A Revolutionary Episode Part I – A summary of political events in Egypt since January 2011

I plan to follow a particular approach where I will first provide a summary of events in a recent revolutionary situation, then I will offer some theoretical frameworks of the study of revolutions, and thirdly, I will try to put the two together — to give practical insights by applying the theories.

This post is the first part, dull to some perhaps, for it mostly is ‘just’ a summary of the events that happened since January 2011, when the Egyptian revolutionary episode began.

It is important to note that I do not claim at any point to speak ‘the truth’ and I am not an expert on the topics under discussion. However, as an outsider one is able to analyse historical and current events, create a sense of perspective and remain nuanced, and through that, possibly come  to some valuable insights. Finally, as I have mentioned before, this  is a learning experience for me.

When one thinks of revolutionary situations in the most recent times, undoubtedly the events that are happening in the Arab World come to mind. So far, the formerly long-established leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been removed from power. Is that the end of the story? Of course not. It is just the start of the start. Now, for illustrative purposes I wish to start my little experiment with the analysis of the events in Egypt. The reasons are that, (1) Egypt is the most populous and currently most important country in the Arab World where pivotal changes are occurring and (2) news coverage appears to be most elaborate on Egypt, making it for me the most ‘accessible’ country of analysis.

“We Are All Khaled Saeed”

The New York Times has a very interesting timeline which starts in 2008 (with the April 6 Movement setting up a Facebook page) and emphasises some of the events in 2010 (before Mohamed Bouazizi becomes the symbol of the Arab uprisings) that initiated widespread anger in Egyptians and resentment against the Mubarak regime.

The death of Khaled Saeed — a blogger who was arrested and tortured in June 2010, the publicity of the images of Saeed’s disfigured body, got the ball rolling. Wael Ghonim started a Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said”; within minutes in had thousands of ‘fans’.

Below you see an except of an e-mail conversation between the founder of the April 6 Movement Facebook page, Ahmer Maher, and the founder of the Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said, Mr Ghonim; planning the January 25, 2011 event. The protests on January 25, 2011, were carefully prepared and managed to manifest the anger of many Egyptians into mass mobilisation.

FROM:Ahmed Maher

TO:Khaled Saed

SUBJECT:re: January 25

We can gather at a specific place but the priority is to start from the local areas… We would prepare multiple groups, 10 groups, for example, formed from members of the April 6 Youth and the other groups, and then begin marches toward the central gathering point. We would want to gather three hours before finally meeting at the Interior Ministry [later changed to Tahrir Square], hand out posters and fliers, wear masks with the faces of Khalid Said and Sayed Belal on them. And there would be no flags or paraphernalia from political groups. Only the flag of Egypt…

  • January 25,2011: thousands take to the streets. Motivations:

“We want a functioning government, we want Mubarak to step down, we don’t want emergency law, we don’t want to live under this kind of oppression anymore,”

Inspired by Tunisia’s popular uprising, [the Egpytian protesters] demanded political concessions that Mr. Mubarak’s rotting government should have made long ago: an end to emergency laws, freedom for political activity and a limit on the president’s tenure in office.

Tahrir Square

Resentment and mobilisation grow and political measures are taken to quell the protesters. On the 28th, Mubarak sacked his government and on the 29th he installed a new VP. In early February there are promises to raise salaries and pensions by 15%. However, there is too large a determination by the demonstrators, for that to stop them.

  • Then on February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman declares the following:

In the name of Allah the most gracious the most merciful. … My fellow citizens, in the difficult circumstances our country is experiencing, President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to give up the office of the president of the republic and instructed the supreme council of the armed forces to manage the affairs of the country. May God guide our steps.

  • During the remainder of February, the former minister of Information and the head of the State Television, as well as some cabinet members, were arrested and faced charges for fraud and the misuse of public funds. On the third of March a new Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, was appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to form a new cabinet.  Al Jazeera correspondent Sherine Tadros had the following to say about Mr Sharaf:

“Sharaf does command a lot of respect, for the fact that he’s been in academia since he stepped down a few years ago and the fact that he stepped down in opposition to President Mubarak and the way the transport ministry was run.” However, she said protests, which had been called for Friday in an attempt to topple Shafiq, were still expected to go ahead but with a different message. “They [protest organisers] want to keep up the pressure in terms of their other demands, like the release of political prisoners and the lifting of emergency law”. “But they’re saying very clearly that they’re not going to be calling for a sit-in.”

Two days after the appointment, protesters raid the security forces offices in Cairo and Alexandria, for seeking documentation that show the widespread human right abuses and arbitrary tortures and arrests. The security apparatus was then disbanded on the 15th of March.

  • On March 18, a constitutional referendum was held on a package of 9 amendments to the constitution and was passed, with the military calling elections to be held in June. New parties were worried that they would not be able to organised themselves quickly enough. Protests reoccurred in April and in May, because dissatisfaction remains over the speed of the democratic reforms

The military has enjoyed broad support since it took control of the country on 11 February but frustrations have grown over the pace of reform. Attention is now focused on the perceived tardiness of legal steps against Mubarak and his entourage.

