Egypt’s Military Holds the Arab Spring in Check

The toppling of Hosni Mubarak, the long standing Egyptian dictator in February 2011 was a seminary event in the region’s history. Egypt is the centre of the Middle East and a leader in the region, what happens in Egypt affects the whole region. Many took to the streets of Cairo to bring real change to the nation after decades of mismanagement and authoritarianism. Many faced the regime’s tanks and sniper fire, many also perished in...
23rd March 20156 min

The toppling of Hosni Mubarak, the long standing Egyptian dictator in February 2011 was a seminary event in the region’s history. Egypt is the centre of the Middle East and a leader in the region, what happens in Egypt affects the whole region. Many took to the streets of Cairo to bring real change to the nation after decades of mismanagement and authoritarianism. Many faced the regime’s tanks and sniper fire, many also perished in the hope of a new dawn. Four years on and the revolutionary government led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has fallen and the army is back in power. The revolutionary youth who took to the streets of Cairo now attend their court hearings in wheelchairs and no one can even reach Tahrir Square. The Arab spring in Egypt has gone horribly wrong and there are four main reasons for this.

Firstly, at every junc­ture the Egypt­ian mil­i­tary ensured that its inter­ests were never harmed and did every­thing to main­tain the sta­tus quo. The mil­i­tary formed a coali­tion of con­ve­nience with the MB for much of 2011 and 2012 to man­age the post-Mubarak land­scape and hold rev­o­lu­tion­ary aspi­ra­tions and unfet­tered pop­u­lar mobi­liza­tions in check. It piggy-backed the opposition against the MB government as Morsi was challenged at every juncture of his year-long rule. It suc­cess­fully co-opted the move­ment against Morsi and along with the secu­rity estab­lish­ment, emerged as the clear­est win­ner from his over­throw in July 2013. Despite the sac­ri­fices of many who took to the streets to ini­ti­ate real change, the Egyptian military, who controls up to 40% of the national economy is back in power, reversing all the gains that were made.[1]  On the fourth anniversary of the Arab spring Egypt has come back full cir­cle to the eve of Mubarak’s other throw.

Secondly, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, since his coup in July 2013 has worked to consolidate his rule by working to destroy the MB, imprisoning others who could be a potential threat, including many revolutionary groups who the army previously supported. Soldiers and police opened fire on hundreds of MB supporters that gathered in Cairo in numerous protests, hundreds of people were killed in what Human Rights Watch described as “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.”[2] A Kangaroo court was set up where Morsi and other MB members stood trial for “committing acts of violence and inciting killing and thuggery.”[3] On December 25th 2013, Egypt’s military-backed government designated the MB a terrorist organization, criminalizing its activities and finances, if that was not enough the court also released Hosni Mubarak from prison. Ahmed Maher, founder the April 6 Youth Movement that received significant media coverage in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak is today sitting in Egypt’s infamous Tora prison. Mohamed ElBaradei refuses to return to Egypt, despite supporting the overthrow of Morsi and after playing a central role in the uprisings and bringing the army back to power. El Baradei still faces the Egyptian courts for a betrayal of trust. The army used various individuals and groups to regain power under the guise of ridding the country of an incompetent MB. Once Morsi was removed the army threw aside all the liberal and secular groups who brought them to power.

Thirdly, The US has supported the Egyptian military for decades, which in return protected US interests in the region of maintaining cordial relations with Israel. Sisi has America’s full blessings. The emergence of the MB in Egypt was not against US interests as much of the rhetoric at the time indicated. Contacts between the MB and US officials go back to the 1990s. The US did not have a problem working with liberal Islamic movements, as they do not espouse real change. The MB for example were always the ideal candidates as was outlined in a 2007  policy paper led by Madeline Albright which urged the US to co-opt “Moderate Islamists” and adopt a “politics of inclusion.” This general blueprint came to be known as the ‘Greater Middle East Initiative.’ This is why the US had no problem with the emergence of the MB in Egyptian politics as they were never in power for real change. But throughout the rule of Morsi the domestic political scene was never stable and was worsened by the confusion brought about by the Morsi government over decision-making. The US needed domestic political stability in Egypt in order for the country to play a role in the region and Morsi failed at this and as a result the US supported the army’s return to power. Once the coup had taken place Obama said: “The Egyptian armed forces should move quickly and responsibly to restore full power to a civilian government as soon as possible.”[4] Obama approved of the coup by not condemning it, he merely demanded the return to power of a civilian government, any government other than the Morsi government. He even refused to call the overthrow of a democratic government a coup. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the return of the military regime as: “restoring democracy.”[5] In December 2014, the US quietly resumed its decades long aid to the military.[6]

Fourthly, the infighting amongst the different factions within Egypt weakened the protest movement. The people who took to the streets were never clear on what exactly they wanted to replace the military regime with and this has led to the Arab spring to be hijacked by the US and the military. When the uprising began in early 2011 the people wanted Mubarak out and the army out from government and politics. There was no long term plan on how this would evolve and how the replacement would navigate within the countries politics going forward. When the liberal and secular elements saw the Islamic opposition scoop 75% of the electoral result, showing they had little support in the ground, they began a movement against the MB. During Morsi’s one year in power most of it was spent dealing with street protests and challenges to his rule by the secular elements that turned every decision into a vote of no confidence in central Cairo, bringing the city to a standstill.  Whilst the supporters of the MB and the revolutionary youth along with the secular elements protested together to remove Mubarak, the secular elements then turned against the MB government and supported the military’s return to power. Now the secular elements stand against the army, the very same institutions they aided in coming to power.

During the ouster of Hosni Mubarak back in February 2011, the Egyptian economy has been in virtual freefall. With little in the way of economic policy the Muhammad Morsi regime only made matters worse. It is these conditions that created the necessary public opinion for Sisi and the army to return back into power. Since taking over in mid-July 2013, the army has consolidated its position in the country, removing every possible opposition and resumed its regional role of protecting the state of ‘Israel’. There is no counterbalance to the reassertion of state control by the army. The MB is crushed and largely discredited, while secular opposition forces are marginalised and in disarray. The parliamentary elections to be held at some point in 2015, at best are a façade. For the time bring Sisi and the army have contained the revolutionary forces in the country and maintained the status quo.

 

 

[1] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/aug/18/egypt-who-calls-shots/

[2] http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/08/19/egypt-security-forces-used-excessive-lethal-force

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/01/us-egypt-protests-mursi-idUSBRE9800EI20130901

[4] http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20130703-710706.html

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23543744

[6] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/12/egypt-military-aid-obama-congress-human-rights.html

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