The American Kafir

2011/02/09

Chronicle of a Doomed Uprising: The Egyptian Revolution as a Microcosm of the Arab Masses’ Quest for a Share in Power and Resources

Source: MEMRI

By: Y. Carmon, T. Kuper and H. Migron*

Introduction

In January 2011, the peoples of the Middle East began their march towards seizing a share in the leadership and resources of their countries, following centuries in which they were deprived of this share by various ruling oligarchies. This uprising, which broke out in Tunisia, spread to Egypt. However, just like the European peoples’ struggle for a share in power, this campaign against the total hegemony of the ruling elite is bound to be a drawn out, multi-phased historical process, with numerous setbacks and crises. This first round – the present uprising in Egypt – will not be without some achievements, but it is ultimately doomed to failure, in that the Egyptian military establishment will retain its grip over power and resources in the country.[1]

The following analysis examines the uprising in Egypt as a microcosm of the process in the Arab world at large, and argues that the Egyptian protests are less a cry for democracy and freedom than they are a bid for power by a disenfranchised middle class.

The Direct Triggers and the Underlying Cause of the Egyptian Uprising

The current wave of protests in Egypt was triggered by three factors:

1) A deterioration in the economic situation of the masses as a result of the global rise in food prices (while this was a central factor in Egypt, it was even more pivotal in Tunisia);

2) The total exclusion of the opposition from the Egyptian parliament following the last elections, in which the ruling NDP party took 460 seats while the opposition (not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but all opposition parties) was granted no representation at all;

3) The protests in Tunisia, which provided the Egyptians with a successful model of popular uprising.

In-depth scrutiny reveals, however, a more fundamental cause underlying the Egyptian uprising – a bid by the people to wrest power from the military oligarchies that have been ruling Egypt and controlling its resources for centuries.

From the Middle Ages, Egypt was ruled by Mamluk military oligarchies and dynasties. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman-appointed governor of Egypt Muhammad ‘Ali wiped out the ruling Mamluk elite and established his own dynasty, which dominated the country well into the 20th century, wielding power even under British occupation. This dynasty was overthrown in 1952 by the Free Officers’ Revolution, which set up its own oligarchy and established a joint military and civilian infrastructure. This oligarchy dominates the country and wields total control over its resources to this day.

Over the years, a middle class has emerged; however, it lacks any share in the country’s resources and centers of power. Today, this middle class consists mainly of young people with high rates of unemployment and no hope for the future, but who possess education and a familiarity with the democratic world – especially thanks to the modern information and communication revolution.

Given all these circumstances, the present uprising was only a matter of time.

Doomed from the Start

The failure of the Egyptian uprising, however, is equally inevitable. Three factors conspire to prevent its success.

First, the masses are up against a well-entrenched, united and all-powerful military establishment which reigns supreme over the centers of power and the country’s wealth. Moreover, its popular image is one of the “defender of the homeland,” and its veterans are perceived as war heroes. Most of the youth does not even realize that the army is, in fact, the real adversary, which has shrewdly placed the police in the front lines in the confrontations with the protestors, allowing itself to retain an image of being at one with the people.

Second, the protestors lack a leadership. Had events taken their natural course, a leadership would have emerged gradually from the middle class and would have been forged in grueling battles against the dictatorial regime. However, due to the opportunities offered by today’s mass communications – particularly, the Internet and the social networks, as well as Al-Jazeera, which played a pivotal role – the deprived masses were able to “skip a stage,” moving directly to the revolution itself. Consequently, only now, in the midst of the uprising, are they trying in vain to form a leadership.

True, existing political oppositionists are trying to jump on the bandwagon. These, however, do not represent the protesters, and are in fact sabotaging the revolution by their willingness to negotiate with the regime. This is especially true of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is seeking the legitimization that has been denied it for decades. It should be noted, in passing, that this bid for legitimacy has been abetted by the U.S., which has been pressuring the Egyptian regime to talk to all opposition forces, including “the non-secular” ones.

Third, the Egyptian uprising is also doomed to failure for economic and practical reasons, because it is impossible for a population of 80 million to maintain a revolution that brings life to a standstill for any substantial period of time.

The Expected Achievements of the Initial Phase of Uprising

Though doomed to fail in achieving its declared goals (the ousting of Mubarak and the removal of the regime), the initial phase of the uprising will not be without achievements. It is already evident that Egypt will enjoy more freedom of information and demonstration, and there may even be constitutional amendments and a partial repealing of the long-standing emergency law. Future elections will yield greater representation for the opposition in parliament. President Hosni Mubarak will not run again – in fact, he may even step down before the last day of his present term in office – and will not be able to pass the presidency to his son Gamal.

All these changes notwithstanding, one constant will remain: the hegemony of the military elite. Those who might be called the true sons of Mubarak – Omar Suleiman, Ahmad Shafiq, Sami Anan, Hussein Tantawi, and many other generals representing the military establishment – will remain in power and will retain their grip over Egypt and its resources. The failure of the revolution is bound to lead to violent outbursts on the part of the frustrated protestors, but the military establishment will find the means to deal with all its civilian rivals – by democratic, or less-than-democratic, means. Until the next uprising.

* Y. Carmon is the President of MEMRI; T. Kuper and H. Migron are research fellows at MEMRI.

Endnote:

[1] As a matter of fact, one might say that the first round of uprising in the Middle East was not the current wave of protests but rather the Palestinian intifadas against the Israeli occupation, in 1988 and 2000. In these intifadas, apart from the terror attacks by the armed Palestinian organizations, there was massive participation of the people in resistance against the Israeli military. Though this was a struggle for national liberation (rather than a struggle among sectors within a single nation), one could nevertheless term it a struggle for hegemony and resources against the Israeli ruling power. The intifadas forced Israel to make certain political concessions, yet Israel remained the hegemonic power.

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