Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fulul”: blunting the blade"

[Transit] Egypt. Magdy Samaan sheds some insight on “fulul”, as the remnants of the old regime are called.
The literal meaning of the Arabic verb falla is ‘to nick the blade of a sword and make it jagged’ or ‘to blunt an object’. If a sword becomes jagged, it has fulul (notches). It has lost its edge and requires smoothening and sharpening. When the term is applied to a nation, it implies a defeated or a vanquished people. In the wake of the Egyptian revolution, the term ‘fulul’ has been used to indicate those loyal to the deposed Mubarak regime or those who benefitted from it. It is inaccurately being interpreted in Arabic, and also translated into English, as ‘remnants.’ The question is, have the cronies of the previous regime lost their power and become the proverbial blunted sword? This widespread, inaccurate understanding of the word fulul reflects the state of paralysis and conflict that is stripping the Egyptian revolution of its worth today. Most Egyptians now feel that allowing the army to assume command of this interregnum was a historic mistake, and that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is no more than an extension of the previous regime. In other words, ‘remnants’, as the word is conventionally used. But the truth is that no chink has been made, no defeating blow delivered yet. After the first anniversary of the January 25th Revolution, the Egyptians find themselves governed by the same rules they presumed they had gotten rid of when the former president, Mubarak, stepped down. Bit by bit, the old faces and practices have re-emerged, to the point where the activists now find that they themselves might more accurately be termed the fulul – notches – and that it is the revolution, the sword in the analogy, that has been blunted and discredited. The popular intifada against Mubarak’s rule initially came with the blessing of the military, which saw in the uprising an opportunity to rid themselves of a source of irritation: the hereditary succession of power. Although the military establishment, the solid core of the previous regime, initially assured the revolutionaries that they would relinquish power to civilian forces, in the following months it did an about-face which has preserved the old balance of power and its beneficiaries and restored military control. The SCAF deliberately utilized the security vacuum, and the dire economic situation, to make a play for the ordinary citizen and intimate that the revolution was responsible for these problems.In the last three months, the military establishment made its antagonism towards the revolution and its instigators clear. Accusations resurfaced, familiar from the first days of the uprising: that Tahrir Square does not represent Egypt, and that activists are funded by foreign sources bent on wreaking havoc, and so on. Following the revolution, efforts to expunge the fulul from the government was limited to former ruling members of the National Democratic Party (NDP), personalities related to the former president and, more specifically, those who were implicated in the agenda for the hereditary succession of power. The SCAF attempted to delude the revolutionaries into believing that the regime had fallen, by putting select representatives of the old regime to trial, while simultaneously re-introducing ‘pre-succession-agenda’ regime figures. One year after the uprising, it appears that the regime the revolution sought to overthrow runs wider than the term fulul implies.In the thirty years that Mubarak held the reins of power, this network continued along the same lines set during the Nasser and Sadat eras – a system of patronage and loyalty won out over direct rule by the military establishment. But in the final decade of Mubarak’s rule, an unexpected change occurred: Mubarak himself decided to upend the system, giving rise to the notion that his son might assume power after him. This prompted the ascent of new beneficiaries professing loyalty to the heir apparent, and triggered resentment towards the ‘old guard’, foremost the military establishment. An unspoken power struggle ensued between the two camps. Mubarak’s civilian heir was a feckless and unconvincing candidate, particularly in the eyes of the military. The ‘old guard’ questioned the share of the political pie accorded to these ‘upstarts’ – most of whom were businessmen – and disputed their administerial competence, which was embodied in the person of Ahmed Ezz, former Secretary of Organizational Affairs for the NDP. In ‘old guard’ circles, the resentment grew. In the twilight years of his rule, Mubarak’s age stunted his capabilities. His son was stunted from the outset by having failed to convince anyone of his capacity to lead. The so-called fulul, however, have yet to be stunted in any way. They continue to resist change, and it is they who retain real power and who enjoy the support of the regional forces, who view democratic change in Egypt as a worrisome threat to their own retention of control. Be that as it may, the persistence and courage demonstrated by the youth of Tahrir in recent confrontations could yet turn the tables.

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