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Egypt: Riots But No Revolution — For Now

Egypt so far is one of the Arab countries where the Arab Spring has not led to a revolution; the Mubarak family is gone but Scaf, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, lives on.  Scaf is what Turks would call Egypt’s “deep state” institution, the structure behind the structures of the state, and the armed forces have been the real power behind the throne for the last sixty years.

The latest groups of protesters in Tahrir Square would like to change that.  Already worried by signs that the military was digging in to hold long term power, the protesters were enraged by the widespread violence deployed against them in the last three days.

According to the NYT, the military is now seen as the enemy by many of those who are active in Egyptian political protest:

Egyptian troops had been heralded as saviors when their generals ushered out President Mubarak on Feb. 11, but on Sunday they led a new push to clear [Tahrir Square], and the Health Ministry said Monday that at least 23 people had been killed. Since Saturday, more than 1,500 people had been wounded, the ministry said.

That protesters are clashing with soldiers does not, in itself, spell “revolution”. Clashing with civilians—and goading competing factions of civilians to clash with one another—is one of the tactics that the military has used to maintain the status quo for years. But murmurings and backroom deals suggest the army’s top brass is aware that its power might be imperiled if it doesn’t compromise:

Many have urged the adoption of some sort of ground rules protecting Western-style civil liberties before a potential Islamist majority of the Parliament might dominate the constitutional convention. The military acted on those suggestions to present the liberals with a kind of devil’s bargain: a declaration that would have protected individual and minority rights, but also granted the military permanent political powers and immunity from scrutiny as the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy.”

Egyptians seem confused about where their country is headed, and a foreign blogger sitting thousands of miles away isn’t going to unravel all the mysteries of Egypt’s future.  But a few things do seem clear in the general chaos:

  • The economy is in trouble and nobody knows how to fix it.
  • The corrupt nexus between political, military and economic power remains a driving force in Egyptian society.
  • At the end of the day most Copts are more worried about the Islamists than about the military.
  • The political parties seem to be haggling with the military over terms rather than digging in for an all out fight for power.
  • There are no signs that the military is losing its hold over the troops or that the broad masses of the population are ready for a revolution against Scaf.

Put all that together and this does not look like a revolutionary moment, but economic privation and street violence introduce a wild card.  Interesting times.

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  • Donna Robinson Divine

    One slight addition to your analysis. The Muslim Brethren sponsored the original Friday protest supported by a small number of those affiliated with the more liberal protesters. When a small number decided to remain in Tahrir to continue the protest, the security police tried to remove them firing live ammunition–thought they denied it [but people arrived at hospitals with bullet wounds]. By Sunday, more people arrived to protest the police and army violence. Long before that, the Brethren withdraw–having set in motion the events but not wanting to lose sight of their campaign for parliamentary elections set to begin on November 28. The violence seems to have sparked more protests, the resignation of the temporary government, and more widespread calls for suspending the campaigns and replacing them with a general strike. There are also calls for some sort of national unity government to supervise the elections.

  • Luke Lea

    “Mr Wang said “some structural problems” exist in the country’s financial industry and Beijing needed to make monetary policy more “forward-looking, targeted and flexible”.

    One problem they won’t have is a lender of last resort. I understand state banks are instructed to just print up the money necessary to cover any runs that take place.

    The same sources indicated that most deposits had been wasted on state-mandated uber-projects — freeways, airports, bullet trains, Olympic stadiums, whole new cities designed to house millions — which have no chance of generating the revenues necessary to pay back the loans by which they were financed.

    If true, China’s new industrial middle-class, whose deposits we are mostly talking about here, will get shafted. To say nothing of the inflation that seems likely to follow.

  • Ira

    There is only one way to understand what is going on in Egypt and it shocks me that I have not seen it mentioned yet. The “Cairo Trilogy” by Egypt’s Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Naguib Mahfouz explains exactly what is going on. This is the Egyptian tragedy of its confrontation with modernity. Read the trilogy and you will be enlightened.

  • WigWag

    “There is only one way to understand what is going on in Egypt and it shocks me that I have not seen it mentioned yet. The “Cairo Trilogy” by Egypt’s Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Naguib Mahfouz explains exactly what is going on. This is the Egyptian tragedy of its confrontation with modernity. Read the trilogy and you will be enlightened.” (Ira @ November 22, 2011 at 7:27 am)

    I can’t help but wonder what Mahfouz would think about what’s happening in Egypt today. As cheered as he would have been about the “Arab Spring” I think he would have known in his heart of hearts that it would end in misery. Already it is obvious that the Egyptian liberals are a spent force that will be overwhelmed by Islamist elements in Egyptian society.

    Although he was raised as a devout Muslim, Mahfouz was actually named after a renowned Coptic physician who delivered him. In the late 19th century when he was born, the relationship between Coptic and Islamic Egyptians was nowhere near as troubled as it is now. I have a strong suspicion that the future of the Copts in Egypt is in great peril and that before too long we are likely to see a mass emigration. I truly hope that the United States is foresightful enough to offer sanctuary to the Copts. Very close to where Professor Mead lives in Queens, on Steinway Street in Astoria, there is a large Egyptian neighborhood that would gladly welcome Copts who flee Egypt.

    Mahfouz survived an assassination attempt by Egyptian Islamic extremists. It is sad to think that these same extremists wearing the modestly less intolerant garb of the Muslim Brotherhood will end up as the new power brokers of an increasing impoverished and intolerant Egypt.

    It won’t be long before liberals like Mahfouz will be even less safe in Egypt than he was.

    Speaking of Egypt Professor Mead says,

    “The economy is in trouble and nobody knows how to fix it.”

    Actually, I don’t think that’s true. The Egyptian economy is in trouble but it’s not that no one knows how to fix it, it’s that no one is willing to take the steps necessary to fix it.

    What a different society Egypt would be if it embraced liberal democracy, forged a real peace with Israel that included a vibrant economic relationship, accepted pluralism and reduced military expenditures. This is the type of Egyptian society that Mahfouz would have been proud of.

    Instead Egypt, like most of the Islamic world, chooses to meander down a path that leads to perdition.

    Egypt is a nation that imports a very large percentage of its caloric intake, yet it is hemorrhaging foreign reserves. How long will it be before Egypt becomes Somalia on the Nile?

    My guess is that from his perch in heaven, Naguib Mahfouz is weeping. But Mahfouz was an existentialist so the absurdity of what’s happening in Egypt probably wouldn’t have surprised him at all.

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