  • On May 7, 2011, sectarian clashes were caused by Salafists who attacked the Saint Mina Church in the Imbaba suburb, because she allegedly was kept against her will in the Coptic church. The situation escalated and eventually 15 people were killed. Such sectarian confrontations are not rare and have happened more often in Egypt. The government’s reaction was stark, according to the Guardian.co.uk

The government, sensitive to mounting alarm about deteriorating security since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February, also rushed to announce that all 190 people arrested would be tried in military courts. The justice minister, Abdel-Aziz al-Gindi, pledged to “strike with an iron hand all those who seek to tamper with the nation’s security”.

  • It seemed to be quiet in the first weeks of June, if one has to believe media coverage. But on June 28 and 29, 2011, major clashes took place again, a source of the NYT said the following:

“We’ve been patient for five months! We’ve seen no change. What have you been doing this whole time?”

  • July 2011: parliamentary elections are delayed from September to second half of November. Continuous protests continue for quicker reforms and the hand-over by the military of power to civilian rule.
  • 28 November 2011 – 11 January 2012: Parliamentary elections are held. The results are shown in the figure below. The FJP stands for Freedom and Justice Party — the political wing of the longstanding and well-established Muslim Brotherhood. The commentary, by Mazen Hassan, a professor at Cairo University, that comes with the figure is illustrative

The party with the plurality of seats however – also not surprisingly – was the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The electoral alliance it led won 47% of seats (235 out of the 498 contested seats – with only 22 seats of those won by the other parties in the alliance). The surprise, however, has been the party that came second. With 24.3% of seats, a newly founded party – called Al-Nour – representing the Salafi movement and commonly characterized as an even more conservative Islamist party than the Muslim Brotherhood, managed to push liberal parties to the third and fourth places and possibly preventing FJP from gaining a majority by splitting the Islamist votes. Two liberal parties came third and fourth; Wafd and Free Egyptians, obtaining 7.8% and 7% respectively. Their performance has been largely disappointing to liberal voters.

So, it seems that the majority of the Egyptians, if the elections were free and fair and represent the Egyptian population — something the Carter Center’s election monitors in general, despite its inadequacies, found to be the case–, would be in favour of an Islamist party ruling the country. More than once Turkey’s Justice and Development party (AKP) has been mentioned as a model for Egypt, and as well as for other Arab countries in transition. However, the historical and political backgrounds of Turkey and Egypt hardly match and making claims that Turkey would able to be a model is oversimplified. However, what I do believe is that the rule of the AKP in Turkey — a party consisting of religious members, yet dedicated to democracy, and of course democratically elected (3 times in a row) — could be an encouragement that religious-leaning parties are well-able to govern democratically. From my study of the AKP — as an outsider who has read some things about the party, they seem to be doing a good job.  And well, there are always groups that do not support the governing parties, that is one of the undeniabilities of politics — a point I would like to turn back to later on.

  • Judging from the news coverage on Egypt, protests and violence continued in the cities. A common slogan appears to be

Down with military rule!

Furthermore, there appeared to be continuous tensions between more secular-minded and Muslim Brotherhood supporters. A very tragic escalation of violence during a football match is blamed by many on the lack of security by the police and military, causing protests and clashes to go on for days.

Important events in the months that followed:

  • On March 10, 2012, applications for candidacy to the presidential elections on 23 May opened.
  • March 18, Coptic Pope Shenouda III died.
  • In April the Egyptian election commission bans 10 candidates from running for the office of President of Egypt, which leads to violence in its aftermath.
  • Egyptian writer Magdi Abdelhadi in the wake of the Presidential elections casts a very gloomy picture of what is to come:

Ironically, it seems that the Egyptians, having staged the first popular revolution in their history, are being asked not to choose the future but to choose between various versions of an imagined glorious past. This is hardly surprising. Nasserism (or pan-Arab nationalism) and Islamism represent the two political discourses that have dominated Egypt – and the so-called Arab world – for the past half a century or so. And, contrary to popular perception, they have more in common than meets the eye. If you take out God, their ideological deep structure is remarkably similar. Both cultivate an inflated sense of collective grandeur, stolen past glory, and whatever went wrong with the nation, it’s always someone else’s fault: the crusaders, the moguls, the colonial masters, the Americans, Israel, the Shias, the Persians.

  • Egypt’s State of Emergency, allowing for the arbitrary arrest of citizens is completely lifted in early June
  • On June 18 the results of the Presidential elections were announced; Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party won with 51.73% of the votes, against Shafiq who received 48.27% of the votes, even though initially both candidates claimed their victory. Morsi is sworn in 30 June.
  • 2 August: the cabinet is sworn in — the post of Defence Minister goes to Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces; two women are appointed ministerial posts.
  • 13 August: Morsi removes Tantawi from office of Defence Minister and consolidates executive power.
  • 24 August: a new law bans the detention of journalists for media-related offenses.
  • From 11 September 2012, Egyptians — and Muslims across the World — take to the streets in protest against a film released in the US which allegedly insults the Prophet Mohammed. Violence is widespread and the motivations for the protests seem to go beyond the mere screening of the movie — its seems to be an overt expression of discontent against the US, and its historical and current influence in domestic affairs in the Middle East.
  • 23 September: Morsi travels to US for UN General Assembly session on the 26th, speaking in his support of the Palestinians, the opposition in Syria, the progress of Sudan and South-Sudan and Somalia. Furthermore, he talks about the (unavoidable) topics of the need for international cooperation and the commitment to human rights and the rule of law and international security.
  • 9 October: President Morsi releases all the protesters who were imprisoned for being the initiators of the political uprisings early 2011 against Hosni Mubarak.
  • Sexual harassment is common, even when it concerns female reporters.
  • Mid-October: New rounds of violent clashes on Tahrir square between liberals and Islamists –>

