The undone revolution in Egypt

‘Partial revolutions are graves of nations.’

The revolution has only gone through pain but made no gain, writes Salama [AFP]

Soon after all charges were dropped against ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, protests erupted in universities, in Tahrir square and elsewhere. The verdict enraged relatives of those who died during the 18-day standoff, which began on January 25, 2011 and led to forcing Mubarak to step down. The relatives who waited outside the courthouse vowed that this verdict would spark another revolution.

So far the clashes between riot police and protesters around Tahrir have resulted in the deaths of two protestors. With that verdict, charges were dropped against Mubarak, his minister of interior, Habeeb al-Adly, and six of his aides who ruled Egypt with an iron fist. Additionally, corruption charges were dropped against Mubarak’s two sons and business tycoon Hussein Salem.

The technicalities cited by the court seemed almost farcical; the judge dropped the entire set of charges on procedural grounds. In the past, the police were seen as complicit in damaging any evidence and not properly reporting its own crimes. Furthermore, tainted testimonies were used to free Mubarak and his aides. If not a single official under Mubarak was convicted in the killing of a thousand or so protestors, then who is responsible?

Common knowledge

In Egypt, some believe that Mubarak and his ministry of interior were responsible for the killings. Gunfire can only be used under direct order, and an already brutal regime with a dismal human rights record will not suddenly turn angelic when threatened. There is plenty of footage that would easily identify the policemen who committed the killings and there are recorded testimonials by police officials who spoke of receiving direct orders that would convict the upper hierarchy. This is exactly why the verdict anguished so many.

Protests after Mubarak murder charges dropped

The verdict may perhaps be construed by cynics as the cherry on top for the military coup that took power on July 3, 2013. After all, many have now regretted joining the June 30 protests leading to the coup.

The reality is that there was no revolution in the true sense of the word. A revolution would require tossing out the previous regime and setting a new one in place or at least substantially altering the power structure to redistribute power and wealth. In Egypt, this was clearly not the case.

Mubarak stepped down, but his regime was still intact. It would be senseless to ask a regime to prosecute itself; the judiciary after all is – and always was – comprised of Mubarak’s judges.

Similarly the constitutional court that dissolved the first parliament after January 25 was also appointed by Mubarak. The security apparatus, the internal state bureaucracy, the state media, crony capitalists and the media they owned, and more importantly – as Egyptians would find out later – the military, all were unaltered after the revolution.

Collectively these forces are referred to as the “deep state” which resisted any reforms. Any partial revolution that does not realise its full potential will only revitalise the deep state in a more virulent form. A common saying after the Arab Spring was; “Partial revolutions are graves of nations”. This is true as Egypt now is in a far worse condition than it was under Mubarak.

Partial revolutions

Failing to grasp the reality of “partial revolutions” was perhaps the main reason why Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood failed. Besides the Morsi government’s perceived lack of inclusiveness with the liberal opposition, they erred in their assumption that they could govern a regime that treated them like a foreign cancerous body.

It is common to read Egyptians in social media commenting: “We are back to square one.” This is not true. Egyptians now are by far more aware of Egypt’s dysfunctional reality. It is not merely Mubarak, his cronies, and the state bureaucracy but also the military with its idealism that proved hollow. The military’s involvement in restoring or revitalising the old regime has been clear after the coup as state sponsored media denigrated the achievements of the January 25 movement, claming June 30 was the only real revolution. Moreover, old regime icons were released from prison, and made public appearances and some expelled security personnel returned to their positions.

Today in Egypt, the revolution has only gone through pain but made no gain. The blood of martyrs is unaccounted for, economic conditions are only worse, and all political factions who rallied behind the ideas of January 25 have been punished by the regime. Protests have not stopped since the coup. Mubarak’s verdict is only going to increase the number of disgruntled and they’ll push for a wider mobilisation against the regime. The verdict is already creating a wider critical mass that is shifting the equilibrium of power to less favour the regime.

Another revolutionary wave is certainly fomenting and if it realises its full potential, it certainly won’t be as tame as the January 25 attempt. As Egyptians say, “Ath-thawra mustamera” – the revolution is ongoing.

Mustafa Salama is an Egyptian political analyst, consultant and writer. He has extensive experience and an academic background in Middle East Affairs.