The significance of Egypt’s recent military coup with the popular support it relied on goes far beyond the removal of the first ever elected Egyptian president. On the face of it, the popular support of the coup could indicate a deeper radicalization of the Egyptian public after the 25th of January, 2011 revolution. However, it could also be the beginning of a process of de-revolutionizing the Egyptians.
Full-fledged revolutions that seek to overthrow ruling regimes are historically not part of the Egyptian political culture. The 25th of January, 2011 uprising was the first real revolution in Egypt’s modern history, and its first phase ended with the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, the 30-year dictator of Egypt. Upon Mubarak’s downfall, most Egyptians believed that the revolution was over and that life should go back to normal at a steady but fast pace. The revolution succeeded in ending the “succession” plans of the Mubaraks and the domination of his corrupt entourage. This was sufficient to get the so-called “wheel of production” to move. Calls for structural reforms in the security apparatus, the judiciary, and the administration of the state (but actually never the military) were largely elitist and did not echo the desire of the public to restore “normal” life. This approach can in fact explain all the voting behavior of Egyptians prior to the election of President Morsi. Most Egyptians wanted to see the traditional state institutions in place as quickly as possible. They therefore supported the “road map” of the military according to which the constitution would be written after the parliamentary elections, and voted for politicians and parties with conciliatory approaches. These happened to be Islamist parties to varying degrees.
I say that this was the typical approach prior to the election of Morsi because this election itself was significant. If there is some truth in the view presented above, we would expect Egyptians to have voted for General Ahmed Shafik in the presidential elections. Shafik hailed from the military as all previous Egyptian presidents and had some charisma and leadership skills. Egyptians would therefore think that he was in a position to restore order and get life back to normal. Unsurprisingly, Shafik was only narrowly defeated in the elections. But the fact that Morsi won could be a sign that something was changing in the political culture of Egyptians. Perhaps they are becoming more open to experimenting and risk taking.
If this much is agreed upon, then it could be easily said that what happened in Egypt on the 3rd of July was a popular uprising against a change that Egyptians imagined was going on and a nostalgic desire to return to the life they knew. The army coup is the first step towards the resumption of life as it was before Mubarak’s ouster. The faces could be different, but the culture and structure are the same. This means that these same people who took to the streets would very well rise up again against any movement, party, or politician whom they regard as a hindrance to the return to the Mubarak-style status quo. In other words, the coup in this view has actually de-revolutionized Egypt.
Only time will reveal the significance of the latest events apropos the political culture of the Egyptians, but a good knowledge of events in Egypt in the twelve months before the coup is indispensable for our reflection on this question. During these months, the Egyptian public was exposed to an unrelenting demonization campaign against the MB, including their “representative” in the Presidential Palace. Their very loyalty to Egypt was constantly questioned, which made Egyptians disposed at a certain point to believe that they were negotiating with Qatar, for example, to rent it the Suez Canal (which has had a symbolic status since its nationalization by Nasser in 1956). Today, the military feels able to charge their leaders with espionage and terrorism knowing that the public is disposed to believe them.
At the same time, living conditions in Egypt were not improving. Morsi proved unable to deal with Egypt’s chronic economic problems. However, any fair observer would have to admit that without much control over the military, the police, the judiciary, or the corrupt and incompetent Egyptian bureaucracy, his hands were indeed tied. And every time he tried to exercise serious authority, he was faced with charges of “ikhwanizing” Egypt, meaning enabling the MB to tighten their grip over Egyptian institutions, which is almost impossible for all sorts of practical reasons. But this aside, it is equally true that the MB proved very “traditional” in the way they dealt with Egypt’s problems. Their rhetoric, policies, and political sensitivity did not differ significantly from Mubarak’s, and they proved day after day that the same rules of the old game would only minimally change.
Nonetheless, rather than focusing on the incompetence of the MB so that people do not vote for them in future elections, the secular opposition chose to demonize them. Egyptians were therefore ready to blame the MB for Egypt’s problems. But to put the blame on the MB is one thing, and to start another revolution in less than three years is entirely another. And this is precisely where the mystery lies, that is, is the political culture of the Egyptian public changing, and in what direction? And what would this tell us about the future of Egypt?
In the meantime, it is safe to say that, in all probability, the Egyptian electorate was going to teach the MB a hard lesson in the next parliamentary elections, which Morsi was willing to hold in a few weeks. This would have been the safest course for Egypt’s fledging democracy. However, by mobilizing the public to invite and support a military coup to bring down their political opponents, the secular elite has caused a great damage to Egypt, not only because it has aborted the nation’s first democratic experience, but also and primarily because it may have de-revolutionized the Egyptian public, which is now more prepared than ever to live with another Mubarak for another 30 years to come.
Image courtesy of Ramy Raoof.