2 Jul 2013

Egypt’s revolution 2.0 – nothing to be surprised about?

Tahrir Square is once again filled with tens of thousands of protesters. But why are historians not surprised? Channel 4 News looks at the rocky road to revolution.

Recent protests in Cairo are as spirited as they are familiar.

The demonstrations come two and a half years since the ousting of President Mubarak in Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring.

And they were timed to coincide with the anniversary of Mohammed Morsi’s year in office: the country’s first ever democratically elected president after years of authoritarian rule.

In the months before his election, Egyptians had railed against the military amid fears it would seize power after overthrowing Mubarak.

But fast forward to 2013, and many protesters are asking the army to take over from the ruling president and his Muslim Brotherhood Party. The army has now given the president a 48-hour deadline to respond to protesters’ demands, and has sided firmly with the people.

For an idea of how protesters are reconciling the resort to protest, rather than politics, graffiti on the presidential walls reads: “The legitimacy of your ballot box / is cancelled by our martyrs’ coffins”.

Revolution x2

But Egypt’s rocky road to revolution is far from unusual and experts say there was always going to be a period of transition.

The country’s relatively quick transition to democratic rule was widely praised internationally. The Muslim Brotherhood party won a 51 per cent majority, but months after coming to office President Morsi was criticised heavily for granting himself sweeping new powers that detractors claimed put him above the law.

Everybody wants everything yesterday. People are very unforgiving of the government – Dr James D Boys, political historian

Even taking into account our 24/7 demand for news and change, the public’s demands and the pace of change are far from unusual, says Dr Stacey Gutkowski Middle East lecturer at Kings College.

“We know from history that revolutions take decades to embed themselves. Twitter and the clamour of the 24-hour news cycle hasn’t changed that,” she told Channel 4 News. “They are also often marked by reversals and counter-revolutions.”

‘Empowering’ Arab Spring

There is also what political historian Dr James D Boys calls the “empowering effect” of the Arab Spring.

“There has perhaps been a growing sense that people can change the system of government without resorting to war,” he told Channel 4 News. “People are less inclined to put up with what they don’t want.”

This is echoed by lead protester Khaled Dawoud, who told Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Rugman in Cairo: “I think we do not even have to wait until tomorrow to see what the army is going to do – the Egyptian people have made [sic] their say in the streets…

“The Egyptian people will have to achieve their demands.”

In general terms, technology and 24-hour news has made our demand for change more acute, says Dr Boys: “Everybody wants everything yesterday. People are very unforgiving of the government.”

Protesters’ demands

And just what do the protesters want? The opposition Tamarod movement says that 22 million have signed a petition laying out their complaints. These include a failure to bring security forces to justice for killing protestors during the uprising and a lack of security since the 2011 revolution.

Protesters also blame the government for failing to tackle poverty, unemployment, inflation and debt, and the petition says that “no dignity is left” for Egyptians.

Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif also told Channel 4 News that the new president has not delivered. She voted for Mr Morsi as the lesser of two evils and believed that the Muslim Brotherhood would work with the Egyptian people to come up with a new model of governance.

“And then it turned out that not only did they not want to work with anyone other than themselves, but they don’t have Egypt as an entity that they care about,” she told Channel 4 News.

After the judiciary and other political elites were exposed as corrupt, Ms Soueif says that Egypt is not willing to defer to more elections and has entered the third phase of revolution. (See her interview in full via the link at the bottom of the page.)

However the nation is still holding its breath in the hope that violence is avoided. Despite the post-Arab Spring confidence in “people power”, there have been renewed pleas to avoid violence from protesters, charities and international observers.

“We’re not minimising the muslim brotherhood,” said Mr Dawoud in Cairo. “We fully respect their role in Egyptian life – but we call upon them at this stage to refrain from the use of violence.”

And it is also up the protesters to come up with a political solution, not just man power, Ms Gutkowski told Channel 4 News.

“The liberal-Left must organize sufficiently to fulfil the goals of the revolution,” she said. “Passion on the streets today must be matched by planning and pragmatism.”