Over the last three years, many analysts and journalists have written the obituary of the Egyptian Revolution. Many did it after the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the presidential elections. Some others had already done it even before that. I always deemed these conclusions as premature. However, I am now ready to call the end. At least if we define “revolution” as a period of radical and sudden change. This is why I feel more pessimistic now:
-Sissi is no Mubarak: At the end of his presidency, Hosni Mubarak’s popularity was dismal. While thousands of people occupied Tahrir demanding his fall, the regime did not have enough energy to organize any counter-demonstration, as for instance, Bashar al-Assad did at the start of the Syrian rebellion. Unlike Mubarak, Abdelfattah al-Sissi, most probably the next rais, enjoys a real popularity among a large part of the Egyptian society. It does not matter whether he deserves it, or it is rather the result of a personality cult built by the media. What it is clear to me is that, even if his popularity erodes over time, al-Sisi will keep enough popular support to mobilize thousands of supporters and contest any mass movement against his rule.
-The army, in the frontline: While Mubarak promoted his son Gamal as his successor, the center of power moved from the army to Gamal’s clique of tycoons, such as Ahmed Ezz. Or at least, this is how people perceived it. This allowed the army to further distance itself from Mubarak during the revolution, and use him as a scapegoat at the end. Nonetheless, the situation now is different. Even if al-Sissi resigns from his position in the army to become the next president, the public perception will be that the Armed Forces are in charge. And this means that the generals will not let al-Sissi fall, as they did with Mubarak. They know it would take them down too. Therefore, any challenge to his rule will be dealt with harshly, as we have seen in the last months.
-Islamist and revolutionaries, a dead alliance: The main political developments of the last three years were the result of the changing alliances between the three relevant actors in the Egyptian political landscape: the so-called “deep state”, the Islamists, and the young revolutionaries. The revolution would have never succeeded to dethrone Mubarak without the alliance of the secular activists and the Muslim Brotherhood. After the recent and acute conflicts between them, a reconstitution of the alliance seems unlikely in the coming years. Secular activists made a real effort to forget old disputes and trust the Brothers in 2011. The trust now is completely broken, and it will take a lot of time to rebuild it.
Having said all this, I believe it is still possible to bring about change in Egypt. But it will have to be through an agenda of incremental reforms rather than a revolution. Some people say that we are back to square one, that is, before 2011. I strongly disagree. The barrier of fear has been broken forever, and the level of political awareness of the Egyptian population is much higher than before. The remnants of the former regime might dream of recreating it, but sooner or later they will realize that it is impossible to put the genie of popular empowerment back into the bottle.
Despite the recent setbacks, it is not the time for revolutionaries to give up their fight, but to reassess their performance during the last three years and learn from past mistakes. They will have to adapt their strategy to a new reality. From my point of view, this means dedicating more energy to the arduous effort of building a grassroots movement, like Islamists did for more than three decades.
This also means (and I may be wrong) dropping maximalist slogans like “Down with the rule of the Field Marshall!”, while focusing on specific demands. For example, the reform of the Interior Ministry, an ambitious objectve that sit at the core of the revolt. Facing maybe the most turbulent time of its contemporary history, Egypt can’t afford the withdrawal of its idealist youth from the political scene.