Egypt’s transition wasn’t doomed to fail


The fifth anniversary of Egypt‘s 2011 uprising has produced an oddly structuralist set of reflections in which the failure of its democratic transition has taken on an almost foreordained quality, notes Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and an adjunct senior fellow at New York University. Influential interpretations of the Egyptian uprising’s failure have focused attention on structural factors, such as the role of a politicized and overreaching military, the uneven balance of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and its non-Islamist competitors, the former regime’s political structure and the weakness of transitional institutions, he writes for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

Structure matters, of course. But so does agency. Overly structural interpretations miss the decisive impact of highly contingent events, deflects responsibility from the political actors whose choices drove the transition off course and can lead to unwarranted skepticism about the possibility of meaningful political change.

For example, the National Salvation Front’s choice to set aside concerns about the potential ramifications of military intervention and to align fully with the coup has come to seem inevitable but was not, Hanna contends:

Some influential political leaders who participated in the June 30 protest, such as Amr Hamzawy [right] and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, endorsed the notion of peaceful protest and mass mobilization as a tool for pressure against Morsi while explicitly warning of the dangers of renewed military rule. Their warnings, wise in retrospect, were ignored by a political leadership determined to seize its moment.

Perhaps the greatest miscalculations were made by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi. Neither the NSF nor the military’s choices would have been politically viable were it not for the remarkably poor decisions by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after Mubarak’s fall, especially during their year in power. Even at the late stage of June 2013 — when the military was publicly signaling its frustration with President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government and its inclination for some form of intervention — a coup was still not inevitable and could have been avoided. Had Morsi read the military’s calculations more clearly or anticipated the size of the June 30 protests, he might have taken greater steps to head off the challenge with preemptive concessions.

Despite unprecedented repression and media censorship, Sisi has faced on average five times as many protests as Mubarak did between 2008 and 2010, Amy Austin Holmes and Hussein Baoumi write for Carnegie’s Sada Journal.

The Egyptian case demonstrates why Arab ruling elites and their Western supporters must resist the false promise of autocratic stability — not in the name of lofty ideas about democracy but simply in pursuit of stability. Incremental, political changes are the only way to prevent violent, radical changes in the future, according to Stanford University’s Amr Hamzawy and Michael McFaul.

The Egyptian regime and its external backers must pursue a new strategy for generating regime legitimacy: power-sharing. Full-blown democracy is not realistic right now. But political liberalization — opening up spaces for safe participation in politics — should be embraced, they write for The Post:

  • First, the Egyptian regime should release the tens of thousands of political prisoners it is holding, some of whom have been jailed for the most trivial of offenses.
  • Second, it should revoke the repressive security laws it has passed since 2013 and establish a framework for transitional justice, including establishing a truth-and-reconciliation commission and reforming the security services.
  • Third, the regime should allow all actors to enter the political process, provided they credibly commit to rule of law and nonviolence and refrain from hate speech.
  • Fourth, at some point in the not-too-distant future, the regime must hold parliamentary elections. Because of widescale vote-buying and low voter turnout in 2015, the newly constituted House of Representatives has little legitimacy. Only a new election can begin a slow, evolutionary process of restoring parliamentary legitimacy, which would be a first, small step toward checking presidential power. RTWT

Egypt’s parliament “does not represent all Egyptians—few of whom voted, whether by choice or various forms of exclusion—but it does reflect the state of formal politics,” the Carnegie Endowment’s Michele Dunne and Nik Nevin wrote for The Wall Street Journal. “The military and security services are more involved than ever, wealthy business people and scions of old families are back, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamists are mostly excluded, and youth are repressed or manipulated.”

Egypt looks a lot like it did during Mubarak’s final months, with one major difference, say Dunne [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] and Nevin.

“There is no dynamic youth-led movement to protest peacefully: The former leaders are mostly in prison or exile.”

The weakened state of Egyptian politics and civil society, requires a unified return to the values that inspired the January Revolution as the antidote to the Sisi government’s repression, Egyptian journalist Muhammad Mansour writes for the Fikra Forum.

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