De-Nile of Democracy in Egypt | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

De-Nile of Democracy in Egypt

Comment Writer Tom Moran questions why Egypt has yet to see meaningful change, 7 years on from the removal of President Mubarak

Seven years on from the fall of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, meaningful change seems to have been lost.

Whilst Mubarak has been removed from power and there have been democratic elections, we seem to have come full circle since Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in 2013. With little opposition to Sisi’s re-election in May, nothing looks to change soon.

So, what went wrong? Or more, why is Egypt back at square one?

There are a plethora of factors at play but to fully understand you have to go back to the revolution. After two months of protesting, President Mubarak, who had run Egypt for nearly thirty years was removed from power on the 11 February 2011.

If they don’t like the change that has taken place, they can and will do something about it

Before Mubarak was even removed from office, the revolutionary coalition had its limitations. By virtue of its nature, it was a rather cobbled together, disorganised and decentralised movement with no clear leadership or proposals for a new regime.

However, disagreement between the people is just democracy is it not and so arguing this is a major problem seems rather counter-intuitive. Indeed, it’s the implications of the disorganisation that becomes problematic.

The legacy of Mubarak’s presidency is the deep state that exists in Egypt. With a large security force and bureaucracy and an even larger military, Egypt has a deeply embedded group of people who are meant to ensure that all change is smooth.

The flip side is that, along with business elites, if they don’t like the change that has taken place, they can and will do something about it: which is exactly what happened when the democratically elected President Muhammed Mursi was removed from power in 2013 by General Sisi’s military coup.

But whilst Mursi’s removal was in a way the reversion to authoritarianism, Mursi had already begun to roll back the process of democracy.

After around 60 years of being suppressed in Egypt, Mursi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, could become prominent actors. Indeed, they won the election in June 2012 and Mursi took office. Being a religious party, they planned to make numerous changes to Islamise the constitution: namely ending the secularist policies put in place in the 1950s. Which is why the military stepped in; they had for a long time been the defenders of secularism in Egypt.

Also at play though were other Arab states, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. Qatar are long-term supporters of the Brotherhood across the whole region and so they hoped that with their allies in power, Egypt would too be their ally.

Indeed, there is a tendency in the West to see these protests as about democracy and not economics

The Emiratis, on the other hand, stood firmly opposed to any democratic movement in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is seen by many of the Gulf monarchies as an existential threat. If Egypt had shown the Brotherhood to be successful and democracy to be an alternative, that could have major implications for the elites in the UAE. Unsurprisingly, the Emiratis were more than willing to sponsor Sisi’s coup.

But for all the foreign interference, there was popular support for the coup. The public was not keen on Mursi’s attempt to end the long-standing secularism of Egypt, and neither was there a great amount of support for his moves preventing the court from blocking him.

Moreover, Sisi has begun to provide the economic opportunities and security that the Egyptian public wanted and lacked towards the end of the Mubarak regime. He has set a course for rebuilding the ruling bargain in Egypt, the trade-off between democracy and military/economic security. Indeed, there is a tendency in the West to see these protests as about democracy and not economics.

For all the failures and complications with democracy that went on between the end of Mubarak and Sisi’s rise to power, Sisi has managed to secure himself through a relative amount of consent.

With little opposition, Sisi is poised for seemingly inevitable re-election in March – he may even increase his vote share, which is impressive considering he won 96% of the vote last time.

What is for sure, though, is that with the structure that exists in Egypt and the support for Sisi, significant change will take some time.


16th February 2018 at 9:00 am

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