"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on"
On January 25th 2011 the Egyptian public took to the streets in protest at the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the authoritarian president who had ruled Egypt for thirty years. Eighteen days after protesters began to occupy Tahrir Square, Mubarak left office. The events of 2011 demonstrated the power of revolutionary agency, fostering change in spite of the challenge facing protesters. Yet rather than marking the three year anniversary of the events with celebrations, Egyptians face an uncertain future. As bombs go off in Cairo and violence increases across Egypt, the interim government seeks to remove all trace of the past three years.
As Lucia Ardovini recently noted in her blog post for this site, the events of the past year reflect a descent into Mubarak-era authoritarianism and the extent of tensions within Egypt. In recent months Adly Mansour, the interim Egyptian president, and General Abdel Fatah Al Sisi, the head of the military in Egypt and de facto ruler, have moved closer to removing all remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood’s yearlong rule. On January 14th and 15th, Egyptians voted almost unanimously in favour of a replacement to the 2012 constitution that was written by Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi. This referendum served as a litmus test as to the popularity of the interim government, the post Morsi era and, of Al Sisi himself, who many believe will be Egypt’s next president.¹
Over the past three years, Egypt has experienced high levels of political and social unrest, with increasingly large schisms emerging across the Egyptian population. These schisms reflect the tensions within Egyptian society along with the powerful support bases that groups can draw upon. As many talk of the increasing sectarianism across Egypt, it is pertinent to note that this, like all sectarianisms, is constructed with purpose in mind. While the interim government is fortunate to be able to rely on wealthy supporters in the Gulf, namely Saudi Arabia whose desire to see the end of the Brotherhood has been well documented, this financial aid will not continue indefinitely, nor will money be able to appease Egyptians who experienced access to political systems for the first time only two years ago.
Al Sisi and Mansour have overseen a crackdown on protests and dissent across the political and religious spectrum and while this initially targeted the Muslim Brotherhood, the crackdown is much broader in scope. One such effort to prevent dissent was a law that was criticised by 19 Egyptian organisations. The law sought to “to criminalise all forms of peaceful assembly, including demonstrations and public meetings, and gives the state free hand to disperse peaceful gatherings by use of force". The parallels with the authoritarian presidency of Hosni Mubarak are clear; the ‘deep state’ is back, if it ever truly left.
The new constitution has been criticised for protecting and rewarding those responsible for overthrowing Morsi, namely the military, judiciary and police force, increasing their autonomy, even at the expense of the president. Conversely, Islamist groups, including Al Nour, along with other religious faiths have lost political rights, with religiously motivated political action now banned. This reflects a concern at the political power that religious groups possess within Egypt, while also highlighting the desire of those in power to protect their interests. Supporting this, a member of the Constitution Committee suggested that “Once you have burned your mouth on hot soup, you will blow even on yoghurt. That is what has happened with this constitution”.
The actions of Al Sisi and Mansour have attempted to erase all trace of the events of the past three years along with the hope that was born in the 18 days in ‘The Square’ and successful overthrowing of Mubarak. This has also included the arrest of prominent Egyptian academics. Yet after speaking to Egyptian revolutionaries, the words of John F. Kennedy spring to mind: "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death." It is the power of the idea that many cling to, as the last remaining source of hope from the events of January 25th 2011.
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Dr Simon Mabon teaches on our BA Politics and International Relations programme.
¹Many suggest that the general will stand for president, and indeed win, when elections take place. See here.
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