Egypt’s Protracted Revolution
Egypt’s revolution did not end on February 11, 2011. Despite the removal of Hosni Mubarak from the presi- dency, the former Mubarak regime remains entrenched in Egypt’s economic and political system. This is evident from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) June 2012 power grab of legislative authority after dissolving parliament — a move many consider to have been a virtual military coup d’etat. Skeptics argue SCAF is merely a Mubarak holdover until the old regime can reinvent itself under a new guise.
Former Prime Minister and Mubarak confidant Ahmed Shafiq’s near win against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in the presidential elections may be proof of this. A Shafiq presidency would have instantly nullified gains made through the last eighteen months of protests, sacrifices, and deaths by millions of Egyptians.
But today, even with a Morsi victory, one is hard-pressed to find significant changes to Egypt’s political landscape. From the military-run executive branch to senior officials in the national security regime, Mubarak’s men still call the shots. Senior judicial appointments to Egypt’s high courts are suspected of rulings that are inappropriately lenient toward former cabinet members.
And despite a legitimate parliamentary election process, the military seized back legislative authority after the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved parliament. Meanwhile, legal challenges to the military’s flagrant power grab are quickly dismissed by a judiciary that is increasingly perceived as partial to the military.
The now-dissolved parliament — dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi’s Nour party — once served as the sole bulwark against other sections of the military-controlled government. But it proved to be a rambunctious, disheveled, and ineffective bunch, and the few bills it managed to pass could not become law without SCAF’s approval. Even if a bill became law, implementation was an enormous hurdle because enforcement has always been a major impediment to establishing rule of law in Egypt. So long as holdover Mubarak officials controlled the bureaucracy and security forces, the few reform laws promulgated were as valueless as the paper on which they were written.
Although the current political landscape differs from the days preceding the January 25 revolution, Egypt appears to suffer from a familiar syndrome: for every step taken towards meaningful reform, it falls back two steps due to entrenched counterrevolutionary forces. This began the moment the military took control of the executive branch on February 11, 2011 only to unilaterally replace the 1971 constitution with its own interim Constitutional Declaration on March 30, 2011. This dubious document unilaterally imposed by SCAF barely holds Egypt together as the country faces one legal crisis after another.
Even when parliament existed, the Constitutional Declaration did not clarify parliament’s governing authority viz-a-viz the executive branch. Article 141 of the provisional constitution grants the President the power to appoint the Prime Minister from within the ranks of the political party holding the most parliamentary seats. However, this article also allows the President to sack the Prime Minister from office without parliament’s approval.
Article 76 of the Interim Constitutional Declaration does not permit appeals of rulings by the presidential elections commission on election disputes, jeopardizing the legitimacy of the presidential elections as those alleging fraud and voting irregularities are denied a neutral and impartial review. Just as problematic is the SCAF’s removal of the 64-member parliamentary quota for women, thereby decreasing female representation in the People’s Assembly from twelve percent (64 members) to less than two percent (12 members, three of which were appointed by the SCAF). Finally, the same police and internal security forces that abused tens of thousands of Egyptians during the revolution remain intact eighteen months later.
These legal shortcomings, among others, contribute to a continued sense of instability among a majority of Egyptians. Ironically, it is the same instability initiated by remnants of the Mubarak regime that bootstraps them back into political office. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq’s victory in the first round of the presidential elections was due to a populace disappointed in the revolutionaries who they deemed incapable of delivering the goals of the revolution — stability, dignity, and prosperity.
Indeed, Shafiq’s campaign motto promised to bring back the stability that allegedly self-indulgent and rabble-rousing revolutionaries eliminated at the expense of ordinary Egyptians. In addition, Shafiq’s viability as a candidate was a result of the quick remobilization of the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) leadership. The NDP had lay tactically dormant in the first twelve months of the revolution only to later re-emerge and prove correct fears the Mubarak-era political apparatus is far from eliminated. Thus, whatever progress achieved by reformers since Mubarak’s overthrow is quickly being undermined by counter-revolutionaries and the military.
Against this political backdrop, this essay argues Egypt is still in the midst of a revolution and has yet to enter the post-revolutionary phase of nation-building. The essay starts by providing a brief summary of the political context of the post-Mubarak transition. Central to understanding the context is identifying the key political actors and their roles in the ongoing struggle to reshape Egypt’s political landscape. Finally, this essay highlights the importance of the rule of law to steer Egypt through an inevitably turbulent phase at this historic juncture.
In many ways, the heated contestation for power is a healthy indicator of Egyptians’ investment in their nation in stark contrast to the pre-revolution sense of hopeless complacency. But such contestations can be politically debilitating if they are not constrained by laws that ensure a fair and level playing field among the various political actors, allow the citizenry to hold elected officials accountable for failing to improve the economy, and guarantee no one — not even a President, as evidenced by the recent criminal trial of Mubarak — is above the law. Without rule of law, however, the citizenry will again disengage from the political system as it discovers its votes and voices are irrelevant to the broader power struggle between the military and Muslim Brotherhood.
In perspective, Egypt’s experience could have turned out much worse compared to other nations undergoing revolutions (see: Syria). However, that alone does not curtail Egyptians’ well-grounded demands of a government at the service of the people and not the other way around. Until leaders who are entirely separate from the former regime and its entrenched interests are elected, the people will not see the goals of the revolution realized.
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This article was published by American University School of Law Human Rights Brief.
Sahar Aziz is an Associate Professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law. Professor Aziz serves as the president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association (www.earla.org) where she works on rule of law projects in support of Egypt’s post-revolution transitions to democracy. She thanks Cedric Moon for his diligent research assistance towards the completion of this article.