Sisi regime shows confidence as ‘deep state’ returns to Egypt's political landscape

Expert: ‘The court’s decision pours oil on the fire of this struggle.’

December 1, 2014 01:02
3 minute read.

Supporters of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak celebrate after hearing the verdict of his trial in Cairo November 29. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The acquittal of former president Hosni Mubarak, his sons, and other close aides demonstrates that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has settled comfortably in power and marks the return of the deep state.

The term “deep state” refers to a group of powerful nondemocratic leaders who, though they may be concealed under layers of bureaucracy, are actually in control of the country.

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To be sure, Sisi has smartly led the important Arab state from the depth of riots, terrorist attacks, economic crisis and outside pressures, but the style and makeup, if not the policies, of the government are reminiscent of Mubarak’s regime.

The fact of the matter is that the Mubarak trial was bound to be based not on a strict reading of the evidence but on the wishes of the regime in power.

Muslim Brotherhood spokeswoman Wafaa Hefni admitted as much, saying that if former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi were in power, the ruling would have been different, the Daily News Egypt reported.

Arab politics is a matter of winner take all, and the court verdicts can be considered as Sisi’s coattails.

In March, Robert Springborg argued in an article for the BBC that the Mubarak era personalities were key to Sisi’s consolidation of power.

“At present, [Sisi] he is relying on the military, other elements of the deep state and Mubarak-era technocrats to manage his campaign, thereby suggesting he hopes to rule as a sort of presidential version of King Abdullah II of Jordan or King Muhammad VI of Morocco, balancing off the various political parties and forces under him while relying on the deep state for the essence of his rule.”

“The Mubarak trial was a classical political trial,” Prof. Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Jerusalem Post.

“It was impossible to separate the trial and the political context in Egypt,” he said.

Sisi’s regime is largely a continuation of the governing mechanism introduced by Mubarak, but following his fall, processes of dramatic political change took place, and this trial is not going to be the final word on the 2011 January Revolution, asserted Meital.

Of course, the verdict is a serious blow for the supporters of the revolution, which opposed the return of an authoritarian regime, argued Meital.

“The popular uprising that toppled Mubarak created a new reality in Egypt and planted a new political consciousness among many sectors, particularly the younger generation,” Meital said.

“The court’s decision pours oil on the fire of this struggle,” as Egyptian society “is divided in an unprecedented way and the court’s decision regarding Mubarak intensifies the polarization and could lead to further escalation between the regime and the opposition,” Meital added.

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and today is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to the Post, said that it is too simple to say that Egypt has gone back to Mubarak’s regime.

“Sisi is different. He wants to reform Egypt, and he is working on it,” said Mazel, adding, “Mubarak wanted only calm and stability and wasted his tenure.” By contrast, Sisi has promised to maintain basic freedoms through law as he modernizes the country.

That the court was able to acquit Mubarak signals that “Egypt has reached a new phase,” Mazel said, as the revolutionary period was emotionally charged with Egyptians seeking vengeance for the failure and poverty that the former president represented.

After almost four years of violence, said Mazel, Egyptians are tired after having succeeded in ousting the Muslim Brotherhood regime, preventing “a religious dictatorship.”

Now, people want stability and economic development and have faith in Sisi, who is doing a great job so far, asserted Mazel.

Regarding the trial, Mazel said that protesters were not killed during the first days but only after the Muslim Brotherhood intervened and attacked the police and public institutions.

“In 2012 the court gave a verdict under pressure of the revolution; now – according to the evidence,” said Mazel, pointing out: “Everyone knows that Mubarak was not [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein or [former Libyan president] Muammar Gaddafi.”

It is true that his police tortured citizens and he did not tackle the social-economic problems of Egypt, but he didn’t just kill people, argued the former Israeli ambassador.

Mazel predicts that the Brotherhood will use his acquittal to say that the Mubarak regime has returned.

“But this is not the situation,” he said.

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