Recycling pro-regime political elite in Egypt

The political elite loyal to the ruling regime in Egypt can be divided into four sub-divisions, namely:

1- The “decision-making elite”: which includes the loyal political elite responsible for making the state’s public policies;

2- The “backing elite”: which includes the military and security institutions that are used by the 3 July authority (regime after military coup) to terrorize the political elites that are not loyal to the regime;

3- The “executive elite”: which includes a small number of bureaucracy and security services, and a wide range of members of various judicial bodies;

4- The “stimulus elite”: which is a marginal sector of the loyal political elite whose role is provision of exaggerated display of loyalty to the authority, and drawing attention to them, in order to shed light on their statements with the aim of (falsely) suggesting that the regime enjoys a high degree of popular support.

Recycling loyal political elite

During the period from June 8, 2014 until today, the political elite loyal to the 3 July authority (that took over after the military coup against the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi) saw a high recycling rate, where Egypt witnessed the dismissal of two defense ministers and two chiefs of staff, in addition to an increase in the recycling rate of the central military commands, including the military intelligence service that has witnessed change of its directors for three times since June 2014. Also, more than 140 agents of the General Intelligence Service were removed through 8 decisions made between June 2014 and January 2017, in addition to changing governors for eight times, as the fastest movement to change local leaders at the governorate level since the January 2011 revolution, including only 3 reshuffle of governors before the coup (4 July 2013) and 5 changes after it; in addition to changing 3 prime ministers, with one cabinet reshuffle for each head of government.

This recycling process was at the level of the first three elite circles. As for the fourth circle, the “stimulus elite”, its recycling rate was limited, because this level of elite lacks solid power pillars that would enable it to raise its negotiating capabilities in the face of the main body of the elite. During the last period, it appeared that the stability rate in this elite was due to the fact that some held “submission means”, including audio and video recordings, which enabled them to remain in their positions for a long time. However, those “submission means”  seem to start to lose their relevance, given the power of the authority to harm their holders, which drives them either to flee, as Abdel-Rahim Ali, a pro-regime journalist did, or to remain silent, as Mortada Mansour, a pro-regime former MP and head of the Zamalek Sporting Club, did.

In this context, the mechanism of recycling Egyptian elite is a functional one, the biggest benefits of which are that it is a “regime protection mechanism” in addition to being a regime “discipline mechanism”.

Following are the functions of the elite recycling mechanism:

1. The threat neutralization track:

This track mainly relates to the goal of managing threats emanating from the “backing” and the “executive” elites with a view to neutralizing them. One of the most important functions of the elite recycling mechanism is that it is a means of stripping sources of threat from their legal positions that give them the power to issue decisions that may pose a threat to the central elite. The position is one of the most important means of legal distribution of political power within a political community; but the ability of occupants of legal centers to use the resources at their disposal to build illegal subordinate centers of influence is much more important. The diversity of legal and illegal centers of influence as such determines the mechanism for neutralizing the threat; while the position incumbent can be removed from position, the center of power that relies on illegal centers in building loyalty is addressed through complete deportation outside centers of influence; as happened with Lt. General Osama Askar, former Commander of Unified Command for the Area East of the Canal and Counterterrorism, when he had been detained in a Republican Guard hotel before mediation efforts enabled him to be a major player in the military elite once again; or what happened with both Lt. General Ahmed Shafiq and Lt. General Sami Anan who were put under house arrest after the latter had been released from prison.

Within the military institution and the police institution as well -despite being a civilian institution- the position gives its holder the power to issue binding decisions throughout the chain of command from higher to lower levels, and accordingly the institutional discipline in this regard represents the main threat. It is rare to find someone in the military institution that has the ability to build centers of influence outside the framework of the legal status, with the exception of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Field Marshal Abdel Halim Abu Ghazaleh, who are the most prominent examples of military figures that were influential even outside the legal center.

In this context, the dismissal of all SCAF commanders, except for the current Chief of Staff Lt. General Mohamed Farid Hegazy and Maj. General Staff Mamdouh Shaheen, the assistant Minister of Defense for Constitutional and Legal Affairs. Among the leaders who were removed was Lt. General Sedki Sobhi, the former Minister of Defense. In the June 2020 reshuffle of top military officers, for example, Sisi dismissed Maj. General Imad Al-Ghazali, from his position as the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Defense. During the September 20, 2019 demonstrations, Al-Ghazali, then commander of the central military zone, refused deployment of the army forces in Cairo streets to face protesters during the demonstrations movement, which encouraged and boosted demonstrators. Also, Sisi had dismissed Major General Yehya Taha El Hemeili from his position as chairman of the Training Authority before he restored it after mediation of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi in December 2019. Note that Al-Hemeili, who was dismissed in the wake of the so-called ‘revolution of poor’ in November 2016,  was in constant conflict with Sisi in several files, including deployment of forces and the military approach in handling the insurgency in North Sinai. As for Lt. Gen. Osama Askar, he was punished for supporting Lt. Gen. Sami Anan in running for the 2018 presidential election before the latter was later arrested.

