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Egypt Unwrapped

Egypt’s Vicious Cycle

An Egyptian whirling dervish spins in circles. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
An Egyptian whirling dervish spins in circles. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Al-Thawra Mostamera. The Revolution Continues. This phrase, often bordering on the cliché, has been repeated like a mantra in Egypt over the past two and a half years. It serves as a comfort to revolutionaries, countering the argument of those who claim Egypt’s revolution is dead, or at least stillborn. Those who still hold on to the optimism of January 25 insist that revolutions take time, that every setback is not the end but merely the next phase of the original revolution. And they are not necessarily wrong. History tells us that revolutions are not defined by dates but by phases, and Egypt’s revolution has certainly passed through multiple phases since Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011.

Just as the revolution continues, something else has endured and evolved. No political faction or group has been immune to being accused of it, and it continues to be used to demonize opponents: the counter-revolution.

In the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s resignation, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was heralded as an integral part of the revolution because they supported the people and their demands. Fast-forward only two months into the SCAF’s tenure in government and the narrative toward the army had changed in a spectacular fashion. Following revelations of virginity tests conducted by military doctors on female protestors, military trials for civilians, and shocking scenes of brutality and murder as army tanks mercilessly attacked Egypt’s Coptic protestors at Maspero, the SCAF came to be considered the first counter-revolutionary force following Mubarak’s removal. All this occurred within a mere eight months of army conscripts and soldiers celebrating with protestors in Tahrir Square.

But they weren’t to hold onto the label for too long. In the run up to the June 2012 presidential elections, one man managed to encompass the counter-revolution all on his own: Ahmed Shafiq. Shafiq was a textbook version of a counter-revolutionary figure. As a former Mubarak lackey and a symbol of the rich elite who bottle-necked Egypt’s wealth for decades, he even managed to make the Muslim Brotherhood and their presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, appear as symbols of the continuation of the revolution. Pro-revolutionaries, liberals and Egypt’s youth, weary of the Muslim Brotherhood but holding genuine enmity toward Shafiq, voted for the latter, and the counter-revolution was seemingly dead with Shafiq defeated and boarding a flight to Abu Dhabi.

Mursi made all the right statements in his first month in office. “A president for all Egyptians,” he called himself, and he duly took advantage of the photo opportunities in Tahrir Square. Yet, just like the SCAF, his honeymoon period as a revolutionary figure would be short-lived. Revolutionary factions who voted for him in June 2012 were condemning his presidency by the autumn, and the narrative on Mursi and the Brotherhood morphed from saint to sinner, and there was no turning back.

By June 30, 2013, Egypt’s streets were once again packed, welcoming in a new phase of the revolution. But that phase would take a fast and deadly twist as the original image of the counter-revolution, the army, found itself once again buoyed by the crowds—just as they were during the uprising against Mubarak.

We all know what happened next. The democratically elected candidate, who was pitted against the counter-revolutionary Shafiq only one year ago, was arrested as the people cheered. The army, which only a year ago was demonized as being the counter-revolution, was praised and called the protector of the revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood, which enjoyed electoral success in the post-Mubarak era, has been made public enemy number one, and its followers find themselves no longer considered Egyptians, but rather “terrorists.”

Today, the army still carries the mantle as protectors of the revolution, which is largely down to their propaganda machine in the form of private and state television channels, through which it is able to offset its controversial actions by fuelling public fear of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt is back under emergency law and an evening curfew. Liberal politician Mohamed El-Baradei has resigned from the interim government and has left Egypt for Vienna. You could be forgiven for thinking it was 2011.

And in the midst of all the déjà vu, a man who was seemingly forgotten—the man who had once motivated millions of Egyptians to take to the streets in the first place through their abhorrence of him—was released from prison: Hosni Mubarak.

His release, pending trial on other charges, was largely greeted with indifference in Egypt as it made headline news around the world. It shows that even Mubarak, the embodiment of Egypt’s pre-revolutionary state, can enjoy an image change, and while it is almost a certainty he will never resurface in Egyptian politics again, it exemplifies the fluidity of Egypt’s counter-revolution.

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Ahmed Kadry
Ahmed Kadry is a PhD candidate at Imperial College London. He researches Egyptian socio-political feminist identity and discourse in the 1952 and 2011 Egyptian revolutions. He tweets @ahmedkadry.

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