Another anniversary passes by, as Egypt remains stuck inside the loop of political transformations that began on January 2011. Much has changed since that Tuesday where a few thousands took to the streets defying Mubarak’s corrupt repressive state. Personally, I was one of those who left Tahrir Square that night with a clear decision in my head; I had declared utter disobedience to the regime, its agents, its unjust rules and the rotten principles it represented. A few days later this decision was taken by millions of Egyptians who believed they had the right to choose their own future. However, three years later, it seems proper to ask whether these very Egyptians are still choosing their own future.
Ironically, revolutions worldwide and across different historical epochs almost always have their outcome decided by factors and actors different than those that were a reason for the success of these revolutions. The situation in Egypt three years later is not different than this commonly witnessed pattern. Eventually, the millions who occupied Tahrir Square during the 18 days from 25 January to 11 February were not the ones directly responsible for the outcome of the Egyptian revolution so far. In fact, throughout those past three years, specific factors were significantly responsible for the direction Egypt has taken since 25 January2011. Revolutionary outcomes in general are shaped by a number of factors that change according to specific influences in different cases. However, the most common of these factors are the pattern of revolution, the position of the army, the post-revolutionary elite and the dimensions of the international context.
From its very beginning, the January revolution took a political pattern rather than a social one. Despite how central the issue of social justice was, class-based mobilisation in all episodes of collective protest over the past three years has been minimal, if not almost non-existent. Issues of class structure, class related violence and general social re-stratification have not been sufficiently tackled over the past three years as well. However, specific political processes have been demanded by protesters and adopted by institutional and non-institutional actors. Political processes like elections, referendums, constitution writing committees and representative councils were all tools employed as agents of change over the course of the past three years. Social revolutions, ones that are after changing fundamental structures in society, reshaping the mechanism between citizen and state or reformulating the relations between different classes, these revolutions are usually violent, chaotic and extremely polarised.
On the other hand, political revolutions, as part of Egypt’s revolutionary pattern, are revolutions that aim to apply pressure on standing structures of power and authority to force them to implement political processes eventually leading to gradual reform and political change. Political revolutions are less violent, more dependent on peaceful protest and more opened to the participation of multiple political actors than social revolutions are. Egypt’s political revolution has been guided by a number of political processes starting with the referendum in March 2011 and ending with the constitutional referendum in January 2014. While some activists often criticise the slow pace of change and the non-radical implementation of necessary reforms, the real question is whether Egypt’s revolutionary model had sufficient elements that could bring about more radical reforms.
Needless to say, the position of the Egyptian army has been clearly formative over the past three years. On important turning points like 11 February 2011 and 3 July 2013, the position the army took was key factor in how these events turned out. If the army had made a different decision in response to the anti-Mubarak protests in 2011 or the anti-Morsi protests in 2013, the outcome of those two events would have been fundamentally different. Eventually, it was the Egyptian army that acted as the “coercive” institution responsible for overseeing the implementation of change, whether it was declaring Mubarak’s ouster or carrying out Morsi’s popular impeachment.
However, the Egyptian army did not stop at being a coercive institution responsible of implementing change, but turned into a major political player responsible for formulating policy. The Egyptian army, over the past three years, has moved between being the supreme interim authority, an advocate of the stability of state structures and a guarantor of a clear future vision. Moreover, the army oversaw the implementation of all political processes that took place, even when such implementation required violent confrontations and coercive measures. It is only logical for the army to remain one of Egypt’s most influential political actors, specifically after the extensive army propaganda that has become very evident in recent weeks.
The international context over the past three years has not been significantly supportive or tangibly aggressive. How the international context was extremely supportive in the case of Libya or tangibly aggressive in the case of Bahrain was very different from the reaction Egypt’s revolution stirred up within that context. It was true there was a clear overall support from the international community right after the ouster of Mubarak, a specifically American support for the Muslim Brotherhood experience and an evident Gulf and Russian support for the post 30 June roadmap. However, the international context is likely to remain moderate and conservative towards Egypt’s transition as long as new authorities in Egypt do not jeopardise long standing international interests.
Finally, the question of Egypt’s elites is one that bears extreme significance to Egypt’s post-revolutionary trajectory. From day one the military has emerged as an effective element of the post-revolutionary elite. Youth activists, Islamists and secular opposition have all emerged as influential elites as well. But due to the lack of a powerful legal infrastructure and the absence of political institutions, powerful elites in Egypt are able to influence directions of political change according to private interests and personal orientations. The Muslim Brotherhood repeatedly used this fact at the time where they were able to overshadow other elites like youth movements and secular institutional opposition. However, a new elite started to re-surface after 30 June composed basically of state representatives (the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the security sector personnel) and a re-defined and non-Islamist opposition. And the question remains opened whether this elite will take Egypt down a more democratic path than the crippled and one-sided one proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood elite.
As a new anniversary passes by, most of us tend to ask where Egypt is heading. Ironically, answering that question without first understanding how we reached our current situation is extremely futile. Three years have passed since millions of Egyptians declared disobedience to Mubarak’s regime, and until now, these millions have only witnessed the Brotherhood’s politically corrupt and religiously manipulative administration — are they ready for the new regime that will take over soon?