The Causes Of An Egyptian Revolution

Since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, then Vice President Hosni Mubarak had been in power in the country of Egypt, and his regime was characterized by a tight grip on the government worthy to be called a dictatorship. The workings of the Egyptian government gave him the opportunity to strengthen his hold. The Egyptian Constitution assigned Mubarak the power to appoint most of the important government positions, including “one or more vice presidents, a prime minister, a cabinet” as well as 10 of 454 seats in the legislative body (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). Aside from this, Mubarak also made several amendments to strengthen presidential power (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). Due to this, despite the existence of opposition parties, power is still generally concentrated in the president.

Despite the heavy power concentration, there were several guises of democracy seen in Egypt. For instance, elections, an element of democracy (Lansford, 2007), were still present in Egypt, although several controversies regarding the legitimacy of elections were raised (Slackman, 2011; US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). In 2005, Mubarak also allowed, for the first time in history, multi-candidate elections where political parties based on race, ethnicity or religion had been banned (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010).

Although internal stability in Egypt had not been a prominent issue, as Egypt does not deal with “ethnic or religious fragmentation” as do its neighbors, the widespread corruption as well as the growing poverty rate and social inequalities ignite several opposition parties of both radical and moderate persuasions (Korany, 2005, p. 171). As an attempt “to disarm domestic protest, reduce its dependence on the outside, increase its domestic resources, and reinforce its legitimacy” (Korany, 2005, p. 171), Mubarak reduced the role of the government by increasing that of the private sector by developing their “social responsibility” (Korany, 2005, p. 171; US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). This was done by increasing the number of businessmen candidates for the legislative body who were directly involved in policy-making, as well as by increasing the number of businessmen included in official state delegations (Korany, 2005).

Economic growth was also present in Egypt, which has experienced a stable GDP growth rate of 5-7% since 2004 (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). The government has lessened tariffs, improved the transparency of the use of the national budget, continued the privatization of enterprises that were currently on hold, and enact legislation that is conducive to private sector-driven economic growth (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). However, this stable growth was impeded by “government intervention, substantial subsidies for food, housing, and energy, and bloated public sector payrolls” (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010).

Thus, in spite of the effort to legitimize his position, discontent remained in Egypt. These conditions that led to the state of poverty – 16.7% poverty headcount ratio at national poverty line (World Bank, 2011) – were blamed on the government and served as the catalyst for the Egyptian political revolution (Slackman, 2011), which according to Jack Goldstone (as cited in Foran, 2005) “have more to do with a state crisis than active opposition” (Foran, 2005, p. 8).

The demands were simple and had less to do with ideologies and more with basic things – “freedom, democracy, social justice, rule of law and economic equality” (Slackman, 2011) in a state with “a corrupt and ineffective government, dismal economic conditions, and torture at the hands of security forces” (Dehghanpisheh & Fahmy, 2011). In a model by John Foran (2005), he illustrated how social revolutions of Third World countries (such as Egypt) begin.

Revolutions are “rapid” and “fundamental” changes in the “dominant values and myths of a society in its political institutions, social structure, leadership and governmental activity and policies” (Foran, 2005, p. 6). These, according to Foran (2005), begin with dependent development Dependent development is a phenomenon usually occurring in peripheral states where core countries “impose unequal exchanges” on the peripheral countries to “make their development dependent on stronger or more economically advanced nations” (Drislane, 2002; Foran, 2005). Usually, the countries that experience dependent development are those that export raw products (Drislane, 2002). The main exports of Egypt, an agricultural country, consist of “petroleum, clothing and textiles, cotton, fruits and vegetables” and some manufactured goods and the main imports include “machinery and transport equipment, petroleum products, livestock, food and beverages, paper and wood products, chemicals” (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). In other words, Egypt, exports mainly raw materials and imports finished goods, and this is typical of core-periphery relations (Viotti & Kauppi, 1993). Thus, the first step to a Third World revolution is present in Egypt.

The next factor is “repressive, exclusionary, personalist state” (Foran, 2005, p. 18). This would mean that the state represses or oppresses the lower-class, prevents or inhibits the middle-class for prospering, and hinders the upper-class from participating in politics (Foran, 2005). The great discrepancy between the social classes of Egypt satisfies the first two criteria (Slackman, 2011;US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). However, the third criterion is not satisfied as Mubarak has increased participation of businessmen in the government (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010).

The repressive state would eventually give rise to the next factor, “political culture of opposition and resistance” (Foran, 2005, p. 21). This would mean that the parties opposing the current government must be organized enough to articulate their grievances into “effective and flexible analyses capable of mobilizing their own forces and building coalitions with others” (Foran, 2005, p. 21). In Egypt, there are several principal opposition parties – Al Ghad Party, Democratic Front Party, New Wafd Party, National Progressive Unionist Grouping (Tagammau), and Nasserite Party – but none of which are able to fully challenge the ruling party, National Democratic Party (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). On the other hand, there is an eighty-three year-old strong albeit illegal (religion-based political parties are illegal in Egypt) political party called the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the members do not explicitly identify themselves with the group, individual members take up 88 of the 454 seats in the legislative assembly, thus making them the largest and most influential opposition group in Egypt (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010). This political culture of opposition, though, is not as complicated as those of neighboring countries as there are little to no clashes of ethnic or religious nature (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010).

