«Sabah Alnasseri Revolutionaries Seldom Harvest the Fruit: On the Current Revolutionary Situation in the Arab Middle East. The 17th Bouazizi 2010 1 ...»
The legal system plays a peripheral or apologetic role. All rulers are above the law, or rather, holding power allows one to dictate constitutional changes. In recent years all rulers have forced through constitutional reforms in which more power is concentrated in the hands of the executive and which prescribes that the office of the executive is to be a familial inheritance. All governments are appointed and dismissed by the ruler. Separation of powers emerges more as power and less as separation. Parliaments serve as a rubber stamp for the decisions of the executive. Presidents rule most fields by means of edicts and decrees. The consequence of this concentration of power and legal-political grey zone has been the blurring of the boundaries between party, government and state apparatus. The ruling parties were brought into the various state apparatuses, into the economic and ideological instances, by “strategic groups”, and thus formed an unstable balance of political forces. The ruling party joined in the particular interests of the ruling class fractions and thus intensified their internal class conflicts. This helps the party elites to amass enormous wealth and to cement the uncontested political power of the party. The interpenetration of capital and the state is less of an institutional anomaly than structural in nature.
Initially all fractions of the ruling classes assembled around the ruling parties that best represented their interests. By means of paternalisticclientalistic and authoritarian-corporatist mechanisms, the governing parties were placed in the position to be able to ease access to the state for certain economic forces, while at the same time making it harder for the popular classes and certain sections of the ruling classes to participate in the decision making processes of the state. Thus the state developed an institutional selectivity.
The particular interests sharpened the competition between, and within, the fractions of the ruling classes over access to the upper reaches of the ruling party and the civil-military bureaucracy through economic concessions and political loyalty. Clientelism is a structural feature of the system, not a cultural abnormality. It is an institutionalized mechanism for the exchange and articulation of class interests, which explains the absence of a pluralistic method of public contestation and the irrelevance of the legal opposition parties.
Violence is a characteristic of this system; it is structural and not arbitrary.
Power struggles among the fractions of capital: the case of Egypt In the recent turbulent years, not all fractions of capital were integrated into decision-making bodies or had their interests promoted by the ruling parties and the presidential families. Those fractions, which held a critical distance from the ruling parties, out of fear of the long arm of the regime with regard to their property, preferred to ally themselves with international fractions of capital. But also the fractions worried about the fate of the national market shares of their investments in the face of aggressive international competition and the comprador fraction developed a critical and distrustful attitude toward the regime.
The interior (Poulantzas) and neo-national (Alnasseri) 15 fractions placed themselves on the side of the demonstrators and functioned as co-sponsors of the protests. Relevant examples of these fractions, in contrast to the other comprador fractions, are to be found everywhere. If we cast our gaze to the respective countries we will find plenty of examples of these dissidents. It is precisely these fractions of capital that make a stand for liberal political and economic values, and in particular for the protection of private property. The elites of these fractions played a not unimportant role in recent years and in the current events as sponsors of political change. They are part of what I describe as the neo-national bourgeoisie. Since I cannot go into detail here regarding this topic, I will briefly outline relevant examples of these fractions in comparison to the members of the comprador fraction.
A new political and economic fraction was created under Ben Ali and his party as well as under Mubarak and his son Gamal, a class fraction of owners of the privatized former public enterprises. These enterprises were sold well below market value to loyal elites, and to party or family friends. They also received favourable bank loans, a massive easing of taxes and vast swathes of land in order to secure their loyalty. In return, Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) as well as Ben Ali’s Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD), increasingly came to rely on the new economic elites as bases for financial and political support. The example of Egypt is instructive in this regard.
As a result of this development, in 2005, 20 percent of the seats in the people’s assembly (the lower house of the Egyptian parliament), were occupied by business elites. In addition, they held leading positions in the governing party and above all in its political committee around Mubarak’s son Gamal.
This is how Rashid Mohammed Rashid, an Egyptian businessman and minister for trade and investment, accelerated the opening of Egypt to international trade and direct foreign investment. He also introduced a new form of public-private partnership, a neoliberal governance structure, and integrated members of the private sector into governmental policy, deciding bodies and decision-making processes. Ahmed Ezz, another prominent NDP member, is the owner of Al Ezz Industries, one of the largest steel and ceramic makers in the Middle East and North Africa. He served at the same time as budget committee chairman of the Egyptian people’s assembly. Through his connections to the Mubarak family he obtained more than a 60 percent market share of Egypt’s steel industry. He also secured for himself contracts in public-private construction projects. Hisham Talaat Mustafa, a former parliamentarian and owner of one of the largest Egyptian companies, bought large tracts of land to build estates for the upper classes and resorts for tourists. Political connections allowed him not only to seize land but also secured preferential treatment in connecting his developments to road networks and other physical infrastructure.
