- Middle East/North Africa
One of the most memorable scenes from the Libyan revolution was when the rebels, in wretched clothes and advanced weaponry, seized a house of the oldest son of Muammar Qadhafi. They famously entered his living room, sat in his couch, watched his TV, ate his food and slept in his bed.
Mohamed Morsy has now completed his first 100 days as president, during which he and his society of Muslim Brothers have done nothing significant, except eagerly sleep in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s bed.
When Morsy won the presidential elections, the Brotherhood entered into the old palaces of power of the Egyptian state. There they found relics of the post-colonial regime created 60 years ago by Nasser.
Nasser’s legacy left Egypt encumbered by hefty and dysfunctional state institutions. However, despite being crushed by Nasser decades ago, the Brothers were enthralled at taking over the government’s damp buildings, occupying the broken chairs made by their very torturers.
But Morsy has failed in doing what Nasser — regardless of his oppressive policies — did in his first 100 days. The Brotherhood has managed to obtain a strong grip over apparatuses of repression in Nasser’s state, but appears incapable of dealing with the colossal economic realms he erected.
In his first 100 days, Nasser turned a military coup that deposed a king and kicked out a colonizer into a social revolution. He responded to the demands of the lower classes and altered the socioeconomic order. The coup took place on 23 July, and on 9 September 1952, the new regime issued the radical land reform Law 178. The code confiscated thousands of acres from the landed aristocracy and distributed them to impoverished peasants.
Morsy, in his first 100 days meanwhile, has responded to none of the demands of the lower or middle classes that were put forth during the 25 January revolution. He has not raised the minimum wage that Tahrir Square loudly cried for, nor has he fulfilled his promise to relieve peasants from debt to state banks (despite the cosmetic erasure of some agricultural loans), or seriously respond to the demands of schoolteachers, doctors and government employees, among others.
Moreover, he is now on track to gradually lift subsidies from basic goods — which Nasser created to support the poor — in order to meet the conditions of the International Monetary Fund loan he has applied for.
Morsy has essentially followed the same neo-liberal policies of Gamal Mubarak, during whose time a small elite of businessmen controlled the country, with an immense social gap separating them from the rest of the country. While Morsy has not spared the time to meet with trade or peasant unions, he did form a committee of business tycoons, headed by his fellow Brotherhood member Hassan Malek.
Other unprivileged groups, i.e. the vast majority of society, are constantly protesting and striking across the country today, demanding a dignified livelihood.
Unlike Nasser, then, Morsy has turned a popular revolution into a process of regime change in which bearded business tycoons have replaced Mubarak’s clean-shaven magnates.
In the 1960s, Nasser created a socialist state that had both bright and dark aspects. On the bright side, Nasser established heavy industrialization through the public sector, created cooperatives and subsidies for small peasants, established free education and healthcare, and subsidized basic foods.
On the dark side, typical of contemporary socialist regimes worldwide, he established state TV and newspapers solely for broadcasting government propaganda, co-opted all workers into one trade union tied to the ruling party, created an inflated bureaucracy with millions of low-income employees, and formed a tyrannical security apparatus.
In the process of transforming the country from socialism to a market economy, both former presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak dismantled segments of Nasser’s state and maintained others to serve their autocratic interests.
Arriving at power, Morsy seized the crumbling remains of Nasser’s state. The Brothers took over a state TV that is no longer watched and archaic magazines and publications that are no longer read, controlled trade unions abandoned by resenting workers and inherited a dysfunctional bureaucracy.
Morsy also infiltrated the security apparatus by sacking old leaders and appointing new figures friendly to the Brotherhood. In 100 days, the Brothers, under Morsy’s presidency, have taken control of all Nasser’s repressive state apparatuses.
At the same time, Morsy and his Brothers have failed to manage the gigantic state-owned economic enterprises. What remained of the state-owned factories and companies has fallen in the Brothers’ laps, but they have been left clueless as to how to operate this sector.
They clearly lack any experience with manufacturing industry. Their economic expertise is limited to retail business ventures and their economic capabilities are confined to managing big supermarkets and stores of imported luxury goods.
After all, Khairat al-Shater himself, deputy resident of the Brotherhood — and the supposed mastermind behind the so-called “Renaissance Project” — established nothing during Morsy’s first 100 days except for a new chain of supermarkets.
The Brothers might be happy to take over the remnants of Nasser’s Egypt, but there is little more disturbing than rejoicing in sleeping in your dead enemy’s bed while pathetically pretending to fix the collapsing house we all occupy.
Zeinab Abul-Magd is an assistant professor of history at the American University in Cairo and Oberlin College.