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The anatomy & economics of a revolution

The anatomy & economics of a revolution
  • PublishedAugust 2, 2013

They called it an “Arab Spring” when President Hosni Mubarak’s government was overthrown in February 2011 after weeks of massive protests across Egypt. Mubarak’s successor, President Mohammed Morsi, is now gone, after only a year in power. How did things come to a head, once again, in Egypt?

What have been the political, social and economic implications of the North African revolutions for the rest of Africa? Why didn’t the much-anticipated “domino effect” from the “Arab Spring” engulf the rest of the continent? Is Egypt’s “spring” turning out to be a “summer” of discontent? In the lead cover story, our Associate Editor Osasu Obayiuwana examines what actually happened, or did not happen in Egypt. In subsequent pages, Adel Darwish and other New African correspondents discuss the broad range of issues surrounding democracy, elections and governance.

Just one year into Egypt’s new democratic experiment, it has all come unstuck. President Morsi has been kicked out of office, following massive street protests, involving millions of people, setting the stage for the military’s intervention, an action which General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the country’s top military commander (portrait held above), insisted was for the Egyptian people. Associate editor Osasu Obayiuwana examines the issues.

When Mohamm ed Morsi became Egypts first democratically elected president in June last year, Egypt’s 85 million people were looking forward to immediately reaping the benefits of having a government that is, at least in principle, directly accountable to them, as they started the long trek to entrenching a political system in which the rule of law secured their rights.

Why else would ordinary folk have risked life and limb to embark upon the bloody revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak, if not to open a desperately needed new chapter in the country’s history?

But now Morsi has been removed from office, in what is in allbut-name a military coup, and an interim president, Adly Mansour, the president of the country’s constitutional court, is now at the helm. The military insist they have no frontline role in the current dispensation, whilst they are clearly playing an extremely influential – if not the decisive – role from the shadows and the current political impasse in Egypt certainly raises crucial questions for the entire continent. For example, we must ask whether democracy, especially in a country emerging from a longstanding culture of iron-fisted rule, begins and ends with the toppling of a disgraced leader and the conclusion of an election?

For members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), whose political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), won 51.7% of the vote in the 2012 presidential election, giving Morsi the mandate to govern until 2016, the answer to this question would, most likely, be a resounding “yes”. “Egypt decides through the ballot-box…No one person, one elite group or military organisation will impose any decision on the people,” says Essam El-Erian, the FJP vice-chairman.

Despite being outlawed from the country’s political life over the last 40 years, by the governments of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, who saw the Islamist group as a threat to Egypt’s stability, the MB remained a formidable group, even whilst underground. It did not hesitate to take swift advantage of the political circumstances that presented themselves after the fall of the Mubarak government, a popular uprising in which they did not play a frontline role.

Meanwhile, the larger sections of Egyptian civil society, which did, were unable to form themselves into formidable groups with a decent chance of winning political power. The inevitable consequence was that they were absent from the corridors of power in a period when their presence and involvement, in shaping an Egypt that is evolving politically and socially, was most needed.

Whilst the FJP earned, in principle, the electoral right to fashion the country according to their Islamist ideology, the hard political realities in the post-Mubarak era dictated that they needed to govern in a way that acknowledged the revolutionary circumstances under which they were elected into office.

As the writer Ahdaf Soueif commented, in a recent piece for the UK’s Guardian newspaper: “The revolution will continue because neither the old regime [of Hosni Mubarak] nor the Islamist trend in its current form [Morsi and the FJP] are going to deliver ‘bread, freedom, social justice’. Neither of them are going to validate the sacrifices made by the 1,200 young people murdered by the regime, the 8,000 maimed, the 16,000 court-martialled…”

It is the disconnect between the deposed government and the larger society, outside the ambit of the FJP’s immediate political constituency, which felt completely ignored and disenfranchised from crafting a post-Mubarak political order in their country, that fanned the embers of deep division that created the circumstances which led to the unconstitutional removal of an elected government.

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