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Egypt and the Fruits of the Pharaohs, by Fouad Ajami

Egypt and the Fruits of the Pharaohs, by Fouad Ajami

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Published by Hoover Institution
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal November 28, 2011.
Appeared in the Wall Street Journal November 28, 2011.

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Published by: Hoover Institution on Nov 29, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Fouad Ajami 
Egypt and the Fruits of the Pharaohs
Hoover Institution
Stanford University
by Fouad AjamiNovember 29, 2011Egyptian history plays tricks with its interpreters. This ancient society is known or thestability given it by the Nile, a wellmannered and orderly river, and by a pharaonic culturewhere the rulers were deities. But this timeless image is largely alse. Egypt’s peasantsociety has been prone to violent upheavals. Order has oten hung by a thread, as a proudpeople alternate between submission and rebellion.We are now in the midst o one o these alternations. On Feb. 11, Egypt’s last pharaoh,Hosni Mubarak, bent to the will o his people and relinquished power. What we arewitnessing in Egypt today is not the consequence o democracy but rather a halcenturyo authoritarianism. The chaos and the lawlessness issue out o the lawlessness o theormer regime. As crony capitalism had its way with the economy, the military elite, theocer corps, had to be given its share o the loot. Having turned away rom war andmilitary adventures abroad, they were rewarded with economic enterprises and privilegeso their own—exclusive clubs, vacation homes, land grants, you name it. That bargain came to an end in the closing days o January as the Egyptian peopleooded Tahrir Square and called or Mubarak to step down. One o the ocers who makeup the Supreme Council o the Armed Forces, Gen. Mukhtar Molla, later said that it wasan epiphany that inspired the ocers not to re on the protesters in Tahrir Square. “Thearmy and the people are one hand” was the chant o those magical 18 days that upendedMubarak. It was a rebellion o a thousand discontents, a revolution o Facebook andGoogle types and Islamists alike.Issam Shara, a decent technocrat who had cast his ate with the protesters, was madeprime minister. But the generals behind the curtain had no intention o ceding power. Inthe months that ollowed, the country grew practically ungovernable.Prime Minister Shara pleaded or time and patience but Egypt was living dangerously,running through its nancial reserves at an alarming rate. Tourism, 10% o GDP, hasground to a halt. The Social Solidarity Ministry—the title alone conveys the workings o awelare state—estimates that the country has wheat reserves o around six months, andcooking oil, sugar and rice supplies that can only see the country through another threemonths. This is not the legacy o Tahrir Square but o the 1952 military coup and the subsequentauthoritarianism that is just now beginning to unravel. The postcoup rulers, Gamal AbdulNasser, Anwar alSadat and Hosni Mubarak, had chosen the path o least resistance. TheyA WALL STREET JOURNAL OP-ED
Egypt and the Fruits of the Pharaohs
Fouad Ajami 
Egypt and the Fruits of the Pharaohs
2 Hoover Institution
Stanord University
secured obedience through a deective command economy riddled with cronyism.As that great son o Egypt, the late Naguib Mahouz, the 1988 Nobel laureate inliterature, once observed, the 1952 revolution had taken the property o the ew andthe liberty o all. The way out o Egypt’s impasse is a awed electoral process. A staggered electionthat began on Monday is set to last until March 2012, and a new president ispromised by June. Turnout was high on Monday, and despite expected raud andintimidation many voters are hopeul that a postmilitary order will arise.In the interim, 78yearold Kamal elGanzouri (handpicked by Field MarshalMohamed Hussein Tantawi) is to lead the country as prime minister. Aged anduninspiring, Mr. Ganzouri held that same position under Mubarak in 199699. TheEgyptian people did not rise up to bring the likes o him to power.Revolutions always return to their moments—and places—o brilliance and clarity. This month the protesters returned to Tahrir Square, and in conrontations with thepolice, 40 people were killed and untold hundreds were wounded. The generationaland cultural war in Egypt has not let up. The dreaded Ministry o Interior has notchanged its ways. Bloggers and protesters and critics are still subject to arbitraryarrest, dissidents are sent beore military courts. The army, meanwhile, has the luxuryo a eigned neutrality—the grim work is done by the police. There is also the ulul, the remnants o the National Democratic Party o Mubarak. They’ve been driven out o power but continue a rearguard battle against the neworder. They have money and goons aplenty to do their dirty work. Three orces now contest the course, and the very uture, o this country—the armedorces, a broad secular coalition o people who want a normal lie and a civil polity,and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was not the genesis o the revolutionin Tahrir Square, but it was there, waiting in the wings to seize greater power. TheBrotherhood has been sly o late. It seeks an alliance with the armed orces to thedetriment o those who desire the graces o “normal” political lie—the separation o religion and politics, the rule o law, national unity between Copts and Muslims. The behavior o the Brotherhood is in keeping with its past; this has always been aparty that mixed the cult o violence with rank opportunism. Its ounder, Hassan alBanna, was a chameleon who gave religious warrant to political deceit. He was struck down by an assassin in 1949, but he had shown the way.Banna and his successors always pined or an alliance with the military. For a eetingmoment, in 1952, they thought they had struck a deal with the new junta. But thenew man at the helm, Nasser, had no interest in that kind o accommodation. The

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Hoover Institution added this note
"Order has often hung by a thread, as a proud people alternate between submission and rebellion... This tumult on the banks of the Nile is the true test of this Arab Awakening, for Egypt remains the trend-setter in Arab politics. For three decades the country knew a parliamentary life, political parties and the ballot box... Egyptians are telling us that they are done with pharaohs and redeemers."
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