Given the three aforementioned factors, the revolution is often ignited by these two succeeding factors: “economic downturn” and “world-systemic opening” (Foran, 2005, p. 18). Economic downturn in Egypt happened alongside the global economic crisis where Egypt’s GDP growth rate went from 7% to 5% after 2008 (US Bureau of Public Affairs, 2010), although this is not as significant.

On the other hand, world-systemic opening happens when there is a disruption of the status quo – be it in the form of “distraction in the core economies by world war or depression, rivalries between one or more core powers, mixed messages sent to Third World dictators, or a divided foreign policy when faced with an insurrection” (Foran, 2005, p. 23). This factor came in the form of what is slowly becoming known as the “Tunisia effect”. The “Tunisia effect” is the chain of revolutions which began when the people of Tunisia came together to form a revolution, thus successfully ousting the dictator for twenty-three years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, last January 2011 (BBC, 2011). The “Tunisia effect” brought about internal instability in the dictator-laden region (Dehghanpisheh & Fahmy, 2011) as it served as an example to attest the fact that dictators can be brought down.

As with several countries in the region – e.g., Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, etc – Egypt was also beckoned to start a revolution, and they chose the country’s “Police day” to protest cruelties done by security forces, among other things (Dehghanpisheh & Fahmy, 2011). By means of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the protest was able to garner thousands of participants in the protest (Dehghanpisheh & Fahmy, 2011). After eighteen days of protest, president for thirty years Hosni Mubarak resigned from his post last February 2011 (CBS News, 2011). This resignation has brought about several effects to both Egypt and the region.

First of all, elements of democracy have slowly been surfacing in the country. For instance, last March 19, Egypt held its first free and fair elections, the most basic determinant of democracy (Lansford, 2007) where millions of citizens voted to approve nine constitutional amendments, the contents of which are fairly democratic in nature as well (The New York Times, 2011). The constitutional amendments include imposing a strict limit to the presidential term to two four-year terms, limiting his power to declare a state of emergency, and making it easier for independent candidates and candidates from other parties to run in the elections (The New York Times, 2011). Unfortunately, the process was “flawed” because the amendments were written “by a panel appointed by the secretive ruling military council and rushed to a vote” (The New York Times, 2011). The deeply-set Muslim traditions in Egypt will also hinder it from fully embracing the almost contradictory (Murden, 2001) “liberal democratic ethos” (Inbar, 2011).

Although the revolution proved to be successful in some aspects, Egypt is now faced with the predicament accompanying the loss a politically strong leader in whom power has been heavily concentrated for several decades. During his thirty-year rule, Mubarak made sure that he had almost the entire government under his control, thus the people left behind have weak political holds in comparison. Mubarak’s resignation left Omar Suleiman in power, a Mubarak appointee, who has minimal public support as he is seen as a leftover from the last regime (BBC, 2011b).

The only two parties capable of filling the power vacuum as Mubarak falls from power are either the Muslim Brotherhood or the military (Hardaway, 2011). At present, a military junta has taken control over Egypt with their $1.3 billion (from US aid) worth of equipment to be used for protest-suppression (Hardaway, 2011). Although the military participated in promoting civil governance, it likewise created plans to limit it as well (The New York Times, 2011).

Regionally, the Egyptian uprising also has its repercussions. Egypt has a strategic geopolitical location – it is the “meeting point of Europe, Asia and Africa” in addition to its two ocean coastlines (Weir, 1988). Egypt, the most important American ally in the region, has served as one of the stabilizing states in the region. It has maintained good diplomatic relations with Israel since Camp David I in September 1978 (Snow, 2003; Weir, 1988). The Egyptian government has long been the Arab world’s “largest and most infuential country” (p.28), so much so that it was able to influence the rest of the Arab world into recognizing the state of Israel (Ross, 2004).

One of those who will benefit from the internal instability of Egypt is Islamic Republic of Iran, a country considered to be a rogue state and who sees Egypt as its competitor for regional hegemony (Inbar, 2011). Due to its weakened internal power, Egypt will not be able to exert much effort into controlling Iran’s nuclear technology (Inbar, 2011). Several radical Islamic organizations, often mislabeled by Western media as “moderate Islam”, will also benefit from the revolution (Inbar, 2011). For instance, aside from the Turkish AK Parti (AKP) who has allied itself with Middle East radicalists, the Muslim Brotherhood – the other only realistic option to takeover Egypt after Mubarak’s resignation – is given a greater chance at establishing an Islamic republic in Egypt (Inbar, 2011). Egypt’s fall, as well as the witnessed “desertion” of Mubarak by America, might also pressure other countries to give in to Iran (Inbar, 2011). It might also rouse the peoples into starting revolutions in their own countries, as what had happened with the “Tunisia effect”, thus worsening the stability in the region (Inbar, 2011).

The revolution in Egypt was an event waiting to happen, as many of the factors of a Third World revolution had been satisfied long before this year. What Egypt needed was a pushing force or a glimmer of hope that its uprising might result in success. However, although Egypt was able to get what it had hoped and fought for – the resignation of Mubarak – several effects, seen or unseen, are yet to be dealt with. In any case, the completion revolution of Egypt still remains to be seen.