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Where is Egypt heading? - Daily News Egypt

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Where is Egypt heading?

Today Egypt stands mired in a political conflict so dire and complex that the country’s future is hard to forecast. Egypt, once hailed as a beacon of democratic hope for other countries associated with the so-called Arab Spring, is more consumed with calming political infighting following the ouster of its first elected president. In an attempt to understand where Egypt is heading, political analysts offered explanations and lessons from the history of countries such as Algeria. The Daily News Egypt explores these scenarios and their feasibility for Egypt.

The release of the deposed president Hosni Mubarak stirred debates, agitated the public and reinforced the inclinations to believe that the Mubarak security state will be reincarnated. Mohamed Omar/DNE)
The release of the deposed president Hosni Mubarak stirred debates, agitated the public and reinforced the inclinations to believe that the Mubarak security state will be reincarnated.
Mohamed Omar/DNE)

From a shining example of the so-called Arab Spring in the afterglow of Hosni Mubarak’s exit to the violent dispersals of pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-ins, the road that has taken Egypt from 25 January 2011 to the present has been winding and unpredictable.From a revolution in 2011, to military rule for a year, to elections in June 2012, to an Islamist regime under the Muslim Brotherhood, to another popular uprising ending in the ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president, Egypt today faces a dire political conflict, with not much to fill the political vacuum other than the military and security apparatuses.

Egypt’s status as a key player in the Middle East is cemented by its long history, its integral role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as its myriad of political parties and series of different rulers. Due to its influence in the region, national, international media, academics and political analysts are trying to foresee what is likely to happen in Egypt and how the country’s future will unfold.

Trying to understand a complex situation like the recent conflict in Egypt often invites comparisons and over-simplifications. Episodes of the Egyptian conflict have been contrasted to those of historical events in countries like Algeria. The current bloodshed on Egyptian streets recalled images from conflicts in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

These comparisons extended not only to events but characters and figures. Recently, the New Yorker compared the ousted president Mohamed Morsi to Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist President of Chile. Although tempting, comparisons like these can obscure more than illuminate the real situation, as well as distort the original facts.


According to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) 67% of Egyptians are “content” with how the police dispersed the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda on 14 August.  (Ahmed AlMalky/DNE)
According to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) 67% of Egyptians are “content” with how the police dispersed the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda on 14 August.
(Ahmed AlMalky/DNE)

Not Algeria: it’s Egypt


Latest analyses of Egypt’s conflict in the international press followed by most national media outlets contrasted the situation in Egypt to that of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s.


Algeria’s civil war was fought from 1992 to 1998 between the military-backed government and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). After the FIS gained sweeping popularity in 1991, the Algerian army, fearing the party’s victory and assumption of power, cancelled elections and staged a coup d’etat in 1992 which barred the Islamist party from running.

This action, in turn, triggered several Islamist guerrillas associated with the FIS to fight against the police, the army, and later, civilians. Official figures estimate the death toll of the war at about 100,000, but other media and independent sources double that estimate.


Georges Fahmi, a researcher at the Arab Forum for Alternatives, a think tank promoting scientific thinking in Arab societies and addresses political, social and economic development issues does not believe that Egypt will repeat other countries’ scenarios, but may repeat certain choices.


“Certain choices can be repeated throughout history. The choices that were available to the Islamists rebels in Algeria can be the same ones available to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,” he says, although he argues that the situations between the two countries are not analogous.

“I think we’re very far from the Algerian scenario. The problem is in presenting what happened in Egypt as a coup and disregarding what happened before it; the popular uprising of 30 June. Taking this snapshot makes our scene very similar to that of Algeria, but it ignores other major differences.”

“When the Egyptian military intervened it had the support of the people, unlike in Algeria, the military intervened against what people chose. Also, the military in Algeria established an authoritarian regime, in Egypt we’re witnessing some inclusive steps: a roadmap, discussions of the constitution and elections,” Fahmi explains.

Sherif Younis, a Cairo-based historian and the author of The Call of the People on Egypt’s Nasserite era, sees a detrimental effect to over-examining the struggles of Egypt’s neighbours.

“Convincing Egyptians that we will have a civil war like Algeria or Syria instils ideas and fears in their heads and thus forces the political struggle to take a certain route. Meanwhile, I see that both the Algerian and Syrian scenarios are far from Egypt simply because the topography of the struggle is different,” he says.

Younis explains that in Algeria the coup d’etat transpired when Islamists were rising. In Egypt, the military intervened when Islamists were falling out of the public’s favour.

“At this moment, Islamists have experienced a decline in popularity and its manifestation was the popular uprising on 30 June. The intervention of the army came just to remove the head of an already fallen regime,” he adds.


A return to a security state? 

Since the ouster of Morsi, the Brotherhood’s message in many protests has been that a Mubarak-era security state would return to crush the achievements of January 25 revolution. Other revolutionary forces in Egypt share the same doubts, evidenced in reactions to the forced dispersal by the security apparatus dealt of sit-ins in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda as well as the month-long state of emergency and an accompanying night curfew. Recently, the release of the deposed president Hosni Mubarak from state detention to house arrest pending verdicts in his trials has stirred debates, agitated the public and reinforced the fears that the Mubarak security state would be reincarnated.

