Egypt: A Revolution within the Revolution

09 December 2011
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The political geography of the Middle East has started to be reshaped with the developments starting in December of 2010 and gaining speed in 2011. The popular movements that first erupted in Tunisia could be described as “the awakening of the Arab people.” The authoritarian administrations of the Arab world have applied violence so as to suppress the unrest in the Middle East, but they have failed.

This process has brought about the overthrow of the presidents in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya while it had led the Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave his presidential post  on November 23rd, 2011. Given that the Assad administration in Syria will also fall, it could be said that the region will undergo a rather difficult process. The current situation in Egypt constitutes a good example for this. Egypt is virtually experiencing a second revolution and in the same vein, recent events there signal a painful democratization process of the Arab states. This analysis will focus on the reasons and characteristics of the awakening or revolution in Egypt.

The Popular Revolution and Position of Egypt in the Region

The popular movements sweeping the Arab states (first erupting in Tunisia) have immensely influenced Egypt as well. Since January 25th  2011, Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo has been a symbol of popular uprisings both within the Egyptians and the other Arab states. Having been able to resist the rebellion in Egypt for eighteen days, former President Hosni Mubarak was eventually forced to resign. Even though the victory in Tahrir Square belongs to the Egypt’s young liberal demonstrators, the role of the Egyptian army should also not be overlooked. Especially given the fact that the Egyptian army had stood by the people in Tahrir Square (from the moment those uprisings commenced), this action sped the process for Mubarak to leave his post in the presidency. Otherwise, just like the (now deceased) Libyan leader Qaddafi, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh did, Hosni Mubarak would have had recourse to violence and repression so as to oppress its own people. Thus, recent demonstrations against the Egyptian army in Tahrir Square could lead to contradictions and divisions within the Egyptian rebels.

Additionally, from the perspective of the Arab world, Egypt has been an important country for historical, political and cultural developments in the region. Within this scope, Arabic nationalism, finding its strongest form in Egypt, had been driving force for the independence processes of the Arab states after the Second World War. Likewise, the Maghreb Bureau in Cairo had supported the independence movements in Northern Africa, and Egypt’s struggle for independence had strengthened the anti-colonialist Arabic nationalism in Syria and Iraq. Similarly, [Egypt’s second President] Gamal Abdul Nasir had been an undisputed leader of the Arab world during the second half of the 1950s. However, in the last 20-30 years, the country’s position in the area has relatively weakened and Egyptian leaders have lost their once encompassing clout over Middle Eastern politics. Furthermore, that headquarters of the Arab League is situated in Egypt is not sufficient for the country to be influential over the other Arab countries. It is crystal clear that, especially with peace process between Egypt and Israel, Egypt has lost its influence on the Arab world. Unless Anwar al-Sadat, the third President of Egypt, had signed the Camp David accords in 1979, Egypt’s clout over the region could be more clearly felt under today’s conditions.

Egypt after Mubarak

The resignation of the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11th  2011 has not put an end to revolts in Egypt. The country is still suffering from an unemployment problem and obstacles of economic development, both of which aggravate the ongoing insurgencies in the country. Hence, given the developments in Egypt after Mubarak, it could be said that neither the country’s regime has changed nor has its unemployment (or economic problem)s come to an end. The current administration in Egypt cannot meet people’s demands. Moreover, after Mubarak, there has been an increase in the acts of theft, murder and violence. The ineffectiveness of the administration after Hosni Mubarak could be summarized as follows:

-The interim administration in Egypt has failed in ensuring the security of the country. Similarly, it has not been able to avoid the chaos, in which certain foreign powers are also thought to be influential.

-The new administration has maintained the policy of repression against people as the Mubarak regime did. This, in turn, has led to the continuation of the protests in Tahrir Square.

-The Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and many other religion-oriented groups (all of which had been suppressed by the Mubarak administration for many years), have come to Egypt’s political stage and this has resulted in debates over the current regime and political competition in the country.

-In the attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt on October 10th 2011, 25 Coptic Christians lost their lives. Nevertheless, the Isam Sharif government did not arrest and bring them justice. Thus, people lost their trust in the current government of Egypt.

