Wednesday, July 31, 2013


The first phase of the Egyptian revolution was against Mubarak, the second against Morsi. The demands were varied, amorphous and inconsistent, but they boiled down to an end to arbitrary power, state violence and corruption. The second phase added an anti-Islamist dimension. Both phases have relied on the army as arbiter of success or failure. This is always the case. A revolution is impossible if the army stays loyal.

Revolutions are messy events. They are rarely coherent, and the real question of success or failure lies in the post-revolutionary settlement. What started as a military coup in support of a mass popular uprising has now produced a massacre. I don't often turn to Edmund Burke, but this warning in his Reflections on the Revolution in France sprang to mind.
In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master,—the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.
Is Sisi such a leader? This piece in Foreign Affairs is one of the most troubling articles I have read on the crisis. Drawing on what is known of Sisi's ideas, Robert Springborg suggests that,
Although he (Sisi) has vowed to lead Egypt through a democratic transition, there are plenty of indications that he is less than enthusiastic about democracy and that he intends to hold on to political power himself. But that’s not to say that he envisions a return to the secular authoritarianism of Egypt’s recent past. Given the details of Sisi’s biography and the content of his only published work, a thesis he wrote in 2006 while studying at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, it seems possible that he might have something altogether different in mind: a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism. To judge from the ideas about governance that he put forward in his thesis, Sisi might see himself less as a custodian of Egypt’s democratic future than as an Egyptian version of Muhammed Zia ul-Haq, the Pakistani general who seized power in 1977 and set about to “Islamicize” state and society in Pakistan.
In rising against arbitrary power and Islamism, the Egyptian people may be saddled with both. Such is the irony of the unintended consequences of revolutions. Or is there yet another phase to come?

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