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Filling the role
Filling the role
Zeinab Abul-Magd*

CAIRO - 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 Gaddafi. They famously entered his living room, sat in his couch, watched his TV, ate his food and slept in his bed.

Mohamed Morsi has now completed his first 100 days as Egyptian president, during which he and his society of Muslim Brothers have done nothing significant, except eagerly sleep in former President Nasser’s bed.

When Morsi won the presidential elections, the Brotherhood entered into Egypt's old palaces of power. There they found relics of the post-colonial regime created 60 years ago by Gamal Abdel 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 Morsi 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 socio-economic order.

The coup took place on July 23, and by Sept. 9, 1952, the new regime had implemented a radical land reform that confiscated thousands of acres from the landed aristocracy and distributed them to impoverished peasants.

Morsi, 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 January revolution. He has not raised the minimum wage that Tahrir Square so 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). Likewise, he has offered no serious response to the demands of schoolteachers, doctors, government employees, and other working people.

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.

Morsi has essentially followed the same neo-liberal policies of Mubarak, when a small elite of businessmen controlled the country, with an immense social gap separating them from the rest of the country. While Morsi 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 are constantly protesting and striking across the country, demanding a dignified livelihood.

Into Brotherhood hands

Unlike Nasser, Morsi 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, 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 in power, Morsi seized the crumbling remains of Nasser’s state. At the same time, Morsi 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.

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.


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