Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Has Egypt gotten better? Examining the effects of the Arab Spring in the country that started it all

By Pierre Bono

On Jan. 25, 2011 Egypt erupted in mass protest and revolution aimed at the removal of longtime strong man and presidential fixture Hosni Mubarak. Citing political corruption and the rampant abuse of executive powers, Egyptian people took to the street in the hundreds of thousands. Initially refusing to step down, Mubarak did just that several weeks later on Feb 11, 2011. Hailed as the beginning of positive steps toward further liberalization and political transparency, the Egyptian protesters briefly rejoiced in what appeared to be a resounding victory for those seeking democracy and constitutional reforms.

Three years removed from this perceived victory, Egypt has only managed to slip even further into an autocratic, and now religiously fundamental, quagmire of what appears to be political regression. Following the delegation of executive powers to the military on an interim basis, and the dissolution of the former Egyptian parliament and constitution, the military promised the Egyptian people a window of six months wherein a new constitution would be ratified and elections held.

However, these promises have been proven to be hollow. Several months after the initial success of the revolution, Islamic fundamentalists quickly seized the opportunity presented by the power vacuum to pressure and hasten the process of political reestablishment by holding Egypt’s first “democratic elections.” Circumventing the desire of the more secular and democratically inclined majority of Egyptians, those who preferred drafting a constitution prior to elections, the Islamist movement gained stunning momentum. In the initial parliamentary elections the Muslim Brotherhood delivered significant victories in both the lower and upper houses of the Egyptian Parliament, winning 90 percent of the seats in the upper house of Parliament.

Current military leader of Egypt, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (left), meets with U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Quickly following the overwhelming victories of his party in Parliament, Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi would go on to win the presidency in a run-off election. Soon after he began to enforce his will against not only the Egyptian military, but also the Egyptian people, both of whom sought to marginalize executive power, and preserve executive national authority in the hands of the military and representative bodies for the time being. Almost on cue he quickly began to disregard the apprehension of both sides that he would abuse, and centralize power much in the same way as former president Hosni Mubarak had for 30 years. True to form, these concerns proved more than accurate as Morsi quickly consolidated executive authority away from the military and directed the drafting of a new “democratic” constitution that was sure to abide by the tenets of Sharia, the Islamic moral code.

The mood in Egypt seemed to be getting only bleaker, as revolutionary goals such as democratization, political transparency, and secularism had now taken a distant back seat to religious fundamentalism and military authoritarianism. Being stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, the Egyptian people once again picked up their revolutionary fervor as millions swarmed the streets on June 30, 2013. Soon after and following immense pressure, Mohammed Morsi was removed from power and placed under house arrest.

Following the removal of a second head of state in the last three years, Egypt faced an uncertain future. A future that brought only one piece of surety, that the Egyptian military would once again seize control of the country as various factions and political interests vied for control and influence over the state.

How far has Egypt really come in the last three years? What has caused such a 180 degree turn from the initial successes that were paraded over international news outlets? What role has the international community played? And should we have seen the present difficulties coming? Assistant Professor of government at Suffolk, Simone Chun, shed light on the situation.

Concerning the initial successes and subsequent failures of the Egyptian revolution in 2011 as the political landscape vacillated between military and religious founded autocracy, Chun seemed resigned, saying she “could have predicted this would happen; countries with strong military and religious traditions rarely transition surely.” She continued by elaborating on the sheer scope and depth of influence that institutions such as a strong military exhibit in times of revolution and political upheaval, pointing specifically to the monopolization of support, resources, and infrastructure that effectively neutralize the efforts of the millions of “average” Egyptians. She brought up the trials and tribulations that Korea experienced as it tried to politically defang its military in the 20th century, specifically remarking the ebb and flow of influence that continued for a long time. To effectively impose moderation and civility onto deep-seated military institutions seems like a process that takes time, and can only be affirmed by the steady progress of civil and economic institutions which in themselves serve to overshadow the necessity of military authoritarianism and impose moderation on the state.

Continuing, Chun discussed the importance of media relations within and surrounding the conflict, with regard specifically to western news outlets, many of which choose to show the world instances of violence and social dissolution between warring radical factions. Often times though, the sensationalist inclinations of news and other mediums of mass media can skew perspective and distract from the very real instances of progress and positive struggle that are taking place in area of conflict. Chun specifically mentioned the strong civil society that exists in Egypt, comprised of many well-educated Egyptians and members of trade unions which form the backbone of one of the more industrialized states in the region. In situations such as the one developing in Egypt she said that “hope lies in civil society, trade unions, etc.” and that “during periods of power vacuums more radical religious groups seize opportunities to secure power where moderate factions fail.”

A large part of this usurpation of revolutionary momentum has to do with the failure of the opposition to uplift a credible figure-head to not only mobilize but consolidate power. “They didn’t produce any credible opposition leaders and parties,” claimed Chun, the absence of which led to the rampant manipulation of momentum towards radical groups and the abusive powers that be, embodied by the military. The masses that revolted need to ask themselves seriously, what comes next? The situation in Egypt is far from resolved and many more will suffer, however it is imperative for the Egyptian people to maintain hope and stay resolute in their goals.

On the issue of American and international involvement, or lack thereof, Chun agrees that “there is a need for greater international attention.” Just over three years since the resistance movement erupted, it is tough to look at Egypt and recognize progress, however, it is also just as important to applaud the resilience and determination of the millions of Egyptians who have risked their lives and safety in the name of creating a stronger, more modern Egypt. Their struggle is a much ours as it is theirs, in the name of democracy, transparency, and secularism many of them fight.

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Has Egypt gotten better? Examining the effects of the Arab Spring in the country that started it all