Back to Square One

The Egyp­tian Revo­lu­tion of 2011 was aimed at over­throw­ing an author­i­tar­ian regime and ush­er­ing in democ­racy. Three years later, the coun­try has all but moved on.

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Three years af­ter the Lo­tus Revo­lu­tion that aimed to es­tab­lish a demo­cratic state, Egypt seems to have shown lit­tle progress.

Asa rev­o­lu­tion­ary wave of demon­stra­tions and protests in the name of democ­racy swept through the Mid­dle East in 2011, Egypt un­der­went its own ‘Lo­tus Revo­lu­tion’, a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing that saw mil­lions of pro­tes­tors, re­gard­less of so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds and re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tions, protest on the streets and de­mand an end to a myr­iad of grievances. Street protests, acts of civil disobe­di­ence, marches and ri­ots – all en­sued in an at­tempt to re­con­fig­ure the sta­tus quo and usher in a new era marked by free­dom of speech, free and fair elec­tions, a sta­ble econ­omy and a peace­ful fu­ture. De­mand­ing an end to high un­em­ploy­ment, in­fla­tion, po­lice bru­tal­ity and eco­nomic woes amongst other le­gal and po­lit­i­cal is­sues, demon­stra­tors emerged, united in their de­sire to over­throw the author­i­tar­ian regime of Hosni Mubarak which they ac­cused of plun­der­ing Egypt and plung­ing its people into de­spon­dency.

By Arsla Jawaid Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, vi­o­lent clashes be­tween pro­tes­tors and po­lice forces loyal to Mubarak led to 850 people be­ing killed and more than 100,000 in­jured.

As in­ter­na­tional me­dia corps de­scended to cover what they la­belled a his­toric turn of events, the west read­ily sup­ported the wave of rev­o­lu­tions that were sweep­ing North Africa and the Mid­dle East at that junc­ture. With slo­gans of ‘democ­racy’ and ‘free­dom’, it seemed that ‘change’ was in­evitable. Three years later, how­ever, the coun­try is back to square one with lit­tle im­prove­ment and only sac­ri­fices to show for its heroic strug­gle for democ­racy.

Democ­racy is not an event. It is a process; per­haps one that the Egyp­tian people were not quite ready for yet. Democ­racy re­quires time to root it­self, struc­tures to up­hold it, a se­ries of demo­cratic tran­si­tions to es­tab­lish it and, above all, pa­tience to sus­tain it. How­ever, ush­er­ing in democ­racy af­ter three decades of Mubarak’s dra­co­nian regime is not an easy feat and has been made par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult in the pres­ence of pow­er­hun­gry, cor­rupt politi­cians. Mubarak was de­clared Pres­i­dent in the wake of Sa­dat’s as­sas­si­na­tion in 1981. Hav­ing held onto power since then, Mubarak in­creas­ingly be­came an au­to­cratic ruler, curb­ing free­doms, main­tain­ing an emer­gency rule, crush­ing dis­sent and sup­press­ing all op­po­si­tion groups (no­tably the Mus­lim Brother­hood), while ar­gu­ing that such mea­sures were nec­es­sary to con­trol im­mi­nent threats from Is­lamist ter­ror­ist groups. As do­mes­tic un­rest es­ca­lated, protests swept the na­tion. In a tele­vised ad­dress, Mubarak dis­solved his govern­ment and agreed to hand over power to the Head of the In­tel­li­gence Direc­torate. A day later, Vice Pres­i­dent Omar Suleiman forced Mubarak to re­sign and an­nounced that the Supreme Coun­cil

of the Armed Forces ( SCAF) would run the coun­try in the in­terim. The new head of state, Hus­sein Tantawi, promptly giv­ing in to the de­mands of the demon­stra­tors, sus­pended the con­sti­tu­tion, dis­solved the par­lia­ment and de­clared that elec­tions would be held within six months.

While the SCAF at­tempted to run an in­terim govern­ment and in­tro­duce re­forms, re­sent­ment with the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture once again height­ened. Sup­port­ers of the Mus­lim Brother­hood emerged on the streets and protests en­sued against the SCAF that many ac­cused of har­ness­ing pres­i­den­tial pow­ers. In March 2011, close to four thou­sand demon­stra­tors filled Tahrir Square and de­manded faster dis­man­tling of the pre­vi­ous regime. Oth­ers ac­cused the SCAF of plan­ning a coup and bring­ing the coun­try fur­ther un­der mil­i­tary rule. For those who had strived to over­throw the Mubarak regime, the sac­ri­fices they had made were too great to aban­don for a re­turn to the sta­tus quo. Pro­tes­tors clashed with the mil­i­tary in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, leading to se­vere ca­su­al­ties, at­tacks on of­fi­cial build­ings and a sub­se­quent break­down of law and or­der.

While Egypt’s mil­i­tary rulers awarded them­selves in­creased leg­isla­tive pow­ers, the coun­try’s first pres­i­den­tial elec­tions took place and ush­ered in Mo­hammed Morsi of the Mus­lim Brother­hood, mak­ing him the first Is­lamist head of an Arab state. How­ever, his rule was short-lived as Morsi tried to usurp all state pow­ers and is­sued a dec­la­ra­tion im­mu­niz­ing his decrees from any chal­lenge or forced re­vi­sion. Many of Morsi’s ad­vi­sors re­signed and judges spoke out against his ac­tions. The move marginal­ized lib­eral and sec­u­lar groups as Morsi at­tempted to im­pose strict Is­lamic rule in an ef­fort to ap­pease his Brother­hood back­ers.