Egypt has been grappling with instability and violence for almost ten months. Economically, people are in dire straits. Hence, even though popular uprisings in Egypt aimed at the solution of some problems of the country, their current situation says that the expected result of these insurgencies has not yet been seen. What people in the Arab world desire is not only the fall of the dictator administrations, but instead, the people demand for freedom, employment, and political/socio-economic justice. Even though people in Egypt revolt for their self interests, it has been the political parties and ideological groups, mainly being the Muslim Brotherhood, who have got the best of interests for themselves.

The Conflict between People and the Egyptian Army

Military coups that have come to be a tradition of the Middle East have been ongoing for many years. Those in power in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Yemen have been overthrown with military coup d’états. Furthermore, since the dictators of the Arab world have got the control of their armies, the form of the governments has changed accordingly. When the Arab countries in the current Middle East region are taken into account, it is seen that they receive a considerable amount of arms from the US and Russia and these weapons are used by the authoritarian regimes of the Arab world against their own people. What is interesting here is the attitude of the US. On the one hand, the USA wants the fall of the oppressor administrations under the name of “democracy and freedom.” On the other hand, it provides those governments with weapons which are used against people in the area. If one aspires to the protection of people in the 21st century, then providing administrations (that apply pressure over their own people) with arms has to be avoided. In this sense, one of the most important underlying reasons of the recent events in Egypt stands the fact that Supreme Military Council, which reflects the will of the military, controls the rulerships there. If one takes a look at the current situation in Egypt (after the fall of Hosni Mubarak), the only difference seems to be the departure of the Mubarak family. It is because Egypt is still governed by the military and this disturbs the rebels.

The Supreme Military Council, which is in power in Egypt now, has been granted with the right of immunity (during the determination of the principles of constitution between the current government and political parties), once again reviving the protests. On  November 18th 2011, more than 50,000  people gathered at Tahrir Square after Friday prayers and protested against this decision. The recent protests have, for the first time, received the support of Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyib, who was appointed as the New Grand Imam of Al Azhar by President Hosni Mubarak. El-Tayyib stated that he was in favor of the reactions of the Egyptian people and the protests were to the point. (2) In addition to this, as a consequence of the violence applied by the security forces upon the protestors in Tahrir Square as of November18th, the number of civilians who have since lost their lives has reached 40. Besides, Egyptian Chief of General Staff Hussein Tantawi accepted the resignation of the Isam Sharif government and declared Kamal Ganzouria as the Prime Minister of Egypt. It was also stated that the 15% of the new administration established under the leadership of Kamal Ganzouria would be comprised of the young people. (3)

Under the light of these assessments, the Egyptian army, upon the demonstrations in Tahrir square, believes in the necessity of passing the administration to the civil will. Otherwise, it could be said that Egypt will face a serious threat. Within this scope, it would not be wrong to say that authorities coming to power after the rulership changes in Arab states have not been able to stop people in the region. It is because in the Arab states, there is a growing and dynamic young generation which cannot be hampered by any authority. It is of utmost importance for such a young generation to deal with politics, ensure stability without having a recourse to violence and to establish a new order and maintain it properly. In the contrary case, chaotic situations are most likely to appear. That’s why, there is an immediate need for the military authority to be removed from the administration and for the establishment of a government that is based on reconciliation and could maintain unity of the country.

In the same vein, the military in Egypt should focus on the maintenance of security, which is in fact its primary mission, and prevent the recurrence of the acts of violence in the country. Possible Muslim-Christian conflicts (which seem to be provoked by the foreign powers) should be prevented. Recent acts of violence against the Christians have reminded people of the events of 1954. During the 1954 chaos, Israeli spies organized attacks against the English and American culture centers in Alexandria and Cairo. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood. During this process, which is also known as the Lavon Affair, Israel aimed at destroying the relations between the new government built by the Free Officers in Egypt and the West. Interestingly enough, developments in today’s Egypt seems to be results of similar calculations. On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, which could bring about new initiatives to the foreign policy of the country in the long run, is a nominee for a ruling power. On the other hand, the country is grappling with occurrences that could ruin its relations with the West.

