CAIRO — When the military ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Zeinhom Hassan Ibrahim slaughtered a sheep, hired a DJ and threw a block party for his neighbors.
Ibrahim, a former parliamentarian from longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party, had lived through the year of Mohamed Morsi’s rule in blinking disbelief, as if the whole world had turned upside down.
But now, things are finally getting back to normal.
Egypt’s new power dynamic, following the July 3 coup that ousted Morsi, is eerily familiar. Gone are the Islamist rulers from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Back are the faces of the old guard, many closely linked to Mubarak’s reign or to the all-
powerful generals. And for a seemingly broad array of Egyptians, that’s exactly the way they want it.
The overthrow of Morsi has yielded a new appreciation for military rule in a country that so recently shunned it, and a striking return to the way things were before the 2011 revolution against a Mubarak regime that was widely considered irredeemably corrupt and exploitative.
Telltale signs of the old guard are cropping up in Egypt’s new cabinet, where Mubarak-era figures abound and Islamists are absent; in the halls of the nation’s justice system, where prosecutors are investigating the nation’s pre-coup leaders on charges of incitement; and in darkened jail cells, where prisoners are blindfolded, handcuffed and interrogated about their adherence to the Brotherhood.
Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the man who delivered news of Morsi’s dismissal on national television, has now assumed the role of deputy prime minister in addition to his earlier titles of defense minister and commander of Egypt’s armed forces. Few observers doubt that he pulls the levers behind a facade of civilian rule.
In the state-run media, the old-guard rhetoric of Mubarak’s 30-year reign has made a full-throated return, with patriotic montages and copious praise for the armed forces. Private networks have gotten in on the act, too.
So far, aside from Brotherhood-led protests, there’s been little backlash against the return to the old ways. Egyptians who once demanded punishment for the “feloul” — the so-called remnants of Mubarak’s regime — say that a year of disastrous Brotherhood rule has put everything in perspective.
“I don’t care if they are feloul, as long as they fix what the Brotherhood did,” said Mohamed Mahmoud, a locksmith who voted for Morsi and later joined the protests to oust him.
Eleven out of 34 cabinet ministers are veterans of Mubarak’s regime. Two were members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, a group that was dissolved after his 2011 fall. Defenders of the old guard say it’s inevitable that the government will include Mubarak-era officials because they are the ones actually qualified to run the country.
“For over a year, the Muslim Brotherhood government proved to be incompetent. So we have to work with these experts from the old regime,” said Ahmed Sarhan, an aide to Ahmed Shafik, the retired air force commander who lost to Morsi by a slim margin in last year’s election.
Amr Moussa, the Mubarak-era foreign minister who tried hard to distance himself from the ousted autocrat when he ran for president in 2012, said that Mubarak associates who fled into self-
imposed exile after the revolution should feel safe to return.
“Now they can come back. They should come back,” Moussa said.
Among the liberal and secular activists who have championed Morsi’s ouster as a popular revolution that reflected the public will, there is little talk of democratic values.
Many say they would like to see religious political parties such as the Brotherhood’s banned. They want the news media, which they blame for some of Egypt’s political strife, to adhere to a more restrictive “legal framework.” And they think Brotherhood leaders should stay behind bars.
While the United States has pushed for Egypt’s various factions to reconcile, and for the military to allow the Brotherhood back into politics, many secular Egyptians recoil at the idea.
“ ‘Reconciliation’ is a very vague term,” said Shadi al-Ghazaly Harb, a member of the liberal Constitution Party, said Thursday at a gathering hosted by the June 30th Front, one of the activist groups that mobilized protesters against Morsi. The United States understands the word from one perspective, he said. “And we understand it from another.”
“We cannot sit with Brotherhood leaders because now their hands are filled with blood,” he said.
Harb and other liberal activists said they had few qualms about drafting a new constitution for the country without the involvement of Islamists. “It’s up to them to get themselves reconciled with the Egyptian people,” said Ahmed Hawary, a founder of the June 30th Front.
Egypt’s generals apparently agree. Since the coup, Egypt’s new authorities have cracked down hard on Islamists. More than 1,000 Morsi supporters have been rounded up for arrest in the past two weeks, at least 535 of whom were later released.
Charges have ranged from rioting and blocking roads to incitement and murder.
The Muslim Brotherhood said Friday that eight of the group’s top leaders had been transferred to a “heavily guarded prison,” as thousands of the group’s supporters demonstrated across the country.
Ahmed Zakaria, a university student, was arrested with hundreds of others last week after security forces opened fire on a sit-in of Morsi’s supporters. He said he was forced to squat with his hands on his head as police officers held a picture of Morsi aloft and shouted “Who is this?” When the detainees stayed silent, an officer answered for them: “This is the big sheep, and you’re all his little sheep.”
Fearful and lawyerless in a jail cell, Zakaria and other detainees scrawled relatives’ phone numbers on paper and hurled the crumpled messages through air vents to the street, in the hope that someone would call.
Zakaria said he was read 13 charges, including premeditated murder, before being released on bail.
To the Islamists, the niche of the persecuted is one they know all too well.
“We have gone back to before the 25th of January,” said Amr Ali al-Din, a lawyer representing Brotherhood detainees, who was referring to the 2011 date when the uprising that toppled Mubarak began. “It’s the same treatment in the prisons, and on the street.”
Sharaf al-Hourani and Lara El Gibaly contributed to this report.