Egypt’s Democratic Disillusion

The optimism that followed Egypt’s 2011 revolution has been shattered following the removal of the democratically elected government. How did it come to this? And what happens next?

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By Matt Ross
Sep 05, 2013

ON JUNE 30TH, 2013, a year to the day after the inauguration of Mohamed Morsi as their country’s first democratically elected president, millions of Egyptians took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with his first 12 months in office. Morsi had run as the candidate for the Freedom and Justice Party – nominally independent, but widely regarded as the political arm of Islamist organization the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he is also a leading member.

The Tamarod movement, a grassroots organization whose name means ‘rebellion’ in Arabic, claimed to have more than 22 million signatures on a petition demanding the organization of new presidential elections. On July 1st, in response to the protests, the military gave President Morsi 48 hours to satisfy the public’s demands, and on July 3rd, at the expiry of that deadline, the head of Egypt’s armed forces, General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, publicly announced Morsi’s removal from office and subsequent arrest, the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of parliament, and the instalment of Chief Justice Adly Mansour as interim president. The events of the following weeks have dominated headlines across the world. Supporters of Morsi decried his removal as an illegal coup and took to the streets in support of the man they claimed was still Egypt’s legitimate leader. Clashes between Morsi supporters and security forces repeatedly ended in bloodshed – in particular on August 14th, when security forces moved in to clear two protest camps; one outside Cairo’s Rabaa Al Adawiya mosque, and the other in the west of the city, in Nahda Square. The authorities claim that more than 600 people were killed during the clashes, while the Muslim Brotherhood, which publicly backed the protest camps, claimed a death toll in excess of 2,000. Just 15 months after Egypt welcomed its first democratically elected president, the country seems bereft of any recognizable democratic process.

EVERY BIT AS TROUBLING as the human cost of the recent clashes – the UN labelled the hundreds killed and thousands injured as “an escalating and deeply worrying human rights crisis” on August 16th – is the erosion of social impetus that, during the events of the Arab Spring in 2011, drove a newly empowered generation of Egyptian citizens to demand a voice in the way their country was run. The buoyant positivity that surrounded the events of the Arab Spring appears to have been replaced by great uncertainty and fear – both domestically and internationally – that the country now teeters on the verge of chaos. What happened to the effervescent spirit of change that had led Egyptians to oust Hosni Mubarak, whose brutal regime had lasted for 30 years, in 2011 – a move deemed by many to signify the dawn of a new era in representative Egyptian democracy – and demand a fairly elected leader? And what led the people to lose faith in that leader so soon into his first term?

“There were a lot of factors,” says Dr. Omar Ashour, senior lecturer in Middle East Politics and Security Studies at the University of Exeter and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “One of them is the very high expectations of the January revolution. There were very entrenched interests and problems that posed a serious challenge to change from the status quo of Mubarak. And those manifested themselves not only in the economic problems, the unemployment and the general suffering of the average Egyptian, but also in the very entrenched interests of the security establishment – the police, the intelligence service and the armed forces – which have been the backbone of the status quo since 1954.” The newly democratic Egypt of 2012, when Morsi took office, also suffered from a lack of a political expertise. There was, Ashour says, “a very limited knowledge” and “an extreme polarization” among the political elite and the various activists. “From the first referendum on March 19th, 2011 [intended to refine numerous aspects of the nascent democratic process], the losers never accepted their loss and acted as spoilers – and the winners failed to accommodate the losers in any meaningful way. This kept the polarization ongoing and accelerating, until the explosion on June 30th and July 3rd [of this year].”

Rolling Stone Middle East, available at over 200 outlets in the UAE and GCC.





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