Stability in Egypt is crucial not only for the country itself. It is also important for the maintenance of the peace efforts between Palestine and Israel, maintenance of balance between Hamas and Fatah, and for the future of democratization processes in the other Arab states. As a matter of fact, Cairo’s recent attitude, under the roof of the Arab League upon the developments in Syria, has played an influential role for the Syrian opposition to gain a reputation.

What is the Role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Events Taking Place in Egypt?

There is such a reality that after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the Muslim Brothers, who had been under pressure for so many years, has been in an advantageous position. Indeed, it could be said that efficient role of the Muslim Brothers in the political arena has played an important part in the popular movements of the Arab world. Hence, following Mubarak’s departure from the administration in Egypt, the Muslim Brothers declared that it founded the Freedom and Justice Party.

The Muslim Brothers has  gotten relatively closer to the current administration during the latest demonstrations as well and has tried to adopt a different attitude. There are two underlying reasons of this new attitude. Firstly, as the Muslim Brothers is aware of the fact that the Supreme Military Council would not simply leave its power influence over the civilian government of Egypt, as it tries to be close both to the military will and civilian will (demonstrators). Therefore, the Muslim Brothers follows a balance policy. Secondly, by being close to the Egyptian army, they aim at gaining the trust of the army. All in all, the Muslim Brothers tries to gain both the army’s and the Egyptian people’s trust. Nevertheless, in case the winner of the upcoming elections is the Muslim Brothers, it is thought that the clout of the military bureaucracy will decrease with time.

Recent Elections in Egypt

The recent Egyptian parliamentary elections held on November 28-29th 2011 have been an important step for the democratization process of Egypt. The results revealed the Muslim Brotherhood coming in first and the Al-Nour Party, which is supported by the Salafis, coming in second place. These, in turn, concern secular, liberal, and the Coptic people in the country. Thus, it seems very important for the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very likely to be the winner of the elections, to exert efforts to avoid the concerns among the vast majority of the Egyptian people and people in the region as well. Additionally, if political reconciliation is not attained regarding the establishment of the new government after the election results, it could then be said that the process of establishing a government will be rather challenging. In particular, there is a dominant idea that the Egyptian army will need to provide the winning parties with a substantial amount of support. Otherwise, it can be stated that demonstrations and instability in the country will last and democratization process of the country will fail.


The popular revolutions in the Arab world have brought all the authoritarian regimes to an end. Now the Arab states can revolt easier against those rulers who defer people’s demands through force and violence. This process indicates that the current awakening in the Middle East is a serious one. The most clear of this awakening has shown itself in Egypt. Egyptian people have both overthrew the Mubarak administration and demanded for a change of the current regime of the country. It is for this reason that even after the fall of Mubarak, a number of people have flooded the Tahrir Square and people themselves wanted to voice their dissatisfaction with the course of the country after Mubarak. Furthermore, the Copts are being exposed to attacks and security and economic problems are still waiting to be settled. Egyptian security forces have applied pressure over demonstrators in Tahrir Square in a way no different from that of the Mubarak period let alone solving the security problems. These latest series of protests in Egypt are the implication of the fact that Egyptian people are quite insistent in their demands for democracy. Popular revolutions in Cairo have taken yet another turn. It can be seen that there has been a revolution within the revolution.

Given the recent events, it could be seen that problems in Egypt do not arise from the problem of power but instead a problem of the “system.” Hence, it could be claimed that, whether the Isam Sharif government quits or a more active government is founded in lieu of it, such developments will last as long as the system in Egypt does not change. The Supreme Military Council needs to implement certain reforms. Democracy in Egypt can only be ensured through the normalization of civil-military relations. The normalization process seen recently in Turkey constitutes as a good example for Egypt, in this sense. Likewise, that the Egyptian army be subject to a civil political authority, which comes to power through people’s will, is of crucial importance for the stability of the country. Otherwise, people and the army in Egypt may once again come face to face. Under such an atmosphere, the struggle between the army and the government may obstruct country’s economic development and democratization. In the upcoming process, new ruling powers in the Arab states, mainly being Egypt, which all have undergone substantial changes, should make a good use of the opportunities if they aspire for an unproblematic transition process. Otherwise, these bottom-up democratization processes may fail due to instable periods of the respective countries.





Translated by Hacer Şartepe

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