Younis, however, believes there is a slim chance for such a security state to return.

“The 30 June alliance is composed of so many groups; proponents of stability, remnants of the Mubarak regime, the security institutions which have been detested since 25 January (but seek reconciliation with the people) and the revolutionary sector.”

He said that the return of a security state would be bound to the success of the 30 June alliance.

“I see that the democratic camp is pushing the roadmap forward and that the possibility of the Mubarak security state to return is very slim because that state was brought down by the people in 2011.”

Ashraf El-Sherif is a researcher and lecturer of political science at the American University in Cairo. He defines the security state as one that bans practicing politics in the public sphere, as well as restricting the public’s activities, thoughts and expression of both dissent and support.

He is convinced that the return of such a state would be extremely difficult because the current government institutions do not have the means to exercise the necessary control to maintain such a system in a society that has changed so much over two and a half years. He says, however, that he sees evidence of Mubarak’s “counter-revolutionary forces” trying to fill in the current political vacuum.

“What’s holding the [30 June] alliance together is the danger the Brotherhood used to pose. Once the confrontation with the Brotherhood is over, the contradictions in this alliance will resurface,” El-Sherif says.

Fahmi agrees with El-Sherif with regards to the difficulty of the security state’s return.

“A return to Mubarak’s state is impossible because it was brought down by 25 January, and even before because the Egyptian state was so fragile that the regime was not able to manage it as it should. The people can no longer be stopped or controlled, but this does not mean we’re heading towards a democracy either,” he says.


Abdel Fatah El Sisi currently enjoys high popularity, with posters of his face displayed in shops, plastered on cars, buildings and walls and put for sale on the streets. (AFP Photo)
Abdel Fatah El Sisi currently enjoys high popularity, with posters of his face displayed in shops, plastered on cars, buildings and walls and put for sale on the streets.
(AFP Photo)

Will the military stay? 


A military rule is, yet, another heavily debated scenario in Egypt. Defence Minister General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi currently enjoys high popularity, with posters of his face displayed in shops, plastered on cars, buildings and walls and put for sale on the streets. State and privately owned media outlets have been dedicated to glorify and praise the performance of the military and the police and their management of the current crisis.


According to the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) 67% of Egyptians are “content” with how the police dispersed the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Rabaa and Al-Nahda on 14 August. This does not indicate the popularity of the military directly, but shows support for its decisions. The questions remains, will this support tempt the military to stay in politics?

Fahmi does not see this materialising in Egypt’s future. “The military is not interested in day-to-day politics; it’s interested in protecting certain interests. First, autonomy in its structure as an institution; in other words the military chooses its own leadership and second, its economic interests and financial autonomy. This, of course, contradicts the principle of democracy, but we have to start somewhere. We might have a period like that Turkey went through in the 1980s before we have a full-fledged democracy,” he says.

He adds: “we have to remember that we are going through a democratic transition and that the military-civilian relationship will take time to stabilise. If we let this stop us, then we will not be able to move forward. Portugal took around a decade to achieve a balance between its military and the civilian leadership.”

Younis also believes the military does not want to govern Egypt and is optimistic about the roadmap the current government is promising.

“Since 23 July 1952 we have had the military ruling undercover. We never had a military regime in the normative sense of the word, we never had generals ruling directly except in the Nasserite era, but ever since the military’s political role has been declining.”

Younis adds: “The other scenario is to stick to the roadmap and I embrace that one. I think that the current government is pushing for a democratic track and that the exclusion that will take place is only for the old leadership of the brotherhood and not their popular base. They would only be able to return to politics within certain conditions that the current government I believe will set forward.”


The Egyptian scenario 

“Egypt is heading to an Egyptian model with unique components and interactions,” says El-Sherif.

According to him, the crux of the January 25 revolution was to establish a new state with more efficient institutions to solve Egypt’s political, economic and social crises, yet the revolution was unable to achieve that due to the “weakness and lack of organisation in the revolutionary movement.” This, he says, paved the way for the only organised group, the Brotherhood, to take over which constituted “the first counter-revolutionary track.”

“I expect us to have an open, but restricted, public sphere where there is guardianship of the military and the judiciary; the military will rule but not govern except in national security issues, it’s what I label as the ‘second counter-revolutionary track’,” he adds.

Fahmi also expects a bumpy road for Egypt, but is hopeful about the long run.

“Neither are we heading to democracy, nor will the security state return. If anything, the current crisis is likely to produce a restricted democracy where there are some redlines, such as the military,” he says.

As for the future of the Brotherhood, it remains vague.

El-Sherif says: “The Brotherhood has three options. First, to accept reconciliation according to the conditions of the current government will set to be able to reintegrate in the political scene; second, to reject reconciliation, contain the clashes between them and the security apparatus and mobilise people covertly; third to resort to violence directly.”

