But my mid-2012 the military pushed back: the constitutional court dissolved Egypt’s democratically elected parliament, and the generals helped Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq reach the run-off in presidential elections. What went wrong?
1. Revolutionary Camp Falls Apart
Those 18 days of anti-Mubarak protest beginning 25 January 2011 brought out the best in Egypt. Copts and Muslims, liberals and Islamists, middle class kids and hardened laborers joined together to push the riot police from the famous Tahrir Square in central Cairo, while photogenic English-speaking graduates from the American University in Cairo won the sympathy of the global audience watching live coverage of the protests.
In a way, it seemed almost too easy. The “pharaoh” was gone, but remnants of Mubarak’s regime were still lurking behind the interim military government. The protest movement could only sustain itself as a mass political force by keeping alive the grand alliance between Islamists and secular revolutionaries. However, while the latter wanted to continue the revolution, the Islamists shifted their attention to the electoral process, hoping to strike a transition deal with the military.
2. No Consensus on Egypt’s Future
By late 2011 it was clear that beyond removing Mubarak and his cronies there were few ideological points of convergence between different political groups that contested the December legislative polls. Should Egypt’s constitution include more articles drawn from Sharia religious law, or should Egypt remain a secular state? Should it have a strong presidency and what would be the role of the military? Should the state create jobs through public investment or resume with liberal reforms?
Transition in post-communist Eastern Europe was relatively smooth because most people agreed to adopt a clear political and economic model offered by their western neighbors. In Egypt, by contrast, there was no such unifying narrative, no minimal consensus on how to go forward.
3. Military Resists Reforms
Enter the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Transition from authoritarian rule can only run smooth if the security apparatus agrees to step aside. Egyptian generals led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi didn’t: they skillfully pitted Islamists against liberals, stripped the new Islamist-dominated parliament of any real power, and tried to dominate the process of drafting a new constitution.The tragedy is that beyond securing its material privileges and safeguarding Egypt’s secular character, the military seems to be void of any clear long-term program. Master tacticians, whose divide-and-rule machinations have pushed Egypt closer to the abyss.
Read more on why the generals still run the show.
4. Muslim Brotherhood Overplays Its Hand
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), grew increasingly frustrated. It won legislative elections but soon realized it was stuck in a toothless parliament, and tension with secular parties grew over the constitution.
The military outplayed them and so the Islamists decided to renege on their earlier promise not to field a candidate in May 2012 presidential polls. It was a costly mistake as it exposed the FJP to accusations, fanned by the army-friendly state media, of Islamists' designs for absolute power.
5. Public Develops Protest Fatigue
The youth activist groups that brought down Mubarak lost the ability to mobilize the wider public for mass street protest that could bring down the military rulers. As lamented by the popular Egypt-based blogger Issandr el-Imrani, the revolutionaries “failed to define what it was they wanted from this revolution, and to sell this idea to the wider population that, most of the time, is not interested in protests and marches”.
Many Egyptians grew weary of ongoing unrest that has crippled the economy, others fear that chaos can only lead to the rise of religious extremists. Few people protested when the parliament, Egypt’s only democratically-elected institution, was dissolved just two days before the presidential run-off in June 2012.
The military has pushed back but failed to resolve any of the political and economic issues facing the country. More confrontation and civil disobedience will follow and Egypt’s failed transition could enter a new, more dangerous phase.Go to Current Situation in the Middle East / Egypt