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Same Regime, New Leader

For many Egyptians, it was difficult to fathom having sacrificed so much only to be left with a new variation on the same authoritarian system. Not until late 2011 did most Egyptians realize the scaf’s subversion.127 They returned to the streets in the fall of 2011, calling on the scaf to go.128 But as the people’s calls for systemic reforms became louder, the scaf responded through state-sanctioned violence and the criminalization of dissent.

Unaccustomed to public criticism, the military drew a “red line” demarcating the limits on activism and reform efforts.129 Anyone caught overstepping this arbitrary line was quickly whisked away to a military court. Indeed, in its first six months in power, the scaf tried more than ten thousand civilians in military trials, thereby surpassing the number of military trials over the course of Mubarak’s entire thirty-year rule. Workers, young revolutionaries, and anyone that criticized the scaf’s Mubarak-era tactics faced prosecution in military courts, police raids, or criminal prosecution pursuant to scaf executive decrees.130 Female protesters were subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” aimed at deterring their peers from joining subsequent protests.131 The military parroted Mubarak’s rhetoric in justifying their actions under the guise of preserving national unity and preventing public discord.132

Meanwhile, with a corrupt federal labor union disinterested in representing laborers’ rights remaining in place, workers had no other venue but street pro- tests.133 Strikes continued as thousands of workers, including airport and public transport workers, ambulance drivers, and even police, joined the protests. Although Mubarak was gone, laborers had yet to see the implementation of their most sought-after demands. These included an increase in the minimum wage to make it livable, the removal of corrupt union leaders, the improvement of working conditions, and the provision of permanent contracts to temporary work- ers.134 Instead of negotiating, the scaf responded with a decree on March 23, 2011, that prohibited worker strikes that disrupted production.135 But workers were not deterred. Years of strikes in the face of a brutal and unresponsive state left them battle hardened and unafraid to protest loudly and regularly, even in the face of the scaf’s repressive tactics.

When the scaf announced in November 2011 that the presidential elections would be postponed, Egypt nearly exploded with unrest. Tahrir revolutionaries headed back to the square to salvage their revolution as the media exposed the scaf’s scheme to hold on to power. Facing the prospect of another nationwide revolt, the scaf was forced to go ahead with elections in June 2012. By then, its post-January 25 political capital had been spent. In early spring 2011, 88 percent of Egyptians believed the military played a positive role and 90 approved of General Tantawi, then chairman of the scaf.136 By October 2011, two-fifths of Egyptians believed the scaf was subverting the gains of the revolution.137

Despite the concessions, the revolution had already been hijacked by the military. While Egyptians certainly had more political space to debate, engage in political contestations, and vote in relatively free and fair elections than they had experienced in their lifetime, the military had insulated itself from the public will and enshrined its veto power over the country’s political affairs. Subsequent political leaders now have little choice but to protect the military’s interests—any significant move to the contrary would effectively be political (if not actual) suicide. Thus was the fate of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Morsi.

On its face, the election of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate to the presidency was revolutionary in Egypt. After decades of state repression, the Muslim Brotherhood won a majority in the 2012 parliamentary election and won the presidency later that year. After decades in hiding, the Muslim Brotherhood established a political party and created new television stations and newspapers. But long before Morsi occupied the presidential palace, his failure was preordained. The military, judiciary, domestic security forces, and media joined forces to prevent meaningful changes in governance, denouncing what they ominously called the “Brotherhoodization” of Egyptian society. These institutions that composed the “deep state” were intent on obstructing any attempts to alter the regime’s power structure, regardless of the proponent. In the end, it mattered little whether the challenger hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolutionary youth, the labor movement, or any other political faction or movement at odds with the deep state’s interests. Ultimately, Egypt’s centralized, authoritarian political system was so deeply entrenched that eighteen days of nonviolent protests could not possibly uproot it.

Perhaps a real revolution would have been a viable option had the first caretaker government been composed of civilian stakeholders without a vested interest in preserving the status quo. Or perhaps it was naive for Egyptians to think that the regime could be toppled without a protracted conflict between the state and the people. What is clear, however, is that the same economic, social, and political factors that contributed to the January 25 uprising still fester. And thus, the door has yet to close on the prospect of a genuine revolution in the foreseeable future.

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