The Mubarak regime was the most stable of the four military regimes that have ruled Egypt in recent times. The regime witnessed no violent demonstrations thanks to the iron grip that Mubarak maintained for 30 years. He surrounded himself with an elite of political, economic and media veterans to keep him in power. Moreover, the Egyptians had been exposed to the cultures and conditions of other nations. Political discourse was limited to the elites and senior officials of state institutions, while the public had newspaper headlines and glossy media bubbles that contained their pent-up anger and anesthetised the worst effects of the regime.
During Mubarak’s era, political domination was complete, including preparations for his son to inherit the presidency. Of course, parliamentary elections were rigged, so responding to the revolution’s demands was the decision of the elite.
During the 25 January 2011 revolution, Mubarak warned that chaos would result if the people did not back down, and the people did not realise the magnitude of the danger ahead of them. He gave them two options, neither of them good: go down the path of regret, which would push the rebellion backwards and renew the subordination of the people; or take the path of no return, where the post-Mubarak future would be unknown.
So, 25 January paved the way for three simultaneous intersectional coups: the military coup against Mubarak; the modernisation movement coup within the army against its “third party” leaders; and the renewal movement coup within the Muslim Brotherhood. Old political and military figures led the three coups through younger figures to achieve their dream of leading Egypt.
Due to the success of the first coup, the Brotherhood made the decision to put the brakes on the other two while trying to keep them on track as much as possible. This was done by insisting on peaceful demonstrations in the public squares, as well as a policy of reform which other opposition groups believed was a betrayal of the revolution.
The movement tried to block the second coup within the military, but it failed, and in 2013 in the face of a global plan that even the deeply rooted, 30-year-old Mubarak regime could not deter, the Brotherhood’s elected president was overthrown by another military coup.
Despite what Egypt witnessed during the two years between the 2011 revolution and the 30 June 2013 coup led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi — prisons were stormed and inmates escaped; there were massive demonstrations and protests — the plunge into the depths of despair and chaos did not actually come about until Sisi took power. It has been downhill ever since.
This same individual claimed that he protected Egypt from the fate of Syria and Iraq, and that he was the one who persevered and killed the flames of a civil war when, on the popular Day of Rage, his security forces clashed with popular protesters; when he asked the people to give him a mandate to confront “terrorism”; and then when he carried out the two worst massacres in the history of Egypt. When he failed to crush the spirit of the people, he resorted to organised chaos to destroy Egyptian society and the country’s economy, taking Egypt down to the level of Syria and Iraq, but without a war.
There is no tangible difference between what has happened to Egypt and what happens to any country decimated by war. Egypt has lost its share of Nile water, some natural gas fields and two strategic islands; its property assets have been offered for sale, rent and investment. Economic conferences are held in “the mother of the world” using the same language as the conferences for the reconstruction of countries destroyed by armed conflict. Egypt has become a beggar, sitting with bowl in hand on the doorstep of the International Monetary Fund, making all possible and impossible concessions. It borrowed without thought until its economic savvy was lost, and allowed foreign interference in its internal affairs.
Egypt has reaped what Al-Sisi has sown. We have seen Egyptian citizens fighting alongside army vehicles in order to obtain some humanitarian aid; joining illegal migration groups; taking their skills overseas; killing themselves; being displaced; and, increasingly, being involved in crime. The regime has extended the state of emergency and legalised arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, imprisonment, executions and arrests based on alleged intentions, suspicion and slander. Senior army officers control the economy and benefit hugely as a result, while troops have been deployed all over the country.
The reins of regional leadership have been lost, as has Egypt’s pioneering role in science and politics; it is a political lightweight now. Even tourists have been deterred from visiting, and countries that do not possess a tenth of its heritage sites and artefacts have pulled the tourism rug from under its feet. Corruption is rife, from top to bottom.
Seventy years of military rule have made Egypt lose its identity; it is neither an agricultural land nor a manufacturing base. It is a semi-state ruled by a pseudo-president who presented a quasi-electoral platform and the semi-conscious citizens accepted him. Egyptians are living a nightmarish life, with basic services such as education and health nowhere near what they could and should be. They are held in a comatose state by a compliant media and have bread on the table — just — but their hearts are genuinely sad.
The feelings that accompany political setbacks have overwhelmed Egyptian life. The 12th anniversary of the revolution has passed, and we are all quite sure that Egypt has mirrored the fate of Syria, Iraq and perhaps even Palestine.
Egypt suffered a major setback for the first time in 1967 when its air force was destroyed on the ground by Israel and Sinai was lost. It suffered a second major setback in 2013 when its revolution was destroyed on the ground and the country was lost.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.