For him, the Brotherhood is currently following the second policy, but likely to accept the first option in the future if the organisation wanted to preserve itself and its popular base.

Egypt continues to defy comparisons and predictions due to the complexity of its history and political situation. The study of other countries may only provide the lesson learned, but everyday new events and decisions direct and reshape the country’s path. That’s why its future remains ambiguous and with mixed indicators of hope and distress.


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  • maraegypt

    I agree with this analysis – clear, concise. Well done!

  • Heba Farouk Mahfouz

    Spot on. SPOT ON!

  • Jihan Waheed Kamel

    very good analysis excellent piece of writing

  • palamon

    Reading this made me a bit more optimistic. A good thing!

  • abdul .a. shaiky

    Algeria has FSI and Secular American sponsored army.
    Egypt has MBH ans Secular American sponsored army.
    Islam And Secular force are common factors.
    Islamic people win in elections.
    why all world want secular democracy only in Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt.??
    Not in Israel.??? only in Islamic world.?? see Iran.!!!
    1- 1947 PAKISTAN.
    2- 1948 ISRAEAL.

    • Intellectualist

      I regularly criticize Israel for being hypocritical. You are absolutely right that they have adopted a segregationist stance and have little moral authority to lecture others. The basis of a secular government is to protect religious freedom from government control. Lately the use of the term secular to hide anti religious oppression has blurred its purpose. In America we fight often over religious freedom and restraints. Some want theocracy, some want freedom. The path of religion cannot be tied to that of civil governance. Whence the two meet, discrimination begins. Hey, cool it with the caps. You look unhinged with all that yelling.

  • Elsayed Abuu Elkhir

    Good piece of writing but as an analysis ,it is not that good because it is not inclusive to all different points of view. Is it guided like the rest of the media.

  • qadar

    Dooms waits for Egypt

    • Intellectualist

      Doom waits for political islam,judeo fascism, and dominionism. Egypt? No.

  • Abdul Khader

    In Egypt only two institutions are powerful , one in Mubarak establishment baked by the military and the other is Islamist backed by the common people. Any government that formed without the participation of Islamist can’t govern the Egypt without the military and Mubarak era security apparatus,so end of democracy in Egypt. Freedom of press is totally disappeared in Egypt , no one dare to write against military dictators.

    • Intellectualist

      The theocratic rule turned out to be unpopular. I could have told you that in the beginning of this Islamic democracy experiment. For the Islamic people to understand that theocracy cannot govern without oppression, you had to see it firsthand. Learn and let go.

  • Reda Sobky

    Thank you for your clarity and precision. The unknown piece is the generational march with the young people now more savvy and connected and aware of the rest of the world. It feels like things are on the verge of happening but Egyptians have been discouraged so much they can’t believe they can actually get on with it and do it. Yes there are dissenters but other countries have stabilized and thrived even after bigger splits such as Colombia in the last ten years. Now that the Mubarak era is over and we have had another era come and go already and we are on to the next one now, maybe, we can let go of the “floul” metaphor as though they are a defeated army which they are not. They are citizens who, now rid of an oppressor, may be ready for something new and different, yes I am optimistic too as at least Egypt is now on the path to greater things.

  • sam enslow

    I love the people of Egypt; however, I believe they are headed to being part of a failed state. I would have more faith if the new constitution adhered to all the rights contained in the treaties (which have the same standing as constitutions) Egypt ha signed. But there is still the conflict about what religions to recognize and the place of Shaira in the constitution. Religious laws should only apply to those who are members of that religion and or faction of a religion. Religion in politics (even a little bit) will continue to spread sectarian hatreds. Constitutions are designed to protect the rights of minorities. All citizens should be equal before the law. Ones relationship with God should be between the individual and his God. Let the priests and Imams do their jobs. Let the government do its.
    Egypt faces many problems that the government must answer. It has no time to be the moral authority for the population. It must concentrate on the economy, social justice, and government reforms. The people of Egypt, especially the young, must feel they have at least hope for a good future in Egypt. Recall that those who first went to Tahrir Square went expecting to die. They did not mind because they felt they were already dead. They still feel no hope. Must they take the chance of a dangerous sea journey, become boat people, to have any hope for a future? No one seems to address their demands or even to discuss them. They said,”No military rule, and no theocratic rule.” But these are the only choices they have been given.
    It seems the governments in Egypt are only interested in controlling the people and punishing them. It needs to start encouraging and enabling the people, as individuals, to reach their potential. I often hear Egypt’s revolution called, “The revolution in which nothing changed.” Things must change, including the Deep State. Corruption must be faced and the actors named (shame on the press in this matter). It is now a time for action – not words or empty promises that no one believes because they have heard them all before.
    The new constitution will tell much about Egypt’s future. If it honestly frees the people of Egypt and enshrines the rule of law (not by big friend is bigger than your big friend) there will be hope and the people will start believing the revolution was real. If the constitution fails, expect to see more of Egypt’s most talented taking any measure possible to leave a country they love. Be prepared for dead bodies washing ashore. Now is not the time for timid half measures.

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