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Anti-Hegemony in Contemporary Egypt

February 17, 2013

Photo Credit: Jonathan Rashad via Compfight cc

“Anti-hegemony” is the sense that there is no leadership that is not corrupt and no legitimate institutions a that do not mask the special interests of elites.  Photo Credit: Jonathan Rashad via Compfight cc

The Muslim Brotherhood coalition that currently rules Egypt offers an example of a “political groups that seize power on a wave of mass mobilization, only to revert to a politics of pragmatism under the mantle of revolutionary ideals” writes Ahmed Shokr.He’s writing in an article entitled “Reflections on Two Revolutions” published in a special issue of Middle East Report and available for free on-line.

In their effort to maintain a facade of idealism while pursuing a pragmatic course of action, Shokr writes, the MB is not unlike the Free Officers who seized power after the revolution of 1952.

How the emergent order in Egypt will eventually look, and how much of the past it will retain or abandon, are matters that remain to be worked out. Since coming to power, the Muslim Brothers have engaged in a delicate balancing act: maintaining enough continuity to win international acceptance and protect their ruling coalition, while projecting enough change to give credence to their promise of a new Egypt. The result is an emerging leadership of reluctant revolutionaries: They tread carefully, keeping stability a top priority and steering clear of dramatic policy changes, while boasting of being Egypt’s first democratically elected rulers.

But there are also important differences.

  1. First, the Muslim Bortherhood, though freely elected, has a very narrow mandate.
  2. Moreover, they have offered no real vision for national rebirth.
  3. Finally, “the Muslim Brothers have been successful at competitive elections and high-level political maneuver, but less so at building partnerships and presenting themselves as leaders for all Egyptians, a force transcending partisan concerns and representing the public interest.”

As a result:

Egypt has seen a continuing tendency toward what might be called anti-hegemony: a mood whereby people refuse to identify with the programs of the ruling elites. This attitude is discernible in a deep distrust of institutions of power; a conviction that elites are driven by narrow or personal motives; an instinct that the majority is being hoodwinked by a small clique of corrupt, dishonest leaders; and, occasionally, a sense of irredeemable failure and a belief that all attempts at change are futile. Anti-hegemony results from more than the lack of visionary leadership that some observers have noted in the Arab revolts. Its roots go further back in time. The malaise can be traced partly to the state itself, and the feeling that it never gets things right. It reflects not only the shortcomings of individuals, but of policies, practices and institutions — in short, a system of authority losing legitimacy.

The article is worth reading in its entirety.


Shokr, Ahmad. 2013. Reflections on Two Revolutions. Middle East Report 42(625).

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