It is noteworthy in this context that political mediation is one of the mechanisms used for conflict resolution in hierarchical systems, and is often carried out by people with symbolic power, in addition to other mechanisms such as promoting competition and even hatred through conflicting legal centers, dismissal and deportation, punitive / exclusionary promotion, arrest, and even widespread violence, as happened during the Nasserite period between President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer. Otherwise, the conflicts in the military institution cannot be addressed by civilian settlement mechanisms such as avoidance, negotiation, or reconciliation … etc.

In the same context, Sisi dismissed a large number of leaders of the General Intelligence Service (GIS), most notably Major General Mohamed Raafat Shehata, the GIS director during the rule of the elected civilian president Mohamed Morsi, and appointed Major General Mohamed Farid Tohami in his position. During the mandate of Tohami, Sisi got rid of dozens of GIS agents suspected of being affiliated with Omar Suleiman’s administration. Then, Al-Sisi dismissed Major General Al-Tohami himself after his clash with Major General Abbas Kamel, then Sisi’s office director, and appointed Major General Khaled Fawzi in his place. During Fawzi’s reign, Sisi removed dozens of the GIS agents to appoint dozens of the Military Intelligence personnel to replace them. Later,  Fawzi was fired due to a dispute over the “Sinai” and “Tiran and Sanafir” files and the 2018 elections.

However, neutralizing threat sources is not limited to the security and sovereign agencies. In September 2017, Councilor Mohamed Gamil, the head of the central agency for organization and administration, announced that the number of civil servants at this time ranged between 5.5 and 5.7 million, which means a decline of about one million civil servants compared to the last census declared in 2013. Although those referred for legal retirement during the four-year period between 2013 and 2017 did not exceed 300,000 civil servants, the difference reveals the dismissal of more than half a million bureaucratic leaderships, which were viewed as relevant to the period of Mubarak’s rule. During the period of 2018, there was a trend to liquidate those affiliated with the dissolved National Party of employees under pretext of being drug users according to medical tests (March 2019), as well as decisions to dismiss teachers suspected of belonging to the Islamic movement (October 2019).

2- The reward-provision track:

The “reward-provision” represents the second side of the “threat neutralization” coin, but the former witnesses a higher degree of employment with respect to the “executive” and “stimulus” elites. The law centers whose occupants are ousted are recycled in favor of new recruits of the central elite. The reward track is one of the most important regime mechanisms to strengthen cohesion of the elite that supports it; as it is the traditional Machiavellian method of gaining new allies, as the position is used as one of the sources of rewarding those who show signs of loyalty outside the legal centers. In Egypt, the Shura (advisory) Council elections can be seen as one of the most prominent manifestations of the reward-provision track. Despite the sham electoral process in Egypt and its enormous cost, the regime has been interested in creating a new structure (Shura Council) or the the Senate, to contain the “affiliated loyal elite” in the structure of the “politically loyal elite”, where the 2019 constitutional amendments provided for the creation of this council. One of the most prominent aspects of the reward track that the Shura Council provided was the appointment of Councilor Abdel Wahab Abdel Razaq, head of the regime’s political arm, “Future of Nation” party, as Shura Council speaker. Abdel Razaq, former President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, had sided with the Sisi regime in the issue of the waiver of the Egyptian islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, and invalidating the parliamentary elections of both the People’s Assembly (lower chamber) and the Shura Council (higher chamber) during the period between the January 2011 revolution and the July 2013 coup.

Also, the reward -provision track related to recycling the elite would motivate the “affiliated loyal elite” to show exaggerated loyalty, hoping to find appreciation in return, as happened with Councilor Abdel Razaq.

3- The anger-absorption track:

The third objective of the elite recycling process is to include and absorb the anger of people in the street, prevent its escalation from congestion, or evacuate this congestion, even if the elite recycling does not result in any real change in political orientations.

In Egypt, we can notice the recurrent use of football problems, and even the fabrication of some of these problems, such as postponement of matches and prejudice of referees; the scandals of artists, or sectarian campaigns launched against both Muslims and Copts. In the end, all these issues are compiled in a list of names supportive of the regime to be crystallized as the center of popular discontent, then get rid of them, as usually happens with pro-regime media arms, and as happened with the cinema director Khaled Youssef and the president of the Zamalek Sporting Club Mortada Mansour, Amr Al-Shobaki, Fatima Naut, known for insulting the Islamic religion, and others. Such figures are then  eliminated, where alternative elites are rewarded to play their roles. In addition to these benefits resulting from recycling the pro-regime elite, the importance of the recycling mechanism lies in inclusion and absorption of popular anger.

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