Close to a year af­ter he was sworn in, mil­lions of pro­tes­tors called for Morsi to be re­moved and new pres­i­den­tial elec­tions to be held. The Egyp­tian Move­ment of Change claimed to have col­lected 22 mil­lion sig­na­tures, de­mand­ing Morsi’s re­moval. Many be­lieved that the Brother­hood had rigged the votes and as vi­o­lent clashes oc­curred be­tween sup­port­ers of both camps, once again Egypt plunged into un­cer­tainty and vi­o­lence. Af­ter be­ing given a 48-hour warn­ing, the Pres­i­dent was re­moved from of­fice by the mil­i­tary. The Chief Jus­tice was des­ig­nated the new head of state. Re­gard­less of the civil­ian front, the mil­i­tary con­tin­ued to wield con­sid­er­able power and used its in­flu­ence to crush pro-Morsi demon­stra­tions and ri­ots in what has been termed by in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups as a “mas­sacre.” The mil­i­tary has also forced the clo­sure of pub­lic me­dia and ar­rested jour­nal­ists from me­dia groups deemed as proMorsi, in­clud­ing Al-Jazeera.

Three years af­ter the Lo­tus Revo­lu­tion that aimed to over­throw a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and es­tab­lish a demo­cratic state where the people reigned supreme, Egypt seems to have shown lit­tle progress. Ex­pect­ing a re­turn to author­i­tar­ian rule, Egyp­tians are fast los­ing hope. Pro­tes­tors are bru­tally tar­geted and the revo­lu­tion fever seems to have re­ceded as quickly as it caught on. Egypt’s move to­wards a peace­ful democ­racy may be unattain­able at the mo­ment but the coun­try is show­ing signs of mov­ing to­wards some po­lit­i­cal ar­range­ment. Per­haps mes­mer­ized by the mantra of “democ­racy,” Egypt’s new elec­tion com­mis­sion has an­nounced the first round of voting for the coun­try’s new pres­i­dent to be held on May 26 and 27, with re­sults ex­pected to be an­nounced by June.

Though Egyp­tians re­main se­ri­ously di­vided over Morsi’s ouster, the coun­try’s pow­er­ful for­mer mil­i­tary chief Ab­dul Fat­tah El-Sissi has emerged a strong fa­vorite to win the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Hav­ing com­fort­ably set­tled within the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship, Sissi re­ceived for­eign train­ing at pres­ti­gious war col­leges in the US and UK af­ter which he re­turned to Egypt to form close con­nec­tions within the mil­i­tary ranks. A deeply con­tro­ver­sial char­ac­ter, while deputy head of Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence (MI), he was re­cruited by Tantawi to join the SCAF af­ter the over­throw of the Mubarak regime. It was dur­ing this time that he was as­signed to build crit­i­cal con­tacts with the Mus­lim Brother­hood on be­half of SCAF. Us­ing his rep­u­ta­tion as a de­vout Mus­lim, he set out to dra­ma­tize his per­for­mance by quot­ing Qu­ranic verses and con­duct­ing the con­tro­ver­sial “vir­gin­ity tests” on ar­rested demon­stra­tors in an ef­fort to con­vince the Brother­hood of his Is­lamic views while at the same time main­tain­ing a level of strong pop­u­lar­ity within the mil­i­tary ranks. As a re­sult, Pres­i­dent Morsi ap­pointed him com­man­der-inchief and de­fense min­is­ter, re­plac­ing Tantawi. While Sissi at­tempted to toe Morsi’s line on do­mes­tic is­sues, on the se­cu­rity front he pro­tected the in­ter­ests of the mil­i­tary, thus guar­an­tee­ing the in­sti­tu­tion of his true loy­alty. He also played a crit­i­cal role in grant­ing more pow­ers and priv­i­leges to the mil­i­tary class in the for­ma­tion of the 2012 con­sti­tu­tion.

Sissi suc­cess­fully de­ceived the Brother­hood and af­ter Morsi’s re­moval, ap­pointed a spe­cial di­vi­sion to crack down on the Brother­hood’s sup­port­ers. A strong na­tion­al­ist ded­i­cated to ad­dress­ing Egypt’s eco­nomic woes and a shrewd per­son­al­ity with the abil­ity to seam­lessly de­flect blame to other po­lit­i­cal ac­tors, Sissi could prove to be a ma­nip­u­la­tive pres­i­dent; some­one who will en­sure that the mil­i­tary is able to ex­pand its in­flu­ence in the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, so­cial and for­eign pol­icy are­nas.

If Sissi is able to usher in po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, this may be the tem­po­rary price Egyp­tians would pay for a demo­cratic fu­ture that they des­per­ately seek.

The writer is the Man­ag­ing Edi­tor for Strate­gic Stud­ies at the In­sti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies, Is­lam­abad.

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