The original protest had been organised by secular political forces ostensibly to protest against the monopolisation of the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. Secular political activists have often complained about Islamist hegemony in post-revolution Egypt.

  • 21 November: Morsi is key player in the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine/Gaza.
  • 22 November: The President pronounces a Constitutional Declaration of which Article 6 is the following

The President may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution.

The declaration aims to prevent the Constituent Assembly– tasked with drafting the new constitution of Egypt — from being rendered null and void by the Constitutional Court, and to be able to push through the referendum before a court decision can judge on the legitimacy of the assembly. This decree has lead to widespread resentment for the actions of the President. His actions are labeled dictatorial and as a method of enlarging the influence of Islam, since the majority of the members of the Constituent Assembly are in fact Islamists. The opposition leaders, ElBaradei and Moussa, united against Morsi called his the new pharaoh.

The consequence of the declaration is a wave of widespread protests and domestic and international condemnation. Some recognise the reasoning behind Morsi’s declaration — preventing the political remnants of the former regime to nullify the drafting of the constitution, but do not approve of the shape that has taken.

  • 30 November: the Constituent Assembly pass the draft constitution; with the necessary controversies; according to the Egypt Independent, 

On aggregate, the current draft is criticized for not bearing enough safeguards to uphold freedoms, bestows too many authorities upon the president in a way that disrupts the division of powers and generally relies on legal arrangements in critical unresolved matters to evade the lack of consensus over the current draft.

  • 2 December: the President calls for the referendum on the constitution to be held on the 15th of December.
  • Massive violence and protest sweep the country. Main reason for the anger of the opposition is the decree where Morsi granted himself the power to “take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution”. Morsi and the military both call for dialogue to stop the violence, in vain.
  • On the ninth, Morsi annulled the decree granting him the power to overrule legislation. One of the main opposition parties, the National Salvation Party, replied with the following on Al Jazeera:

“The key issue of securing the process of adapting of the constitution is done. … Unfortunately I don’t think the president is leaving us any other option than to escalate our opposition. … We respect he was elected with 51.7 per cent of the vote, but 48 per cent did not vote for him. That means that he has to compromise, he has to build consensus.” Asked whether the opposition’s goal was to unseat Morsi, Dawood said: “This is definitely not in our agenda at all. Our agenda is basically limited to having a new draft constitution that everybody is satisfied about before going to a referendum.”

  • Protests continue after 15 December, the day the constitution is votes on through a referendum.
  • After first round of referendum, a top member of the election committee resigns due to “health issues” and on the day of the second round (on the 22nd), the VP resigns. According to Al Jazeera, VP Mekki said the following: “I have realised a while ago that the nature of politics don’t suit my professional genesis as a judge”.
  • Result of referendum: 36.2% said no to the referendum, while 63.8% voted in favour. The turnout was only 32.9%.
  • The National Salvation Front accuses the referendum as being rigged and fraudulent and stated that:

The referendum is not the end game … It is only a battle in this long struggle for the future of Egypt.

  • In the aftermath of the constitutional referendum, two members of cabinet resigned within a week. The minister of parliamentary affairs apparently resigned after Morsi requested the same PM, Hashim Qandil, to reshuffle the cabinet in the face of condemnation for its poor tactics on dealing with the economy.
  • 6 January: Ten new cabinet ministers are elected.
  • Apparently, opposition members remain dedicated in their refusal to accept the constitution, as violence erupted on the 13th of January:

The protesters have camped out near the palace for more than a month now, decrying a constitution drafted by a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated constituent assembly and Morsi’s insistence to put it up for a referendum.

  • The second anniversary of the start of the revolution will be on 25 January, but it is not likely to be the most quite day in Egyptian history, as political opposition forces are organising the new round of protests against, as they said “Brotherhoodisation

The revolutionary road is the only route we have. We cannot depend on the upcoming election because the Brotherhood government is controlling it and it will be a political game

And with that, Egypt appears to be deeply divided, days before the second anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, ousting former President Hosni Mubarak from office.

Even though the opposition is very vocal and dedicated to their cause, it seems that the majority of the citizens either simply support President Mohammed Morsi or their priorities lie elsewhere — like economic issues and the longing for stability.

The second part on this topic will be some theoretical framework/overview on the study of revolutions, before turning to the practical application of the theories on the revolutionary events in Egypt.

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One thought on “A Revolutionary Episode Part I – A summary of political events in Egypt since January 2011

  1. Pingback: Thinking politics | Egypt in its next phase of a revolutionary episode

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