During my two-day visit to Cairo, I met and talked to a dozen friends, and came to realize that Egypt remains as it was to those who knew it, for it has inherited its old problems. Nothing in the airport indicates that Egypt is now ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, or that a revolution had even occurred. The only exception is the passports officer, who now completes the entrance procedures swiftly instead of sending you towards a worn-out chair to await the decision of a state security officer sitting behind a glass screen. This state security officer, who would have once searched for your name in the list of ‘banned’ or ‘wanted’ individuals, has now disappeared.
Egypt did not experience an abrupt change, nor did life come to a halt. Rather, it carries all the previous problems of the ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and the problems he himself inherited and lacked the ability or care to resolve. Egypt presents those very same problems before the newly elected President Mohamed Mursi, making them now his responsibility. However, Egypt has become stronger, and continues to shout its demands in the face of its president, whoever he may be. This is the same Egypt that in the past would have resorted to satire, humorous articles and political caricatures to allude to its political stance. The unfortunate Mursi now bears all of that, in addition to the new shouting.
Many have claimed that Mursi is weak, and the same is said about his prime minister. However, this is not the case, for it is in fact the people of Egypt who have become more powerful. Had the revolution never taken place, and had Hisham Qandil been a close friend and companion to Mubarak’s son, he would still have risen to his current position as chairman of the Council of Ministers, after which al-Ahram newspaper would have inevitably emerged with articles claiming Mubarak’s 'The Era of The Younger Generation.' However, today he faces the harsh, critical accountability of the media, which is in fact its role. There are many problems in Egypt that deserve objective attention, and the country's media, in lacking this objectivity and in trying to practice its full freedom, has fallen into a personification of the issues.
It almost looks as if Egyptians are purposefully fleeing from their actual problems, instead indulging in the petty conflicts of competing figures. A concrete example of this is the byzantine argument that focuses on the minute details of the constitution which, although it was ratified via a nationwide referendum, continue to be debated. Others are busy analyzing the numbers in aiming to prove that the Brotherhood and the Salafis have lost large segments of their electorates. It is very clear that they are more concerned with who will win the next elections. The main issue remains the 'leadership' of the country, which means that the opposition has yet to accept the outcome of the presidential election, the last referendum and the past elections, which have proven that the Islamist current has the advantage. This is a real dilemma. In the end, this state of denial will lead to either the disruption of political life if the sharp collision between the factions continues - which is unlikely now that the opposition has lost its momentum - or to the singularity of the Brotherhood and their governing allies. This will not benefit Egypt or the Brotherhood, as it will cause the weakening of its civil powers, and an increase in its fragmentation.
The Brotherhood's opponents claim that the party has lost the revolution's youth, the judiciary, the civil parties and the Copts. While there may be some truth to this, this has a lesser impact than their loss of a portion of the businessmen. The first group has lost its power on the streets, and some of them were not the Brotherhood's allies to begin with. The second group, however, is of particular importance because its power surpasses banks and factories, which is the actual domain of the Brotherhood and also its true upcoming battle. Yet there remains a huge gap between the two, and a complex relationship that lacks trust. This is due to the fact that the businessmen are 'liberals' who have allied themselves with the civil opposition via their newspapers and TV stations that are attacking the government and the Brotherhood with various accusations and imposing upon them their agendas on related issues, which are far and irrelevant from the Brotherhood’s actual agenda. There are those who think that these stances are strategic and not based on principle. In fact, the businessmen were divided over the presidential race. A large segment of them voted for Mursi, and feel that there is hope in cooperating with the Brotherhood and betting on its strong capitalist trend. However, the parties need mediators who can rebuild lost trust.
Businessmen as enemy?
A powerful businessman and partner in an influential opposition newspaper has expressed this view in an exclusive interview: “There are those who are exhilerated whenever news of a low foreign currency reserve reaches them, because they want to see the Brotherhood fail, and there are those who rejoice when they hear of a businessman leaving Egypt, as if to say ‘to hell with him.’ Between both of these, it is Egypt that loses." Meanwhile, another businessman claimed that the president and his government have given preference to businessmen from the Brotherhood.
For its part, the Brotherhood views the media - which the businessmen control - as its enemy, and therefore a part of the conspiracy against it, as well as a part of the old regime, to which they remain allied. The aforementioned businessman acknowledged the negative role of the media, and is prepared to pressure his own newspaper to change this reality. However, he recognizes that there is a need for national reconciliation between the businessmen and the Brotherhood. “During the Mubarak era, we used to work in conformity to the rules of that era, and it is not true that most of the businessmen were partners by their own choice and were content with this partnership. Work at that time was burdensome. You had to pay here and there if you wanted to get things going, and of course we welcome a clean working environment now, for we too are part of the revolution and went down to Tahrir Square.”
Another businessman adamantly rejects the claim that that he was transferring money abroad or buying property in Dubai or the United States in an anti-governmental act, claiming that he “is only seeking security and stability, and is free of blame. Every five minutes we receive additional threats of being turned over for investigation.” Another businessman provided the names of high-earning managers of banks and companies whose accounts have been frozen, and who are being interrogated. Another sold his companies in Egypt. I also participated by discussing similar negative experiences of Saudi investors after the revolution.
Blessing in disguise
The question now is: how can the Brotherhood successfully hold deals with the businessmen while the media continues to create a hostile environment, labeling the party as "thieves of the public’s money"? I believe that if we are to rebuild trust between the Brotherhood and the businessmen, it is necessary that we attenuate the hostility. The media could also be pressured. Nonetheless, for now it is imperative for both parties to realize that they are in the same boat which they can both sink and bring down with them; that which is dearest to them: Egypt.
It came as a blessing in disguise when the agreement regarding a reduction in the Egyptian credit category came shortly after the end of the referendum battle, which has divided Egyptians. Some still hold the president, his government and his party fully responsible. However, other voices have begun to urge the need for calm and cooperation to build a new Egypt.
Egypt’s problems are difficult for any government, let alone a newly elected one in a country going through its infant stages of democratization. Hence the reason I say that Egypt is still fine, so long as the ‘capitalist’ Brotherhood comes to an agreement with Egypt’s business sector.
*This article first appeared in al-Hayat on Jan. 5, 2013. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/469245
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.