In addition to his scientific theories, Albert Einstein left us several brilliant quotes. Among them, this great definition of what insanity is: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Unfortunately, it seems the Egyptian elite has not paid much attention to Einstein’s wise advice.
Almost a year and a half after the coup d’Etat that deposed Mohamed Morsi, the “new Egypt” looks so much like the old one that it is difficult to find many differences between them. The Muslim Brotherhood has become again the “public enemy number one”. There is a façade of democracy, while independent political parties are crushed. The so-called “demonstration law” plus the upcoming antiterrorist law grant the police more or less the same repressive tools that the old “state of emergency”. And of course, the “rais” used to wear military garb before he exchanged it for the suit and the sunglasses. The current regime is just more brutal because the population became less docile after the 2011 Revolution.
In order to consolidate their power, the Egyptian rulers seem to be counting on the population’s fatigue after three years of upheaval and the uncritical support that usually generates a terrorist threat. In addition to a reinforced security apparatus, of course. Without any doubt, these factors, coupled with the bitter division between the Islamist and the secular opposition, make another uprising highly unlikely in the coming years.
However, it is not clear that these factors will work in the long term. They can just buy some time. Sooner or later, the memories of the last three years will fade away. A new generation will grow up with the same frustration of the one that occupied Tahrir Square in 2011. Whether the State is successful or not in crushing the jidahist threat, the same demands of the revolution will emerge again. “Bread, freedom and social justice”. And I doubt that the current regime, very much like the old one, has the right answers to the formidable challenges that Egypt faces.
Sure, a renewed sense of security and the generous flow of investments from the Persic Gulf will create some economic growth. However, without a deep reform of the State, it will only benefit the those sitting on the top of the social pyramid, as it happened during the Mubarak neoliberal era. Moreover, the current development policy based on big projects starts to show its flaws.
In the early 2000’s China was the model for the Arab autocrats. Searching for growth without freedom. But they could never recreate the same policies and conditions than in the Far East, and they will hardly be able to do it now with the whole region up in flames.
Abdelfattah al-Sisi has been repeatedly compared in the Egyptian press with Gamal Abdel Nasser. But this is just pure propaganda. Neither has the current president embraced the pan-Arab dream, which is dead, nor has he a program of social reform. Nasser designed a social contract which consisted in providing new public services and social rights in exchange for political acquiescence. Currently, the coffers of the State are empty and the population is booming. Therefore, it is impossible to renew Nasser’s social contract.
So what does the future hold for Egypt? Probably, more turbulent times. The 2011 Revolution offered a golden opportunity to escape from this future. There was a chance to create a new polity based on participatory politics and a certain redistribution of wealth. Unfortunately, the experiment did not succeed, though I still think it could have. And now we are back to the old and hopeless future.