In 2011, protests in Egypt felled a military dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The mass protests of the 25 January Revolution were a rejection of the corruption and repression engendered by six decades of military rule. Two years later, and a second wave of protests have felled a very different president. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's president, was democratically elected, but had failed to live up to perhaps inflated expectations. On 30 June, crowds took to the streets to demand an early presidential election. Soon afterwards, the all-powerful army issued an ultimatum: resolve your differences or we will step in. The generals made good on their promise, and ousted Morsi in a coup on 3 July. The thousands of people who took to the streets to celebrate his demise said that this was a chance to get their democratic revolution back on track after it had been derailed by Morsi's inept and non-pluralist rule. But is that really true?
One thing is for certain – Egypt's new power apparatus looks remarkably similar to the old one. Many figures closely linked to Mubarak's reign are back in power. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the man who delivered the news that Morsi had been dismissed. He has now taken the title of deputy prime minister, as well as his existing role as commander of the armed forces. Many credit him with engineering Morsi's downfall and continuing to pull the strings behind so-called civilian rule. Of 34 members of the new cabinet, 11 were prominent in Mubarak's regime. Two were actually in his National Democratic Party, which was dissolved after the 2011 revolution. While supporters defend this fact by saying that Mubarak-era officials are the people best qualified to run the country that does not explain the comments of Amr Moussa. Foreign minister under Mubarak, Moussa has said that associates of the old regime who fled the country after the revolution should now feel safe to return.
Many Egyptians, it seems, are surprisingly happy with this rapid turnaround. Some say that a year of chaos under the Muslim Brotherhood has put things into perspective. Others, however, suspect foul play. Rumours are circulating that Sisi orchestrated the whole thing, from the wave of popular protests onwards.
Tamarod, the group that organised the initial wave of protests against Morsi's rule, would disagree. The grassroots protest movement, which takes its name from "rebel" or "revolt" in Arabic, started by gathering 22 million signatures for a petition against Morsi. This turned into the mass protests which ended with the army stepping in. The group was founded in April by members of the Egyptian Movement for Change, better known by its slogan Kefaya (Enough). Its leader Mahmoud Badr, a 28 year old activist, founded the group with two friends. In an interview with Reuters, Badr described how he was called for a meeting with Sisi on the day that the army deposed Morsi. He said this was his first contact with the military, and that he urged Sisi to call an early presidential election rather than allowing Morsi to call a referendum on whether his rule should continue. Badr claims he told Sisi: "You may be the general commander of the Egyptian army but the Egyptian people are your supreme commander, and they are immediately ordering you to side with their will and call an early presidential election."
To say that Tamarod and the popular protests it began are entirely the work of the military or secret services – as some have claimed – is a vast oversimplification that undermines and detracts from the very real dissatisfaction with Morsi's rule. However, it seems likely that the protest movement was exploited. The Reuters piece quotes one activist who said that she resigned from Tamarod three days before the giant protest because she believed that the secret police and former Mubarak supporters were infiltrating the movement. "Suddenly the faces had changed," says the anonymous woman. "Many of the people I'd worked with left, and some of the new faces I knew were felul (remnants), nostalgic for Mubarak, or justifying the work of state security."
For his part, Badr concedes that other groups may have jumped on the bandwagon, but maintains that Tamarod remained in the driving seat, and was not influenced by the security services, the military or anyone else. It would certainly be naïve to deny that there was widespread discontent with Morsi's rule, as the economy stagnated and law and order problems worsened. The signatures on the petition did not come from nowhere,
While Tamarod may have had good intentions, however, eager co-operation with the military was a high risk strategy. Within days of taking over, pro-Morsi protests were suppressed with great brutality. Scores of protesters have been killed. The new interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, recently said that disbanded departments of state security – used to monitor political and religious activity – would be reinstated. He also announced a reshuffle of the police, bringing back individuals who had been excluded.
In a speech, Badr said that this was "unacceptable" and violated the principles of the 2011 revolution. He said: "We will never accept the return of Mubarak's state security or the chasing of political activists under any name". However unwittingly, it appears he may have ushered in precisely that.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.