There’s a New Non-ideological Political Power in the Arab World

Published on Qantara.de, Interview with Arnold Hottinger, translated from the German by Michael Lawton, March 16, 2011.

The uprisings in the Arab world have to a certain extent turned existing political systems upside down in the authoritarian states of the region. The Middle East expert Arnold Hottinger talks to Mona Sarkis about the consequences of the protests, and what is likely to happen in the future.

Dr. Hottinger, Egypt and Tunisia are the Arab countries which, as you put it, have the “first act” behind them, and have toppled their dictators. They now face the second act. What might that look like in Egypt? 

  • Arnold Hottinger: The army there took over power with promises, but it’s not yet clear whether the Egyptians will get what they wanted: genuine elections, free political parties, freedom of information, an independent judiciary. The army, whose commanders are deeply rooted in the existing system, is not used to having to submit itself to the state. At the same time, it has to take account of the feeling in the lower ranks. The lieutenants think much the same as the students, and, unlike the army command, they don’t have positions or privileges to defend. That’s why the army didn’t shoot at the demonstrators: it wanted to prevent the possibility of a split within its own ranks.
  • The main issue is now: when will there be elections, and what will they be for? A president, a parliament, or a new constitution? It’s too early to speculate about individual candidates, like Amr Moussa or Mohammad elBaradei. They don’t have parties, and it will depend on when the elections take place as to how well they’re organised. You can’t build real democratic structures from one day to the next. On the other side, you have the economy, and the economic issues work in exactly the opposite direction: the longer the transition takes, the less likely there is to be, for example, foreign investment, which is very important for the country.

You mention elBaradei und Moussa – in the West people tend rather to speculate, sometimes in a very tendentious way, about the chances of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Hottinger: Europeans think they have a political understanding of the Muslim Brothers. That’s nonsense, because the Muslim Brothers are in the process of splitting. There are those who want democracy – the others want democracy too, but in an Islamic form. In addition there are breakaway groups like “Wassat”, who aren’t Muslim Brothers at all any more, and they also stand for basic democratic ideals. This fear of the Muslim Brothers is laughable. They are no longer the bogeymen which they were perhaps in 1949.

What effect might the fall of Mubarak have on policy towards Gaza?

  • Hottinger: The peace agreement with Israel will continue, but an elected parliament will without doubt not maintain the blockade of Gaza. This would accelerate the loss of power of Fatah, which has already started, and could benefit the pragmatists in Hamas.

Libya is still fighting to free itself from Ghaddafi – and many people fear a civil war there:

… (full interview text).

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