Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Blog

Friday marked the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the revolution that pushed Hosni Mubarak from power and ushered in a new era in Egyptian politics. As Tahrir Square fills again with protesters, this time shouting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and their president, Muhammad Morsi, it’s an important time to reflect on the revolution’s successes and failures.

The good news first: Hosni Mubarak is no longer the president of Egypt, a point of incredible importance often overlooked by those disappointed with the revolution’s progress. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party has been mostly dismantled, though NDP-connected businessmen still exercise considerable power behind the scenes. The success of the revolution also engendered important psychological changes in many Egyptians. The passivity and apathy with which many Egyptians viewed their government before the revolution is gone, and, for better or worse, Egyptians now know they always have recourse against governmental injustice in Tahrir Square. The military has also been chastened by its foray into politics, though it still remains the country’s most powerful force. That power will now be exercised behind the scenes, rather than in public, and that is a small victory. Perhaps the most important effect of the revolution, though, has been outside Egypt. Seeing the Arab world’s most important and populous country rise up in revolution has had immeasurable effects on Arab publics elsewhere. These effects are not limited to the other nations, like Syria and Libya, that experienced revolutions inspired in part by the Egyptian example, but also extend to places where no visible signs of change have yet been seen. We may not know the true importance and full extent of the Egyptian example for 20 years to come, but by empowering Arab publics, it has changed the region’s politics forever.

And now the bad, a list which is much longer than the benefits detailed above. Broadly, the revolution cannot truly be considered a revolution, since that word implies a transformation of the government rather than a change at the top. The events of Jan. 25 - Feb. 11, 2010, might be more accurately described as protests that led to a military coup. Though Mubarak was forced out, the military system he led is intact. The SCAF rushed and mismanaged the transition at every turn, a fatal handicap to the unorganized revolutionary forces. Chastened by their experience running the country, the generals were happy to hand back public power to Morsi, content in the knowledge that their commercial empire and control over foreign policy would not be threatened. For the foreseeable future, Egyptian politics will likely consist of a series of negotiations and accommodations between the Brotherhood and the military, the country’s two dominant political forces.  

Other goals of the revolution, like free speech, protection of religious minorities, and the advancement of women were either ignored or contradicted in the recently-approved Constitution. Though these goals were clearly not universally shared, they were important to the secular activists who were with the movement from its earliest days. Suffice it to say, the Egypt many had envisioned during those heady days has not materialized.

In some ways, the revolution could be viewed as Egypt acknowledging the country as it actually is. It now seems inarguable that the real Egypt is closer to the Brotherhood’s vision of a conservative, Islamic country than to the military’s violently-enforced conception of a secular, Arab nationalist state. The Brotherhood’s ascendancy might be seen as simply an acknowledgement of that truth. Still, for those of us with hopes for a more pluralistic and open Egypt, all is not lost. There are signs that secular forces are finally unifying, an important development that may increase their ability to push back against the Brotherhood’s overreach. More broadly, the revolution’s example has energized Egyptian politics in a way that will make it impossible for the country to return to a Mubarak-style dictatorship. More work remains to be done, but Egyptians have much to be thankful for two years later.


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