Pitfalls in Tahrir Square: Why the Egyptian Revolution Stumbled

In a book published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Pitfalls in Tahrir Square: Why the Egyptian Revolution Stumbled, Author Abdel-Fattah Mady examines the faltering track of the January 25, 2011 revolution in Egypt, considered as an episode of the modern history of the Egyptian people’s extended struggle for change in unfavorable regional and international contexts, one directed by internal and external actors with different convictions and interests.

The book aims to understand the major transformations occurring over the course of the revolution, exploring a number of pivotal issues, such as the role played in the revolution by elites and a group of army generals, the external factor and democracy in the Egyptian context, and issues of identity and change in Egypt.

Precursors of the Revolution

In the first chapter, "The precursors of the January 25 Revolution," the author spotlights the political and economic legacy of the Mubarak period, clarifying how the Mubarak regime closed down avenues of gradual political reform and corrupted political life for long decades, which led to his and the ruling party’s overthrow by means of popular demonstrations. He also demonstrates how broad segments of Egyptians revolted against the regime, and explains the roles played by youth protest groups and social and labor movements in mobilizing the street against Mubarak, along with roles played by the social and mainstream media, the National Association for Change, and the April 6 Movement.

In the second chapter, “The Outbreak of the Revolution and the Response of the Regime,” the author tracks the eruption of the revolution and Mubarak’s initial reaction, stubbornly downplaying the popular movement against him – the country’s executive authority – followed by his use of threatening and intimidating speeches and brutal repressive force against demonstrators, and ending up with attempts to cling to power and the commencement of military action.

Transitions of the Revolution

“Transitions of the Egyptian Revolution,” the third chapter, is concerned with electoral and democratic transformations of the January revolution, examining the way in which the main political actors managed the transitional phase after the overthrow of Mubarak (12 February 2011 - 30 June 2013), focusing on the seclusion of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in administering the state, the adoption of a road map based more on partisan electoral rivalry than on achieving consensus, and the behavior of traditional political forces dominating the political scene – and noting the absence of dialogue and overall harmony. The author additionally examines the transformation of the January revolution from an "elected" to a "counter" entity, as the generals of the Military Council blocked democratic transition and mounted a counter-revolution discarding the limited democratic gains made by the January revolution, to launch a zero-sum conflict with any forces that did not fall in line with the system. This chapter demonstrates how elite choices were expressions either of erroneous convictions and misguided understanding, or of fossilized ideological precepts, narrow interests or ill-conceived guidance offered by various parties – or a mixture of thereof.

Constitutional Experiments

In the fourth chapter, “Attempts at National Dialogue,” the author's interest focuses on the attempts at dialogue that took place in different stages. He begins with the process of dialogue that the Muslim Brotherhood began months before the revolution, and which continued through the first months of the revolution, culminating in what was called the Democratic Alliance Document. The author also reviews the discourses of the ruling military council leading to the "Vermont" meeting and the election of President Mohamed Morsi, in addition to the latter’s conversations, and several initiatives that were launched after June 30, 2013.

In the fifth chapter, “The Constitutional Experience after the Revolution,” the author presents the constitutional documents that appeared during the junta period when the country witnessed: a constitutional declaration on February 13, 2011; then constitutional amendments related to 9 articles of the 1971 constitution; then another constitutional declaration in March 30, 2011; then two Constitutional Declarations (on September 25 and November 19, 2011) amending the March 30 Declaration; then a complementary Constitutional Proclamation on June 17, 2012. The author additionally presents constitutional documents that appeared in the Morsi period, as when, on August 12, 2012, Egypt learned of a new constitutional declaration (repealing the constitutional declaration Issued on June 17, 2012); the Constitutional Declaration of November 21, 2012; and the Constitution of 2012. Finally, the author introduces the constitutional documents that appeared after June 30, 2013, in which the country witnessed the July 3 July 2013 communique of the armed forces and two constitutional declarations (July 5 and 7, 2013), and the constitution of 2014.

Internal generals and external factors

In the sixth chapter, “Army generals and the people's revolutions,” the author examines the relationship a group of army generals controlling the military establishment had with the January revolution. He draws on comparative cases from outside the Arab world to clarify the reasons underlying the military’s seizure of power, the nature of the military’s rule, and the way in which it relinquished power. Concisely presenting the Egyptian case, he starts with the roots of the military generals’ intervention taking over rule of the country, then considers the development of their political and economic roles, turning finally to examine the fallacies promulgated after June 30, 2013 by the media regarding the role of the army. He ends by observing the dangers arising from an exclusionary police state regime, not only for political life and the revolution but for the military establishment itself and broader Arab national security as well.

In the seventh and final chapter, “External Factors and the Egyptian Revolution,” the author addresses roles played by international and regional actors in the trajectory of the Egyptian revolution, addressing the stands of Western powers on democracy in Arab countries prior to the 2011 revolutions, and the positions taken by the United States of America, Europe and Russia with regard to the Egyptian revolution, as well as the support given by regional powers to the regime post-June 30, 2013. Concluding, he assesses the impact of the discourse of the “war on terror” and its strategies on the outcome of the revolution.

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