the revolutionaries desire to tear down the corrupt dysfunctional state institutions (Ministry of Interior, the media, etc) and rebuilding them, because they believe that whatever gets torn down doesn’t get rebuilt; they have very little reason to believe that the revolutionaries are the people to do the rebuilding, due to the failure to build any structure to even represent them to date. If any change is to take place, it is by slowly reforming the institutions, but never tearing them down or replacing them.
Their support for the military comes from their belief that the military is the spine of the state, and without it, there wouldn’t be a state or a country. While they will concede that in other countries the army exists for the country, in Egypt, due to our long and illustrious colonial history of 5,000 years, we are a country that exists because of the army, and wouldn’t exist otherwise. Therefore, they view any attack on the military to be an attack on the country, and therefore, consider the attackers to be unpatriotic and saboteurs, if not downright agents who want Egypt to be more “subservient” to the “international community”.
Unlike what most revolutionaries believe, the felool’s main weakness is not their backwards thinking or rigid adherence to state structures which are decaying or dysfunctional, but rather, the overstatement of their power. For all of the money and the numbers they may wield, they also have no organised structure, policies or leadership of their own. They have unified their decision and mobilisation out of necessity in the past three years to ensure their survival, and now that they have “won”, the inevitable inner struggles for power amongst them are starting to show. They are set to discover that just like the Islamists and the revolutionaries; they are little more than a social segment of society that will start fracturing politically the moment the elections are upon us. For all of their “victories”, their real battle is about to begin.