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Three Revolutionary Forces

Although the masses in Tahrir Square appeared unified on the day Mubarak was ousted, in actuality there were three broad groups vying for power. The first, associated with the military, took a minimalist view: the revolution was simply about removing Mubarak and his cronies from power and ensuring that his son Gamal Mubarak did not succeed him to the presidency. Given this group’s desire to preserve as much as possible of Mubarak’s order (without Mubarak), it was able to reconcile with old-regime elements. Moreover, although this first group originally lacked a distinctive ideology, it eventually adopted a nationalist, sometimes even xenophobic, posture that distinguished it from the cosmopolitanism of Islamist, liberal, and socialist revolutionaries.

According to the second group, the revolution aimed at broad reforms of the Egyptian state without uprooting it entirely. For this reformist group, the crisis stemmed from corruption. Mubarak, they argued, had undermined the state’s integrity by usurping its institutions to fulfill his and his allies’ personal and political ends. The revolution needed to reform the state’s institutions so that they would meet the formal requirements of a legal order and be accountable to the public will. Formal democracy was a crucial demand of this group because it was seen as the only way to ensure that the state would not again be hijacked in order to further the interests of a narrow group of Egyptian elites. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies belonged to this second group.

The third group, composed largely of young Egyptians, understood the revolution as an attempt to fundamentally restructure state and society. The revolution provided an opportunity to create a virtuous state. Doing so would, however, require a complete rupture with the ancien regime. This radical group had an ambivalent relationship with formal democracy. Thus, although elections were desirable, the most important goal was the substantive transformation of the state and society: “revolutionary legitimacy” trumped whatever legitimacy formal representative democracy could provide.

The degree of public support enjoyed by each of these three groups remains uncertain. No one disputes that the youth, the third group, served as the revolutionary vanguard, having planned and executed the antiregime demonstrations on January 25. The Muslim Brotherhood joined later, and the military, for obvious reasons, was the last to take up the banner.

Egypt’s most idealistic revolutionaries did not understand the implications of political liberalism. Still, one should not exclude the military from the revolutionary coalition. The protesters at Tahrir welcomed the military, which they believed to be more sympathetic to their cause than the detested police. Demonstrators treated the military as a legitimate authority.1 For example, when protesters caught agent provocateurs working for the regime, the latter were turned over to the military.

Other actions also underscored the willingness of Tahrir revolutionaries to recognize the continued legitimacy of at least some parts of the old order. For example, prominent liberal l awyers within the revolutionary camp continued to abide by the constitution that Mubarak had put in place in the waning years of his presidency. This constitution included a series of amendments, adopted in spite of gross procedural irregularities that were intended to ensure his son’s succession. During the revolution, one liberal lawyer even published an appeal to Mubarak in the Washington Post demanding that he perform the formal steps required for a legal transition.2

More restrained interpretations of the revolution continue to have strong support among Egyptians even after Mubarak’s resignation. Subsequent elections have confirmed this. In the March 19 referendum, voters favored a quick transition and rejected radicals’ appeals to complete a draft constitution before selecting a new government. In the subsequent parliamentary elections, Islamist-affiliated parties won almost 70 percent of the seats, while postrevolutionary liberal parties took only 10 percent. And in the presidential elections of 2012, with Mo- hamed ElBaradei withdrawn from the race, the liberals could not even field a candidate. The top two vote-getters in the first round, Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, were affiliated, respectively, with the minimalist and reformist camps.

Whatever else can be said about the political preferences of Egyptians as revealed by their postrevolutionary voting patterns, elections demonstrated that a successful and peaceful democratic transition would require a coalition of minimalists, reformists, and radicals. In other words, each of the three groups would have to accommodate the other two.

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