In opposition to this comprador fraction 16 other fractions appeared on the scene and advocated liberal political and economic reforms. Naguib Sawiris, to take one example, is one of the most influential Egyptian capitalists 17 thanks to his rapidly expanding telecom empire contained in the commercial group Orascom (entailing railways, resorts, highways, telecommunication facilities, wind-parks, condominiums and hotels), the cellular communication company Mobinil and the investment firm Wind. Orascom is the largest private employer and the largest Egyptian company in terms of market capitalization on the Cairo and Alexandria stock exchanges. It started during Sadat’s era and expanded under Mubarak. Sawiris is a liberal-nationalist who brought to life the left-liberal newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm and the satellite television network OTV, both of which are targeted toward Egyptian youth. The social networkers of the new petit-bourgeoisie are Sawiris’ troops. Orascom operates GSM networks in seven different countries in the Middle East, Africa and in India. It offers a range of Internet service providers and satellite-operator services. Sawiris is also one of the most important financiers in the Arab world and the Mediterranean area.
During the past decade Sawiris and his allies have come to feel threatened by Gamal Mubarak’s extreme neoliberalism and the preferential treatment accorded to foreign investors vis-à-vis domestic companies. Due to the overlap of their investments with those of the military, Sawiris and his allies have a strong interest in the exploitation of national resources as well in national and regional market shares.
Sawiris joined with the demonstrators in January 2011 in demanding the removal of Mubarak. As a reaction to the political vacuum, and on his initiative the “council of the wise” was formed on February 4, 2011. It members include, among others, Amr Moussa, the (former) general-secretary of the Arab League, and Sawiris himself who recommended Omar Suleiman as leader of the transitional government. On April 3, 2011, Sawiris founded the party “The Free Egyptians”, which advocates for civil rights, the rule-of-law, equality and free market economics.
In February 2011, Gamal Mubarak resigned as the leader of the political committee of the NDP. This position was taken by Hossam Badrawi, who also became the new general-secretary of the party. Badrawi was the man who in 1989 founded the first private medical insurance company (ibid). Up until then all Egyptians were constitutionally entitled to free and universal medical care.
Mubarak drastically reduced healthcare under the terms of an IMF structural adjustment program. Badrawi implemented the privatization of the healthcare system. Yet, because the healthcare industry has been threatened by global competition during the last few years, Badrawi wanted to protect the industry, as well as his capital from this competition. In order to do so he has brought nationalistic and paternalistic arguments into play. However, Gamal Mubarak, who served as the sponsor of foreign investments, saw Badrawi as a threat and hence pushed him to the sidelines of the party. The emergence of a coalition of neo-nationalist actors in alliance with the military benefits the resistance against the cronyism of Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal. And thus the revolution rendered possible the “comeback” of the liberal Badrawi.
The security apparatus: the army and militias of the executive
The dominant ideological narrative in the region, in which the army is regarded as being neutral, reveals itself as an indicator of the failure to appreciate real power relations. The militaries have their own interests, and their elites have been some of the biggest profiteers within the regimes since the advent of the neoliberal restructuring offensive. 18 The Army is deeply embedded in the geopolitics of the global and regional powers. Nevertheless, there exist considerable differences between the militaries and differences in terms of their status in the respective states.
In Tunisia, the army barely played a role in the independence movement or in the early phase of state formation. The military received less state funding than in Egypt, hardly played a role in security policy, and performed a peripheral role in the power bloc. This explains also, among other things, why it refused to shoot on demonstrators and instead sided with them. This is contrast to the cases of Egypt, Algeria, Syria and Iraq.
In Egypt the army established a vast number of enterprises hotels, construction firms, factories-- a portfolio that bestows control to the army over important sections of the Egyptian economy. 19 This represents billions in annual revenue, an economic base which has catapulted several high-ranking members of the Army into the ranks of the financial elite. Over the years the army has expanded its economic power through, among other things, the construction of roads and airports and through investments in the foodstuffs industry. This had led to frictions with sections of the business elite whose political power has grown in the ruling party. The military acquired for itself lucrative contracts at the expense of these business elite. After relatively short careers in the army, highranking officers were rewarded with perks and lucrative positions on the management boards of firms and shopping centres. As part of the structural adjustment programs of the IMF, a number of public enterprises were transferred to the military’s control. The generals also obtained privileges in the private sector. Military expenditures as well as American military aid were also very lucrative for middlemen.
At the start of the 1990s an important shift took place within the security apparatuses. The army was overtaken in power by the numerical growth of the internal security apparatuses, which added millions of people since the 1990s.
As a result of the shift in weight from the defence to the interior ministry, and from the army to the police, the security apparatus become the militia of the executive.
A huge budget, which was not the object of parliamentary control, allowed the police to suppress and intimidate any opposition. The share of security expenditures as a proportion of GDP has grown since the 1990s. By way of example, in 2009 the Egyptian interior ministry employed 1.7 million persons.
The police acquired important political functions with this expansion.
The Egyptian military played a decisive role during the recent events. It was concerned about stability and opposed the political demands of the protesting masses. It was also determined to protect its public ideological credibility and its considerable business and institutional interests. It was exactly at this moment that it took to the political stage, pushed its rivals (the militias of the interior ministry) off the stage, revolted de facto, and deposed the president.
The misery of neoliberalism and the aggravation of the social question
Since the 1990s all the regimes submitted to the neoliberal structural adjustment programs of the IMF. The results were, among others, the liberalization of foreign trade, the privatization of state enterprises, the devaluation of national currencies, cuts to the social-safety nets, the massive expansion of the security apparatuses and restrictive budget policies.