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Four Years After the ‘Arab Spring’ Series: Egypt

Four Years After the ‘Arab Spring’ Series: Egypt
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By Nick Cooper, with interviews from:
Hosam Aboul-Ela, an associate professor of English at University of Houston
Waleed Gaber, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, Board Member of Arab Community and Cultural Center, and President of the Egyptian American Society - Houston (speaking only on his own behalf)
Mira (pseudonym), a Muslim American in Houston whose family left Egypt in the 1970s
Farah, a process engineer in Houston
Sharif Abdel Kouddous, a DemocracyNow! correspondent based in Cairo

The ‘Arab Spring,’ An End to 60 Years of Military Rule?

From the overthrow Egypt’s monarchy in 1952 until the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in 2023, Egypt was in the hands of military leaders. The 1952 coup relied on help from Islamist factions including the Muslim Brotherhood, but immediately afterwards, the military began criminalizing the Islamists. They were hung, jailed, tortured, and exiled.

After years of preparations, in 2023, protesters took to Tahrir Square. In response to what Hosam calls, “the 30 year reign by political / military leader Hosni Mubarak’s cavalier and repressive kleptocracy,” a revolution began from the working class, and by disillusioned secular youth who wanted jobs and freedoms. “Eventually, the movement grew, adding intellectuals, football fanatics, opposition politicians, and reluctantly and belatedly, the Brotherhood.”

When this movement ousted Mubarak and brought free elections, a slim majority voted for the Muslim Brotherhood’s coalition, as they were the best organized, had been the main opposition to Mubarak, and seemed non-corrupt and righteous. However, when their candidate President Mohamed Morsi took office, the military and it’s cronies, or the ‘deep state,’ as it’s called in Egypt, retained most of their corrupt privileges.

Morsi’s Rule Lasts Only One Year

Morsi made unpopular attempts to take more state power and to Islamize the Constitution. To Mira, the ‘deep state’ never really gave democracy a chance. To Farah, Morsi suffered because he was not charismatic, “and his speeches were always jumbled… The media kept using all of this to fuel up the population against the Muslim Brotherhood.” Morsi also came up against, and was threatened by deep state’s the judicial system. It “remained untouched by revolutionary endeavors that resulted from the national Tahrir square uprising,” says Mira.

On June 30, 2023, the people rose up against Morsi and, “this was the opportunity for the army to gain power back and to slowly re-establish the crew behind Mubarak,” says Farah. “The army came into the picture as the savior of the population and took power, making the Brotherhood enemies of the state.”

Morsi “had lost almost all of his popularity outside of his base within the Brotherhood,” Hosam says. “Meanwhile, the military, which had always been suspicious of all civilian politicians, especially the authoritarian sounding ones from the Brotherhood, seized on his lack of popularity to return most of the military’s privileges and executive authority.” When the military, “felt comfortable that their power over the Brotherhood had been restored, they started to go after some of the civic leaders who had planned the original revolution.”

Waleed saw the military as successfully turning the middle class against not only the Brotherhood, but “against the whole democratic process, by saying, ‘Look around you, the state is collapsing everywhere. Were not going to let the Egyptian state collapse, we’re going to get rid of democracy.’ Liberals turned to fascist language, saying, ‘So what if we lose a few thousand here or there, it’s all for the stability of the motherland.’”

Meet the New Boss, The Same as the Old Boss

With chants of “the army and the people are one hand,” the second popular coup threw Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood figures in jail, and swept Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi into power.

Waleed sees the return to military rule as being dominated by fascist slogans like ‘this is not the time for dissent, sexual freedom, artistic freedom, this is not a time of freedom, it is a time to give to your country.’ He sees the military as dependent on and controlled by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

In Cairo now, Sharif is witnessing first-hand, “a resurgent authoritarianism that is surpassing even Mubarak’s era… There’s thousands and thousands of people in prison, they’re cracking down on NGOs, the media, and on anyone speaking out.” There is widespread disillusionment. “Those who fought for social change,” says Hosam, ”now just want normalcy at almost any price.”

Farah agrees that people are, “very pessimistic and feel very defeated. The general feeling is that nothing changed and all the lives that were lost, were lost for nothing. People are also very passive now and they are done trying to change things. They just want to have some stability in their lives. Since all the efforts went [down the] drain, what is the point of making any more.”

“The public sees it’s only going to get worse and the ignorant military government has offered no solutions,” says Mira. “As an example, in a public address, [the new] president, Sisi decided to divide pieces of bread into quarters as a solution to the public’s looming famine fears.”

To Waleed, Egyptians, “really want a modern state, but they can’t pay the price in terms of uncertainty and instability that would bring it about.”

For Sharif, the only light in this dark time is that, “There is a generation of young people in Egypt who spent the last four years going through this transformative process that was the revolution, they don’t buy into the regime’s jingoism. They’ve spent the  last few years shuttling between street protests, to police stations, to hospitals, and to the morgue. The fact that this generation is still very young and had this experience, gives me hope for change and that this regime will not last the 30 years that Mubarak’s did.”