Political Minutes: El Ghobashy and Mitchell at New School

On Wednesday, The New School hosted a panel featuring academics well-versed on different facets of Egyptian society. The topic of the discussion was Egypt after the presidential elections and the takeaway was that despite the overall continuation of problematic government policies of the pre-January 25th era, popular organization for a true restructuring of the government still continues as a source of reform.

Issues remaining Among the distinguished panelists was Barnard Political Science Professor Mona El Ghobashy and Professor Timothy Mitchell of Columbia University’s MESAAS Department. Hazem Fahmy, economist, writer, and member of United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs began the talk by summarizing the transition and noting the issues that still remain with regard to security, the economy, civil liberties, education, health, and foreign policy.

Only through meeting the demands of the revolution can the new government solve daily issue such as fuel and bread shortage. But the dilemma or “puzzle” facing Egypt, eloquently highlighted by moderator and distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, Talal Assad, is the longing for normality and the simultaneous desire to institute the changes demanded by the revolution.  The continuation of neoliberal policies and the dependence on Saudi Arabia and the IMF provides the financial stability that Egypt needs but also prolongs problems of speculative international finance, which Mitchell states is historically at the core of undermining democracy. There is the constant struggle of rebuilding institutions and simultaneously moving forward. Fahmy noted the polarization of Egypt’s current sociopolitical situation and the need for a constitution to establish national reconciliation.

Accomplishments thus Far Samer Shehata, who focused on the role of the Egyptian government since the presidential elections noted the improvement of civil-military relations under Morsi which came about through the August 12 decision to remove Tantawi, chief of staff of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Additionally, Morsi’s decision helped remove the “peculiar state of government with four branches” which the SCAF had wanted to install.

El Ghobashy commented on the continuity of popular protest under Morsi. The efforts of labor worker and schoolteachers might draw parallels of the civil discontent linked to Mubarak, but actually indicate repeated calls for government restructuring. Ultimately, she noted,“What these people are demanding bears on the structure of the bureaucracy which Mubarak inherited and expanded and which now the Muslim Brotherhood also inherited and are having a very tough time dealing with the revolutionary consequences of meeting the needs of these citizens and their demands.”

What to Expect “The real revolutionary potential of all of these protests, both industrial and also actions of Egypt’s ordinary citizens is that if their demands were met, it would entail a wholesale restructuring of the Egyptian bureaucracy,” El Ghobashy optimistically referred to the continued economic protests. The continuation of these protests is not to be undermined, but rather might be seen as having the same potential for change as those of Tahrir.

While the power of the people continues unabatedly in the form of economic strike, the power of the government to effect real change is still to be tested, and it is certainly too early to judge. What the panel expects from Morsi now is not revolutionary, but reformist, corruption-free politics.