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The Pattern of Change and Order in Egyptian Politics

 

PDF downlaodMelisa Mendoza Vasquez*
POMEAS ANALYSIS, 4 June 2014

 

The developments taking place in Egypt since the beginning of January 2011seems to be drawing a vicious circle of change and order. The events starting from the Revolution until the Sisi era today have a constant pattern; major changes take place in Egypt, an atmosphere of order follows them and eventually change comes again. The 2011 Tahrir Revolution and Hosni Mubarak's resignation soon afterwards are only starting points of this pattern which are also the beginning of the turmoil still continuing today.

Following Mubarak's fall, the Egyptian armed forces brought interim order which allowed first free presidential elections in the country. Morsi, who was elected as a president in 2012, was soon challenged by the demands of change once again. Short-lived Morsi era was followed by a period of military rule and eventually resulted in Sisi's leadership. However, this order seems to be a shaky one as well which could easily pave the way for a third wave of change. The recent victory of Sisi which granted him great power promises no real order for Egypt.

ANALYSIS 1 MELISA FOTOGRAF

The juncture in Egypt shows that this change and order pattern will continue as long as the demands of people are fully satisfied .Here, actors play a crucial role. It is extremely significant that the ones who undertake the duty of fulfilling the demands do not bring an undesired order. Unfortunately, so far, it is not possible to give credit to the army which to a great extent is responsible for bringing weak and unwanted order designs for Egypt.

The first wave of change and order

January 25 was a historical day for Egypt. The mass protests starting in Cairo surprised millions of people including international observers abroadand the Egyptians themselves as well.Many joining the mass protests were extremely astonished to experience such a major event.Uprising against the strong statehood was certainly not something the country's political culture was familiar with. It was a day which long-lived socio-economic grievances and collective action merged. People who were fed up with the poor economic conditions, poverty, inequality and deprivation passionately desired for Mubarak to step down. They wanted change and believed it to be happening with an Egypt without Mubarak who was leading the country for three decades (1981- 2011). He was seen as the man who is responsible for creating the feeling of low dignity in the hearts of the people. His rule was associated with strict authoritarianism and maltreatment by state institutions and the police. His strict regime allowed him to subordinate people who had no channels to express their anger. Nevertheless, lack of opposition parties, weak civil society and little voice of the labour unions, in the long run, did not help Mubarak to sustain his regime and at some point turned against him. All these factors accumulated and took the form of strong desire to change the status-quo.

A united Tahrir Spirit indeed allowed them to achieve their demands. Within three weeks Ömer Süleiman, vice president at the time, announced Mubarak's resignation and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over the rule. The army which turned its back to Mubarak and used no force to the people during the mass protests soon lost its flowery image and started using violence against the ones who continued to their sit-in protests in the Tahrir Square. The army which seemed to be following the national will was working to structure a political atmosphere which it could sustain its own power. Revolutionaries, especially the Youth, wanted a civilian rule which complied with their own demands. They believed that the army hijacked people's revolution and attributed it to itself. The situation after Mubarak looked like a continuation of the same regime with a different leader.

The people who hoped to rule their own countries ended up with empty hands with the military taking the role of doing so.In fact, to expect an order without the army's involvement did not seem realistic in Egypt. The deep- rooted military guardianship in the country gave the legitimacy to the soldiers to protect the country against any conflict both external and internal. Not only the army members themselves but many people within the society believed and trusted in the armed forces. Role of the army has being strengthened throughout the past 50 years starting mainly with Gamal Abdul Nasser.

The second wave

It was end of May 2012 when Egyptians went to the polls to vote for their leaders. The country, for the first time, experiencedfree presidential elections. Mohamed Morsi who was a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood received more than half of the votes and gained victory against his rival Ahmed Shafik. The new leader promised to be the president of all Egyptians. He promised a civilian, constitutional and modern country. His leadership, however, from the start was a suspicious one for the Youth Revolutionaries who believed that the Brotherhood was cooperating with the army. Regardless of this perception, Morsi was elected with respect to the majoritarian democracy which automatically gave him legal legitimacy to run Egypt.

In a short period of time, controversies about Morsi increased due to the great power he granted himself soon after his presidency. Although his power grab was claimed to be for a temporary time until stability is reached and constitutional amendments are approved, his action triggered mass protests to re-emerge. Furthermore, his Islamic outlook made many people concerned about the Islamic tendency of his rule. The Tahrir Square once again was hosting thousands of people asking him to step out.

It did not take too long for the army to come to the stage and establish a solution to the turmoil. General Abdel Fattah el- Sisi, head of the army at the time, asked Morsi to close the differences between him and the people. He led the process which resulted with Morsi and his government's fall. Sisi seemed to be siding with the people on the streets and wishing to fulfill their demands. Change and the following order once again were brought by the military whichapparently added much more to the high polarization between the pro and anti Morsi protestors.

Is the third wave on the way?

Recently, in the end of May 2014, el- Sisi became the new president winning 94 percent of votes and sweeping his rival HamdeenSabahi away. Newly- elected President, for many Egyptians, meant stability and order. However, the amount of turnout puts his legitimacy under suspicion. Less than 50 per cent of the electorate voted. Most likely it wasthe Youth Revolutionaries and the Islamic groups; especially the Muslim Brotherhood that boycotted the elections which definitely did not offered a wide political spectrum. The amount of turnout draws an accurate picture of the high polarization in the country.

It seems that there is no wide consensus within the society about Egypt's future. On the one hands, there are people on the street demonstrating the current situation and on the other hand, there are more than happy with the elections results.Sisi has burdened a heavy task with his presidency and has to work a lot to find a comprehensive solution to the tense interplay between Islam, Tahrir Sprit and the military. This adds more to his duties which he has to accomplish. He h

as to deal with not only the high political tension, human rights, bureaucracy, and security issues but also with huge national debt, poverty, unemployment. Although Sisi was not specific about this economic and political program during his election campaign, his priority, most likely, will be economy.
The crucial question here is to ask; what has changed in Egypt so far? What have these change waves brought to the country? Since the beginning of 2011, there is a constant cycle spinning around change and order. Have the Egyptians eventually reached order with Sisi's presidency or are there still new waves on the way? The current unrest in the country, unfortunately, does not allow giving positive answers to these questions.

Conclusion

The Brotherhood members, Salafi movement, liberals, youth and the revolutionaries are all actors of the change and order. Throughout this time, more or less, they all have found representation in the political sphere to some extent. The most prominent actor however, surely is the armed forces which confidently imposed its own designs of order to the Egyptians. Despite all the changes took place in the country since the 2011 Revolution the strong remnants of the military guardianship preserved its role. However, it certainly makes sense to claim that the army failed to carry out its mission successively and could not provide an atmosphere which brought real, sustained and cohesive order to Egypt.

* Research Assistant, POMEAS