Whenever I visited Cairo and walked through the streets of Heliopolis and when I reach El Thawra Street that leads to another concealed dark street known as El Orouba, I would wonder when Egypt would come out of this dark tunnel. Today, Egyptians are torn between two feelings; the first centers around making the most out of the opportunity that they have been given by the regime to participate in political life in the 7 September presidential elections. The other feeling is concerned with the traditionalism of opposition parties who call for abandoning the elections or disturbing the experience with the claim that the results of the elections will be forged.
Let us be fair and distinguish the comparisons between the ruling regime and the opposition parties. Criticizing the ruling party is very common in many newspapers, yet criticizing the opposition parties is less likely to be found.
"Every movement has its blessings" is how the Egyptian proverb puts it. However, does this apply to the Egyptian movement that calls for change known as ”Kifaya” (Arabic for enough) or does it apply to the Muslim Brotherhood movement or both?
Looking at the issue in general, it would seem that these movements are finally shaking Cairo”s stagnant waters however, if we seriously and closely observe these movements, we will simply discover that this status of stagnation remains. Does this apply to the ”Kifaya” movement too, or is it different? For a superficial observer, who is unaccustomed to the Egyptian society and its entitled complications, ”Kifaya” had achieved the impossible through the disturbance that it had caused, filling the pages of international newspapers with its latest actions. Yet, conclusively, ”Kifaya” is a local, Cairo-focused movement that will not extend to Alexandria, or even to the Suez Canal governorates such as Ismailia, Suez or Port Said. ”Kifaya” has no mentioned presence in Upper Egypt, how then could it be labeled Egypt”s movement for change when Egypt here simply means Cairo?
”Kifaya” is based in Cairo, but this is not enough for the whole of Egypt. If Kifaya is an all-Egyptian movement, it must show its presence in Upper Egypt, in the Delta and in the Suez Canal governorates, as any less is surely not enough. Despite the movement”s claims that it is enlightened, its recent stance towards the Egyptian ambassador”s assassination in Baghdad surely reflects that it is a retarded movement that adheres to conspiracy theories, and is no more modern than the Muslim Brotherhood movement or those of the old communist parties.
Until now, ”Kifaya” had not mingled with the public political mood, and generally, it is no different from the opposition parties whose opinions are only embodied in the opposition newspapers. It is as if these parties are made up of a newspaper, an office in Cairo, and a large number of the head of the party”s relatives who represent the central committee. There is however, no actual presence outside Cairo.
If this is the case of ”Kifaya”, what can one say about the mother of all Egyptian movements, that of the Muslim Brotherhood? This movement is much bigger than ”Kifaya”, and was established in Ismailia in 1928. It had succeeded in extending to Cairo, Alexandria and some Delta governorates, but failed to have any real influence and presence in Upper Egypt, except in the case of Sayyid Qutb, whose origins lie in Assiut, but he was polarized by the movement while he was studying at the Faculty of Science. The other exception was Dr. Mohamed El Sayed Habib who worked briefly as a professor at the Faculty of Engineering in Assiut, who headed the staff members club there for two consecutive terms. I believe that Dr. Habib is from Lower Egypt, as his accent indicates so. I listened to him carefully when I visited his office in the Faculty of Engineering in 1984. At this very time, Upper Egypt was the main target for the Islamist Movement that was lead by Nageh Ibrahim, Assem Abdel Magid, Osama Roushdy as well as others, who were our colleagues in Assiut University, and the only Islamist leaders at that time. I knew this period quite well as I had lived throughout it from 1977 until 1985. During this period, the Muslim Brotherhood movement was not present in the Giza governorate, except for a minor number of Al Azhar students who returned to Upper Egypt after they joined the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Cairo.
The Muslim Brotherhood movement remains one of Lower Egypt, whereas the Islamist movement originates from Upper Egypt. Even the conflict that took place between the two movements, Al Jihad and the Islamist movement represented the clash between Aboud Al-Zomor and Omar Abdul Rahman and his affiliates, which was more of a geographic secession rather than an ideological one. A full study tackled this issue in the academic newspaper, "Middle East Journal" in 1994. The study explained the roots of this geographic conflict through documentation and interviews that denied the claims that the two movements had some ideological conflicts. In the same context, we can site the very same difference between the Muslim Brotherhood movement that is the movement of Lower Egypt and the Islamist movement of Upper Egypt. We can clearly see here that there are areas of the country that are secluded from one another, where movements of all these areas march in a pre-determined zone or in a closed opposition scope where they can release their oppositional steam. Furthermore, these movements never trespass their designated areas, either due to the lack of materialistic or human capacities, or due to the cultural roots from which these movements stem.
If we closely observe political relationships in Egypt, we can clearly see that it is based on kinship ties. The Egyptian society, despite the misleading modern image that it portrays, is made up of intertwined networks of familial ties in the north and tribal ones in the south. Even within the Islamist movements themselves, we find some sort of family inheritance ties; an example is that of Hassan Al-Hudaybi and Ma”moun Al-Hudaybi from the Muslim Brotherhood movement and Aboud Al-Zomor and Tarek Al-Zomor from the Al-Jihad movement. These kinds of relationships even extend between government members and members of opposition movements. We find that some members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement are relatives of some officials within government, where one of the Muslim Brotherhood members is the cousin of a former head of the intelligence authority or even head of the national guards. Therefore, strong familial ties between the Muslim Brotherhood movement and the government reflect the Muslim Brotherhoods claim that they are "Brothers" to the ruling regime, literally. So, if the strongest of all movements in Egypt, are equally insignificant and inefficient, what are the potential chances for change?
I believe that change in Egypt is only possible if there is a strong and severe quake within the political and cultural infrastructure, a change that must take place from the base of the society until the very top. The other condition of changing Egypt is disintegrating relationships of kinship and familial ties that are in full control of the political equation in Egypt. If these networks of relationships remain unchanged, then one should not expect changes to take place in Egypt”s social and political environment.
Let us be honest for a minute, and let us compare some of the ruling regime”s actions to that of the opposition parties. Firstly, the ruling regime had amended article 76 of the Egyptian constitution, an action that granted Egyptians the greatest chance for positive change. The ruling system had offered the highest governmental post in Egypt, that of President, and opened it for free competition, yet what have the opposition parties done?
Such opposition parties had interjected the Egyptian society into a world of political jugglery. These movements are more like wandering movements rather than social movements. Many join simply for the ride and the movement has no blessings at this time.
Can these movements work this positive atmosphere to their advantage, get out of their offices in Cairo, and create a solid public ground for themselves in Upper Egypt or will they simply wail, weep and cry out loud that elections will be forged. Those who call for boycotting elections rather than participation are to blame rather than the regime. Egyptian opposition parties are to blame as they practice opposition in newspapers and television only, yet are not present on the Egyptian streets. Through which route this time will the opposition will lead us?