Transition to What: Egypt's Uncertain Departure from Neo-Authoritarianism
This report provides an analysis of Egypt’s current status by focusing more on structural and long-term dynamics than on everyday politics. As stated in this report’s title, the authors still consider Egypt a neo-authoritarian state for all practical purposes, although they acknowledge that the end of the Mubarak era might lead to a political transition in terms of a ruling coalition reshuffle or adjustments in the domestic and international balance of power. Whether Egypt will become a more representative country, however, still remains to be seen. Part of the aim of this work is to highlight some of the possible obstacles to this desirable outcome.
A first draft of the present report was written in December 2010 and discussed at a seminar at the International Affairs Institute (IAI) in Rome on January 21, 2011. While the authors could not foresee the rapid unfolding of events and, most of all, the rise of a vibrant and spontaneous popular mobilization largely external to the traditional opposition structures, much of their analysis is not only valid, but also useful today, due precisely to the already mentioned structural approach of the research.
The report is made up of four papers. The first paper, by Maria Cristina Paciello, focuses on Egypt’s socio-economic profile. In particular, the author develops the argument that, in spite of the positive macro-economic trends in the last decade, the hardships of a large number of Egyptians, particularly those belonging to the lower-middle classes have increased so that, rather than referring to Egypt as a “success story,” it is more correct to speak of an emerging “social question” in the country.
In the second paper, Issandr El Amrani provides a perspective on the evolution of the National Democratic Party (NDP), the former ruling party of Egypt, focusing mainly on the decade before the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, in order to grasp the real direction of the current political transition, it is important to understand how institutions like the NDP kept their hold on power and increasingly turned Egypt into a “mafia state.”
In the third paper, Daniela Pioppi analyses the state of health of Egypt’s main opposition force, the Muslim Brotherhood, after 40 years of co-existence with the regime. The author argues that not only the regime’s repression, but also the Brotherhood’s overly compliant approach towards the ruling establishment, has diminished the Islamic Brotherhood’s organizational strength and mass base as well as its capacity to produce an original political agenda. This state of affairs is confirmed by in the Brotherhood’s late appearance and modest role in the popular mobilization of January-February 2011.
Finally, in the fourth paper, Philippe Droz-Vincent tackles the status of Egypt’s foreign policy, demonstrating how the country has been progressively marginalized in the past decade, and how it has found itself increasingly unable to act independently of its long-time partner and patron, the United States.