The Arab Spring denotes a series of uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The various revolutions stem from a Tunisian vendor setting himself aflame to protest the Tunisian government and the dreadful economic conditions of the state. Several other countries followed the Tunisian example and fostered street protests, peaceful and violent. Entire books have been written on the issue, its causes and results. In my experience, one of the most interesting case studies from the Arab uprisings, comes from the Egyptian example. Through research and historical examples, it is in my opinion that we have not seen the end of the Arab Spring in Egypt.
Egypt has a long history, one stemming back to ancient times. From the Pharaohs, through the Roman Empire, and under British Colonial Rule from 1882-1952. The history I would like to share begins with the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which ended the monarchical system of King Farouk, and expelled the British ‘advisers’. Ultimately, the leadership of Naguib and Nasser, using the armed forces created the Republic of Egypt. General Nasser would lead the country of Egypt from 1956-1970. Nasser ruled with an iron fist, eliminating the multi-party system, freedom of speech, and other liberties. Sadat then ruled after Nasser, employed more liberal ideals, but was assassinated by military forces for his interactions with the Israelis and other policies. President Mubarak then led in an autocratic fashion for nearly 30 years, instituting several tyrannical policies, and created a close alliance with the military. Mubarak established anti-democratic and illiberal policies, created mass corruption, and failed the people of Egypt. All of this brings our short history lesson of Egypt near the present.
The Arab Spring resulted in mass protests in Egypt, calling for the resignation of Mubarak. And in February of 2011, Mubarak turned power over to the Armed Forces of Egypt. This is the time where I must introduce the theory of the “Coup Trap.” Firstly, a coup occurs when the military forces of a state take control from the current civilian government. The coup is a relatively widespread issue, occurring across much of the world and history. A group of scholars, led by Frabrice Lehoucq, developed the “Coup Trap,” which they define as “chronic instability,” which results in the eventual and recurring toppling of “civil institutions by military regimes.” The scholars limited their scope to Latin American cases, where the coup trap runs rampant, but I believe that Egypt before and during the Arab Spring subjects itself to the coup trap as well. Importantly, the coup trap often results from military unrest and recurring coups, as Lehoucq claims that “coups breed coups,” and/or from political instability and the gridlock that results from conflicting political ideologies. Egypt demonstrates both of the key indicators of the coup trap.
Firstly, the monarchical system was overthrown by Naquib and Nasser (1952), followed by the assassination of Sadat, by leftists in the military (1981). Mubarak then handed power back to the military in 2011. After several rounds of elections, President Morsi was sworn in as head-of-state in 2012. After Morsi’s failings as leader of the Egyptian people, the military once again stepped in and removed Morsi from office, establishing the government of the military, and the complete removal of civilian legitimacy. These coups coupled with the surrounding instability in the region pushed Egypt down the slippery slope into the coup trap. The Egyptian politic fails to put forth truly representative governments, thus the people turn to protest, and the military steps into the power vacuum created by the instability.
It is critical to understand that the military has always been a strong influence on the Egyptian political system. The first 4 presidents of the Egyptian Republic were ex-military officials. It is stated that even Morsi was following a public agenda ‘approved’ by the military. The military has often been allowed free reign in the Egyptian system, and when a leader, such as Morsi attempts to fetter it, even slightly, the military steps forward and clamps down on the civilian government and deposes those who stand against its wishes. This is seen as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces completely controls the legislative and executive, and possesses some control over the ‘independent judiciary.’ Egypt remains under the control of the ‘interim government’ and the military after the fall of Morsi. Egypt will follow an illegitimate government until the upcoming civilian elections in July. The new Egyptian Constitution of 2014, which was approved by referendum, calls for a democratically elected government for Egypt.
I think this sounds great in theory, but there are several issues that Egypt has not addressed in order to escape its coup trap. Firstly, political groups, such as the Revolutionary Socialists, argue that the new constitution gives too much power to the military. Another issue is the removal of the Muslim brotherhood from the political system. The Muslim Brotherhood, under Morsi, were the most powerful political party, but the interim militaristic government declared the party illegal and a terrorist organization. In fact, the judiciary sentenced 529 members of the party to death, recently. Commentators claim that the courts have been “politicised and due process has been ignored amid a sweeping crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters since the military removed the president last summer.”
As of spring 2014, the government of Egypt is still not run by elected officials, with much of the institutions still being controlled by the “old guard,” and in the upcoming elections in July; General Al Sisi will run as the frontrunner in the elections. Were Sisi to win, it would continue the tradition of rule by the military elite in the country, thus perpetuating the laws instilled by the military coups that plague the Egyptian politic. The autocratic foundations of Egypt make the creation of a truly democratic system difficult, and is the reason why Egypt lives in the coup trap. Lehoucq states that in order to end the coup trap, the political process must be opened and political competitiveness must be allowed to reign free in the system.
Unfortunately, the Egyptian system is still not free and fair, or representative of the entire population. I find that the government that is elected from this new constitution will fail to appease large sectors of the populous. Due to this fatal flaw, I speculate that Egypt could see another civil uprising, perhaps from the Islamic sector, resulting in the military dissolving the legislation or instituting ‘emergency measures.’ Another military coup is also possible if the next leader does not represent the will of the military. The end of Lehoucq’s coup trap and the start of a stable civil government will only come when the whole of the political spectrum of Egypt is represented and the military is brought under true civil control. The Arab Spring may be quiet in the region, but I do not think we have reached a conclusion in Egypt, because of the the perils of the coup trap.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.
Angrist, Michelle. Politics and Society in the Contemporary Middle East . Colarado: Lynne Riener, 2013. Book.
Lehoucq, F. et al. “Breaking the Coup Trap.” Comparitive Politics (2013): 1-19. Web.