by Jamal Khashoggi
When Egypt celebrated the revolution on July 23, Egyptians began asking how it was possible to celebrate the July revolution that was brought down by the January 25 revolution. The question was particularly raised among young people. For them, the July revolution represents military rule, oppression and tyranny; it is the custodial mother of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, against which they revolted.
Egyptians are also raising questions about the new President Mohammed Mursi who celebrated the anniversary of the revolution despite the fact that he was a member of the Muslim brotherhood that was hostile to the July revolution and vice versa.
It is needless to say that there are people who defend the July revolution and highlight its achievements and say that the January 25 revolution will correct its mistakes. These were the words of President Mursi in the speech he delivered on the occasion of the July revolution.
The developments in Egypt are believed to be part of a political conflict, as well as a class struggle. The new marginalized popular class made its voice heard and found its place under the sun after January 25.
Some might say that one of the greatest achievements of the July revolution was the abolition of social classes and the feudal rule. It sided with instead with the marginalized workers and peasants.
This is all true; however, few years after the July revolution, a new ruling class emerged and turned into a dictatorship. Democracy is the only system that prevents the bullying of the ruling class even if it does not abolish it. Wealthy people have a better chance in accessing education; therefore, they are more likely to enter the democratic game. However, democracy does not prevent competent people from arriving to power, in contrast to dictatorship that favors loyalty to experience and proficiency.
One of the biggest challenges the Arab spring countries face, is to eradicate the class that has ruled the Arab world for more than a thousand years. As long there is press freedom in the Arab world, this topic will be of serious concern to researchers and journalists. For example, when the president of the Tunisian ruling party appointed his brother in law as foreign minister, the newly appointed minister came under more pressure than any other to prove his efficiency.
Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Yemen and Syria will witness the same phenomena in the future. Whenever an official gets appointed in an administrative position, media will investigate his ties with the emerging leadership.
However, class is deeper than such; it is the monopoly of power. Class comes from a deeply rooted culture. If an Egyptian scholar draws a map of the last council of ministers under Mubarak’s rule, and adds a dozen leaders from the ruling party at the time and from the parliament, then starts to draw lines between all these figures based on kinship, intermarriages or partnerships, adding the names that might emerge during the process, he would spend long hours before having the complex map of the ruling political class that collapsed after the January 25 revolution and that is still collapsing.
It is a deep-rooted map that was forged over the years, some of its members are veterans who have received their seats since the mandate of president Abdul Nasser, the founder of what I call ‘The third or fourth Mamluk period’ that has been ruling Egypt for a thousand years. The ‘heroes’ of the July revolution became Mamluks, ruling and owning everything. The only difference between these heroes and the Muhammad Ali family and other Mamluks is that they were Egyptians while the others were Turkish and Albanians.
This class does not only share power but also shares interests with other classes due to the lack of monitoring and accountability. The ruling class mingled with the old middle class, including feudal merchants and manufacturers. The military allied with the middle class shared power and expanded to rule the Arab world including revolutionary republics. Afterwards this class grew to found a culture that justifies and defends its own actions.
I was amazed to hear one Hosni Mubarak’s aides criticize free education in Egypt. I was sitting at the same table in Sharm El Sheikh in the summer of 2007, next to Ali Hassoun, the editor in chief of Saudi newspaper Al Bilad. We were talking about education and Mubarak’s aide bluntly said: “education in Egypt lost its shine when sons of janitors sat next to sons of rich in the same classroom”. I mention the name of my colleague as a witness to this dialogue because I know that some might not believe that an Egyptian official who grew up and was educated under the July revolution could express such a blunt opinion without batting an eyelid in front of foreigners and during an official dinner. That night, I felt that something was very wrong Egypt; Egyptians revolted against this ‘mistake’ on January 25.
Class culture expands under tyranny. It seeks to justify its presence by gathering lower classes around it, that might benefit from it and that would therefore defend and praise it. The ruling class eventually creates a unique lifestyle like attending foreign schools, speaking foreign languages and having a highly sophisticated behavior. This class often tends towards social liberalism.
With the ruling class taking roots in society, it witnessed the emergence of some opponents. Some were sincere opponents who rejected the corruption and tyranny of the regime while others opposed the regime because they were ousted from the ruling circle. The last category challenges the ‘mother’ class while identifying with it culturally, thus the regime benefits from their stance and introduces them as opposition to blur the monopoly of power.
The presence of this ruling class explains the fierce refusal of the “Arab spring” that is expressed by the violent and bloody practices of Bashar Al Assad and Muammar Qaddafi or by the silence of their allies as witnessed in Syria. The refusal of the Arab spring has also taken the form of verbal violence and skepticism campaigns by corrupted media as witnessed today in Egypt. They are expressing their refusal and resistance to the rise of the subjected marginalized class of “janitors’ sons”, in the terms of Mubarak’s assistant, who are working hard and are willing to improve their status.
Many believe that the Algerian military coup against the “short term” democracy in January 1992 was a move to Islamists from coming to power. However, we should examine this historical fact from a class-based perspective. If the communist party had won the Algerian elections instead of the Islamic Salvation Front, the army would have had the same fierce reaction because it is defending the ruling class that benefits from power and monopoly and is preventing a marginalized popular class from coming to power.
We should listen to all the people who ruled before the Arab spring, even those who were in the opposition and who at some point allied with the revolution. They are not satisfied today; they are watching the rise of the new class and are betting on its failure. Some are more pragmatic and are betting that this new class will soon become a new ruling class after it enjoys the pleasure of power, authority and corruption. Old regime figures are waiting in this moment to join the new ruling class again. Therefore, in order to prevent history from repeating itself, democracy and accountability should be the new rules of the game.
(Jamal Khashoggi is as a Saudi writer. This article first appeared in al-Hayat daily on July 28, 2012.)