It came as no surprise to anyone that Mursi’s speech delivered on the first anniversary of him taking office contained no surprises. It was obvious that the Muslim Brothers were in no mood to compromise, and had no intention to change tack and strike a nation-saving deal with the opposition on how to rule Egypt jointly after Mubarak.
The speech contained nothing new : there were the usual blaming of everything on the heavy legacy of the old regime, and the sinister warning to the “hidden fingers” and the media, all wrapped in classical Muslim Brothers sanctimonious verbiage — music to the ears of his supporters of course.
Short of any new ideas to write about, I will therefore dwell on a few observations not on the speech itself but its choreography, because it cast some light on the nature of the Muslim Brothers as a political organisation.
Seated at the front were Muslim Brothers apparachiks such as El-Katatni next to the chief of the army, General AbdelFattah Al-Sissi. Cabinet members sat in the front rows shoulder to shoulder with other top brass. The visual message is clear : Mursi and his cabinet enjoy the full support of the military. Reality may be completely different — but we are not concerned with reality here, but with the symbolism of the choreography. Still no one knows for sure how the military will react to the current divisions in the country.
At the back as usual, sat Muslim Brothers foot soldiers, the party faithful and cheer leaders. True to the old Egyptian one-party state tradition, all were bussed to the venue to punctuate the speech of the leader with their impassioned applauds. Not a single heckler or an opponent (not even a dissenting voice from the MB ) was allowed any where near the conference hall. The scene outside the compound was no different. “Mursi, Mursi, Allahu Akbar” was the chant. The message : the nation stood firmly behind its leader — nothing could be further from the truth, because we all know how deeply divided Egypt is. A team from the Al-Arabya news channel was roughed up by the pious crowd. The Saudi owned channel, like other media outlets inside Egypt, is perceived as part of the conspiracy against the Muslim Brothers and Islam (there is hardly any distinction between the two in Muslim Brothers ideology)
I noticed that the crowds chanting at the back was at its most intense when Mursi spoke of the need to purge the state institutions of the old regime, or that his patience was running out with the media. The crowd egged him on, the sooner, the harsher the better. The roar was scary.
For those not familiar with the history of modern Egypt and the one-party state it has been since the military coup of 1952, the semiotics of the spectacle was perhaps far more telling than the conspiratorial discourse Mursi and his followers like to exculpate themselves with from any responsibility for the current mess.
The party apparachiks, the top brass and cabinet members in the front seats, the foot soldiers cheering at the back has always been the preferred mise en scène of all previous dictators in Egypt : from Nasser, to Sadat, to Mubarak.