Democracy in Egypt. Is it an illusion of the mind? Or is it a tangible reality? These are but a few of the questions that I keep asking myself. What will it take for Egypt to make this change?
What type of upheavals would actually lead us to a successful democracy? Or are there certain things that help prepare a country for the change to democracy? In 1966, Barrington Moore, Jr. published “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.” It was a comprehensive study of several of the major revolutions that had occurred up until that point, including the American Civil War, the English Civil War, and the French, Russian, and Indian Revolutions, as well as several others.
I find some of Moore’s analysis very relevant to Egypt’s current situation, and yet some quite distant. Many of these revolutions occurred in the 1800’s and a few in the early 1900’s, and although I may be stating the obvious here, the historical context back then was much different than where we are now in the 21st century. As a result of different historical contexts, some of Moore’s discussion may be slightly antiquated. Many of the countries at the time of their revolution were still functioning on the feudal system and so, as a result, Moore’s focus was very economically based. Economics, no doubt, played a very important role in the Egyptian revolution, especially when Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire. This method of revolt inspired many around the Middle East and it spread to Egypt. Many reports of self-immolation were heard of throughout the country, many of which were for economic reasons. However, I want to point out that the Egyptian revolution was not only because of economic disparity. It was Khaled Said and the many reports of police brutality and other political injustices that helped instigate our revolution.
Note: The following discussion about Egypt is only from the perspective of the last 30 or so years.
In his book, Moore lays out five pre-conditions that a country displays that help prepare them for a democratic revolution. These pre-conditions, although based off of past revolutions, help us put some of the political and economical issues in Egypt into focus.
1) The development of a balance to avoid too strong a crown or too independent a landed aristocracy.
Let’s start out by defining our terms. The crown would clearly be what used to be our president or as we now call him, our ex-dictator. The landed aristocracy would be his cronies, the wealthy businessmen in this country, and the dirty politicians. One obvious reality in Egypt is that the power was concentrated in the crown and the aristocracy and everything circled around the centralized government. Moore states that it is a balance between the crown’s power and the degree of independence the landed aristocracy has that will be a decisive precondition (p. 417). This balance between the crown and aristocracy is crucial to direct a country to democracy. It means that the power is not concentrated in one area of society and enabling a smoother transition to democracy.
Now, the degree to which our Egyptian aristocracy had independence from Mubarak is questionable. They directly benefited from their connection to him and in fact, we may be able to argue that they did not even want independence. As a result, the whole gang is now in prison and every major project, company, institution in Egypt is now under investigation for corruption. I can comfortably say that this precondition is not met in Egypt.
2) A turn toward an appropriate form of commercial agriculture.
We may ask what brings agriculture into our story, but the connection is clear when we look at the population of peasants, falahin (farmers), and the masses of poor that we have in Upper Egypt, the Nile Delta, and even the major cities. The agricultural development in Egypt has been complicated, just as much as our industrialization has been. There has been a growing clash of two cultures here in Egypt, that of modernity and that of non-development. On one hand we can argue that while there has been a change toward commercial agriculture and a capitalistic form of an economy, we still see brutal control by our central government. This control and monopoly has suffocated the poor and the falahin, and has even gone further to crush the middle class, or as Moore calls them, the town people or bourgeois. Again, on this point, I believe that Egypt does not meet this pre-condition.
3) & 4) The weakening of the landed aristocracy and the prevention of an aristocratic-bourgeois coalition against the peasants and workers.
Let’s break this down. The third pre-condition is unmet. We can argue that the aristocracy has been weakened by their need and desire for power. However, its visible weakening was only after (not before) our recent upheaval starting January 25. We can safely say that had we not overthrown Mubarak and the regime (an effort which is still in process), the aristocracy in Egypt would not have ever taken such a hard fall (although how hard is still yet to be seen). All of this does not really qualify as a pre-condition since it occurred after the start of the uprising.
The fourth pre-condition is, however, met to a certain degree here in Egypt. The aristocratic greed for money and power is a leading factor to the prevention of a coalition between themselves and the bourgeois (middle class). It is common to hear about the growing rift between the wealthy and the poor, and as a result it is easy to forget about the masses that fall into the middle class in Egypt. This middle class does what it can to survive, sometimes quite successfully. Some of them would want a coalition with the aristocrats and yet this phenomenon has not really happened. I won’t try to elaborate more on this point as it is way out of my realm, but it is clear that no coalition between Egyptian aristocrats and bourgeois has ever developed.
5) A revolutionary break with the past.
This is the second pre-condition that one can argue that we have met. The small uprisings and protests over the years which cumulated in the 18 days of uprising against Mubarak are often called a revolution and one that was successful. However, I will beg to differ and say that this precondition has also not been met. A revolution by definition is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system” (Oxford American Dictionaries, pt. 8). However, we have only overthrown a person and some of his gang members, not a system or government, yet. It is too early to know for sure what the outcome will be, but up until now no real and thorough revolution has occurred.
Have we taken the traditional route towards a democracy as laid out by Moore? No, we haven’t; we have only clearly met one of the pre-conditions. The obstacles ahead of us are big and complex and we have only begun to scratch the surface of corruption in Egypt. You may refer to one of my previous posts to read about one hurdle we must jump, being the most established institution in Egypt, the Armed Forces. Now, although I may not be calling the military the ‘counter-revolution,’ I am saying that our responsibility is to remind them of the goals of the revolution, and it is their responsibility to lead us there. As Thomas Friedman wrote on April 12, 2011 in The New York Times, “From here forward, we have to hope for “Arab evolutions” or we’re going to get Arab civil wars.” This may be the path we are heading down currently: an evolution of an old system by new leaders.
Another obstacle is our economy. As I said in the beginning of this post, economics was not the only driving factor in our revolution. I believe that political corruption, injustice, criminal acts by the government, and Tunisia were the match to the flame of our revolution. However, the whole movement quickly turned into an economic revolution when the vast majority of protestors joined in hope of a brighter economic future.
This leads us to yet another obstacle, and maybe our greatest one yet, fracture. Once Mubarak was ousted, people started focusing in on their individual priorities: some, money and food, others, freedom and rights. Our once-unified revolution thus became fractured. Revolutionaries wanting a democratic state and freedom have become frustrated that many people are looking for financial and economic security. Those who are seeking security are feeling threatened by the revolutionary ‘hotheads’ who are insensitive and foolish.
Although this may all seem pessimistic and negative, we need to look further into what we have already accomplished.
Let me ask just a few questions. What would have happened had it not been for the brave activists who fought the system for years leading up to January 25? What would have happened had the last parliamentary elections not been so rigged and false? What if Khaled Said had not been arrested, tortured, and murdered by the State Police in 2010? What if Muhammad Bouazizi did not set himself on fire? What if Tunisia did not succeed in overthrowing Ben Ali? What if Ghonim had not been arrested and released right when he did? What if the State Police didn’t brutalize the protestors? What if the government hadn’t turned off the internet?
My point is that the very unpredictability of this whole movement is where our hope lies. It is the desire to see ourselves develop and grow into a democracy, it is a visionary approach that pushed people to demand, and it is the dreams of a young generation that continues to inspire us.