A recent Arab Barometer poll showed that the clear majority of Egyptians trusted their current Prime Minister, Dr Essam Sharaf. More importantly, it showed that they believed the government understood their needs and concerns, and that it was working hard on achieving those needs. For the majority of Egyptians it seems, Essam Sharaf is just a good man who is doing what is needed. But interacting with a significant percentage of both the educational and financial upper strata of Egyptian society, and also quite particularly the more pro-revolution of Egyptians, presents Dr. Sharaf, at best, as a tragic hero.
As Mubarak struggled to stay in power, the deposed leader replaced his overwhelmingly unpopular Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif with one of his most loyal aides, then Aviation Minister and Army man Ahmed Shafiq. While Shafiq was tolerated and even loved by the more ambivalent or anti-revolution segments of Egyptian society, who were definitely not a few, he was a complete non-starter for those who stood by the revolution whether from day one or afterwards. Shafiq was seen as one of the old guard. He was less known than other Mubarak regime figures, had a soft and somewhat likable demeanor. However, Shafiq was very well entrenched with the regime, and was also seen as utterly condescending, too bourgeois and disconnected in his mannerisms by the pro-revolution masses.
A major concern was that no true reform was ever going to happen with both the military council and one of Mubarak’s closest right hand men in power, it was often said. Protests swelled, and Shafiq self-detonated on television in a heated exchange with pro-revolution fiction writer and columnist Dr. Alaa El Aswany. With Tunisia’s prime minister resigning a few days earlier, Shafiq gave up, and resigned. The military regime knew it had to find someone the revolutionaries would like. And they found just the man.
Dr. Essam Sharaf fit the profile perfectly. He was ousted from the Nazif government due to what has been described as "his stance against corruption," lending him instant credibility to the pro-revolution masses. He was an unaffiliated academic with an impeccable reputation who, most importantly, took part in the revolution itself. He was "the man from Tahrir."
The revolutionaries, partially in actual excitement over the man, and partially out of genuine exhaustion and need for a modicum of hope, flocked to Sharaf’s support, and demanded he would also swear his oath in Tahrir, in addition to his official oath of office to the ruling Military Council. The man complied and, in an historic scene, swore his oath of office to jubilant Egyptians surrounding him. It was an Obama moment par excellence. And the man was off to a promising start. He removed some very unpopular members of his cabinet, including Foreign Minister Ahmed Abulgheit, dissolved the unpopular and corrupt local & municipal councils, and enacted a series of decisions and policies that were met with fanfare. On a personal level, he was a media and street darling. He ate the cheap Egyptian national dish "Fuul" (fava beans) in simple restaurants with his family, his son paid a traffic ticket rather than evading it as he could have, and other similar stories of a simple and humble demeanor flooded the social networks and street talk.
But those who observed more closely knew that people were asking too much of him, and that either he was part of a beautifully orchestrated facade or that, more likely, he had walked into a de facto trap. First, the prime minister was never the seat of power in Egyptian politics. He was the executor and often the architect, but the actual power always laid in the hands of the head of state. And now, literally infinite power laid in the hands of a military council that had its own view of how the country should move.
I do not question that SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) has in essence what it sees as a patriotic agenda, despite of anything else that might be a cause of scrutiny, but SCAF is hardly similar to the current revolutionary mindset. It embodies the epitome of political conservatism and a strict preference for cautious and gradual reform that has been the spirit of Egyptian politics for decades.
Second, Sharaf’s cabinet was laden with remnants of the Mubarak era, people he was still incapable of moving without SCAF support. Third, the complexities of the reality of Egyptian politics and security are simply dumbfounding for anyone, let alone a relatively politically inexperienced academic. Fourth, Sharaf and SCAF were up against a formidable leviathan of an enemy: the Ministry of Interior. There was just simply no way to reform that behemoth of an institution as quickly as people wanted, the most popular demand in the revolution, and they could not speak in public about the complexities of confronting that institution and reforming it without it being unflattering for the regime.
Moreover, Sharaf and SCAF, whether out of design or necessity or ambition or patriotism or a need to do "something" instead of "nothing," especially as it became apparent that the transitional period was going to be longer than the originally envisaged six months, expanded the scope of their mandate on their own. The transitional regime and government were neither intended as a true wide-scale legislative body, nor was it imbued with the popular mandate to enact macroeconomic and major political "decisions" and "policy making," beyond the deconstruction of the Mubarak State, managing the country during the transition while restoring security on the streets, and working on establishing the constitution and/or government that would lead Egypt into it’s Second Republic. But instead, Sharaf and SCAF engaged in debates and policy-making on far reaching matters such as the minimum wage, progressive taxation and even recently somewhat discussing the terms of Camp David Accords, not with the acceptable purpose of stimulating discussion for future governments, but for the actual sake of immediate legislating.
In doing so, the Prime Minister (and his government), being the face of the regime, declared himself in effect responsible and capable of anything and everything. That of course meant that he will also get the blame for anything and everything as well, which he did.