Is the Egyptian “Revolution” a Revolution?

Published by The Commentator, 19 July 2011

It is impossible to not be inspired and moved by the tremendous courage and will of Egyptian people, who have risked it all and against all the odds dethroned a modern day dictator.

Yet, as the dust is settling in Egypt, it is time to ask the hard questions about what has changed and what has not changed in Egypt.

Clearly, one of the key changes is the fear factor. Egypt was a police state under Mubarak and the permanent state of emergency granted limitless powers to security forces. Even the slightest expression of criticism or political opinion often resulted in indefinite detention, physical abuse and intimidation with no recourse to justice and no sense of rule of law.

In Tahrir square, Egyptians took away the most important tool the security forces had; their illusion of omnipotence and omniscience. Now, Egyptians speak freely and boldly about the problems of their country.

The other clear change is that the collapse of Mubarak and his political apparatus brought political and social, albeit limited, empowerment of Egyptian citizens, who now feel that they have a say in Egypt’s future. It is exciting to see dynamic and at times over-zealous and over-emotional activists finding their way through new openings. There are high hopes from upcoming elections and new political parties are founded almost every other week.

However, these are simply not enough to call the impeachment of Mubarak a ‘revolution’. Even though the word revolution is used metaphorically today for everything from emergence of tablet computers to the latest makeup line, revolutions where an old system is forcibly changed into a new system are not too common.

The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was indeed a revolution, which changed the political and social topography of the country for good, but the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ in 2009-2010 Iran was not. It was an episode of unsuccessful uprisings.

So how about Egypt? There are legitimate reasons to think that while Mubarak and his top political, security and business partners have been forced out, the system that enabled and maintained his rule is still alive and kicking. Mubarak’s rule was not an ideological comradeship but a clientele and interest based power clique. Such things have their own life span outside of the person on the top of the pyramid. Thus, if it contradicts its own benefit the system will even sacrifice its head to be able to maintain its power.

In fact, the Egyptian Army has demonstrated this by dropping support of Mubarak in order to protect its own interests. The Army, which has always held the lion’s share of economy and power in the country, passed through the uprisings without a scratch. The notorious State Security Services has only changed its name and expelled a few minor officers, but kept its military core. Indefinite detentions, torture and unlawful imprisonment still continue and those asking for reform find themselves before military courts.

As new political actors are trying to learn politics and find support in an extremely chaotic political landscape, the Army keeps and will keep its power as it always has before. Parties, including those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, are already playing the game of abiding within the Army’s red lines and good will.

No single party government will emerge from the September elections and weak coalition governments will need the backing of the Army to survive. Thus, ultimately they will perform within the Army’s dictates.

Egyptian law and the judiciary remain in dire need of complete reform and modernization, yet no coherent project to do so seems to be on the horizon. The Egyptian economy is facing a complete breakdown, yet no political party is even putting forward economists or coherent economic visions to their shop front.

Many of them support unsustainable subsidies and populist policies of expanding employment in state sectors. Attacks on non-Muslims and non-orthodox Muslims such as Sufis continue with minimal interference and even known attackers still roam free. The Egyptian state continues to brush all of the ills under the carpet with cheap talks of brotherhood of Egyptians and feeble public gestures.

That is why Egyptians are still protesting in Tahrir square. Rightfully so! The system that was personified in Mubarak is still there and transformation of Egypt has only begun and a true revolution is still many miles ahead.