Almost three years after the
Arab Spring, the Egyptian revolution seems to have become stuck, and may even
have devolved to its starting point.
This observation first emerged after
the events of June 30, 2013, in which the masses that captured the city’s
streets were once again assisted by the military establishment, which led a de
facto coup against the regime of Mohamed Morsi, the president chosen by the
It currently appears that many of the revolutionary
goals have not been achieved.
It is difficult to define the revolution’s
goals precisely because it fused social elements with a different, and possibly
contradictory, agenda. In general, the revolutionaries’ main goals were to
topple Hosni Mubarak; remove the authoritarian regime and replace it with a
pluralistic political system; and improve economic conditions, especially
Mubarak was indeed overthrown, but his regime – based on the
state’s “deep-seated” institutions (such as the military, the civil courts,
bureaucracy, and al-Azhar University) and political elites – remained in
The new political system failed to maintain stability or entrench
itself after the dissolution of the parliament elected in January 2012. The
economic situation in Egypt grew worse as political instability discouraged
investors and led to the collapse of the tourist industry, which made it more
difficult for the new regime to take action to improve the national
The elements involved in the second “revolution” on June 30,
2013, emphatically claimed that they were redirecting the revolution to its
original course, from which it had been deviated during Morsi’s term. However,
events since have fanned widespread concerns that the revolutionary train is not
yet back on track, for several reasons.
First, the military, which
functioned as of the “guardian of the revolution,” has now become a party in the
political struggle, with an unmistakable interest in maintaining the status quo.
Second, Brotherhood activities were outlawed and its leaders thrown into prison.
Third, human rights activists and media professionals who “crossed the line” by
criticizing the ruler (whether Morsi or the army’s Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi)
were thrown in jail or had their programs canceled. Fourth, Mubarak was
acquitted and public funds probably smuggled out of the country were not
All these developments indicate that while Mubarak may have
been deposed, Mubarakism is alive and well.
Disconcerting signs of the
future of the Egyptian revolution are also expressed in its new constitution, to
be ratified in a referendum in January. A 50-member council of experts (which
markedly failed to include representatives of the Brotherhood) submitted a draft
constitution to the provisional president, Adly Mansour. The new draft is more
liberal and social than previous constitutions, but can hardly be called
It does protect the rights of children and of Jews and
Christians (but not members of non-monotheistic religions), prohibits torture
and discrimination against women, and assumes state responsibility for citizens’
health and education.
However, the constitution also reinforces and
institutionalizes the autonomous status of the military establishment and the
civil judiciary. For example, the military budget is determined according to the
military’s needs, as defined by the National Defense Council, and is not subject
to parliamentary review. The National Defense Council is also in charge of
appointing the defense minister (for the next two presidential terms, at least).
Moreover, the constitution permits military trials of civilians prosecuted for
offenses in “military areas,” while the president of the Supreme Constitutional
Court (which examines the constitutionality of all proposed legislation) will
now be elected by the court rather than an external body.
constitution remains vague in many places, leaving the final decision open to
legislation, and dependent on the composition of the to-be elected parliament.
In other words, as Nathan Brown and Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace have stated, the new constitution appears to be a victory
for the country’s “deep-seated” institutions.
After the June 30
revolution, the liberal-secular forces unexpectedly found themselves in an
impossible situation: After joining forces with the military to oust the
Brotherhood, they now see that the military has retained its authority in the
political system and has reduced the potential for instituting changes in
alignment with the original goals of the revolution.
Despite their deep
ideological differences, the secularists and the Brotherhood now paradoxically
have a common interest in reducing the military’s involvement in politics. Their
collaboration recalls the early days of the revolution, when ideologically
diverse groups came together to topple Mubarak, with a significant difference:
Then, the military stood on the sidelines and did not intervene, but now the
military is a major player with an unmistakable agenda of its own.
years after the January 25 revolution, the passions that characterized its
protagonists appear to have been replaced by despair and frustration resulting
from the understanding that a significant change in the foundations of the
political system is difficult, if not impossible. In view of the strong desire
to restore stability and safety on public streets, the recent personality cult
surrounding Sisi is not surprising. This cult recalls the rituals surrounding
mythological president Abdel Nasser.
Where, then, is Egypt headed? Is the
January 25-June 30 Revolution, the continuation of the historical revolutionary
process that began on January 25, or do the events of June 30 mark the beginning
of the end of the revolutionary cycle? From the limited historical perspective
available to us, it is difficult to decide with certainty, but the Egyptian
revolution does appear to be “stuck.”
Armed with the lessons of their
recent past, the masses may take to the streets once again to protest against
military involvement in politics, but no civil alternative is visible on the
Under the current circumstances, the revolution will only
proceed from the top down, and will be dependent on the goodwill of the military
The writer teaches at the Hebrew University’s Department of
Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.