Look Again: Thoughts on the Death of Egyptian Democracy


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TO THOSE WHO LOOKED at the surging crowds in Tahrir Square and saw a revolution.

Look again.

To those who think that countries can be run from the streets.

Think again.

To those who hoped that this time it would be different.

Your hope was vain.

Since the time of Ptolemy, Caesar and Marcus Antonius, Egypt has been the prize of generals.

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Since Napoleon substituted himself for the Mamluks he had just defeated at the Battle of the Pyramids, Cairo has been the playground of soldiers.

Since Nasser deposed Farouk, the crowds have cheered the men in uniform.

But adulation is not democracy.

Acclamation is not democracy.

Facebook is not democracy.

Building barricades and throwing back tear-gas canisters is not democracy.

The slow patient building of organisation in every neighbourhood, in every suburb, in every town and village.

That is democracy.

Distributing food to those who are hungry. Providing medical care to those who are sick. Visiting those who are in prison. Feeling the humiliation of poverty with the poor. Sharing the sting of repression with the repressed.

That is democracy.

Listening to the voice of the village. Hearing the message of the town. Pasting posters on the walls of the city. Driving people to the polling booths. Watching your candidates win.

That is democracy.

Now the Brotherhood’s leaders have been jailed, and its newspapers and radio and television stations have been shut down. Now the soldiers are coming to arrest you and your friends for standing in the street for Morsi, your deposed President. Now the soldiers are back.

Democracy is finished.

Killed by impatient graduates, impractical dreamers, impulsive fools who think a crowd is a movement and a slogan is a manifesto, and that democracy is about getting what you want when you want it.

And if someone says “No”, the people have entrusted us with another, different vision, then you simply go back into the Square and shout until the army sends its helicopters overhead towing the nation’s flag – and you cheer.

Because the men with guns will give you what you want when you want it.

Just as they always have.

So cheer. Set off your fireworks. Celebrate.

The death of Egyptian democracy.


  1. “But adulation is not democracy.
    Acclamation is not democracy.
    Facebook is not democracy.”

    I agree on these points you emphasize, Chris, but otherwise, please do not throw out the baby with the bath water.

    Indeed I saw this coming, the “Arab Spring” (in a range of Arab and North African countries), the former “Velvet Revolution” (in Ukraine), the mass protests in Instanbul, Brazil, the “Occupy Movement”, all these were hailed as a “game changer”, as “historic” and decisive, revolutionary event, where the base of society rose up and would establish something of a new, modern democracy.

    Glory to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media forums, some called out in admiration. The new means of communication were setting the pace, and the young generations with smart phones, mobile phones, with tablets and laptops were seeing themselves as revolutionaries with new arms.

    Yes, of course it was somehow revolutionary what happened in all those places, also some time ago in Bangkok, Thailand, and other places.

    But as you write, any change needs to be organised and establish structures, that are maintained, that are not based on quick short messaging and excitements of the moment.

    As none of the movements that led to overthrows of rulers like Mubarak in Egypt, were sufficiently prepared, apart from the Muslim Brotherhood, and them belatedly, it has failed.

    The military officers and their chosen puppets could sit back, let the people create instability, start fighting each other again, and then sweep back into power, to establish “stability” and call the new “democracy” nothing but a fig leaf label, not worth the meaning.

    People get manipulated again and again, and unless the actual true powers that maintain the systems we struggle with, nothing will change much.

    And those organisations and businesses offering the modern internet services of quick and wide reaching “connectivity”, they are themselves part of the system and establishment, harvesting the users’ information, to on-sell this to commercial advertisers and marketers.

    We have not only state governments keep records of meta data and more, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft and others do it as well. So dream about “revolution” and “change” by relying on the very technology and systems that are actually part of the capitalist structure running the whole world, that is foolish and ignorant.

    Sadly the users do not see it and dream on.

    Only if we have tens of thousands of Ed Snowdens, then may there be some prospect for true, radical, lasting changes. If he succeeds that is.

  2. I fear you may be correct, but the revolution appeared to let loose – through the door labeled democracy – something that looked remarkably akin to the makings of a theocracy.
    Depends on your world view which you regard as worse: rule by clerics or rule by generals.
    Nevertheless recent events will sow very deep seeds of discontent.

  3. The sentiment of what democracy is is correct. But to say the Muslim Brotherhood’s government represented democracy more or less than whatever might come is far too early to call. ElBaradei would have been an excellent and popular leader, but unacceptable to Washington. Very important to know which Egyptian groups truly opposed him and which supported him.

  4. People are used to hearing weasel words from politicians, but ElBaradei is the real deal. Interesting that Obama and Kerry both called him and ElB emphasises he “tried to convince them removing Morsi was necessary.”. People need to let up on “overthrowing a democracy” line. A country isn’t anointed a democracy. All NZers should know “voting for a leader who seems nice” doesn’t equal democracy.


    • PB – I just wonder why Obama and Kerry are so keen to see El Baradei as the best bet for them? He is of course a liberal – for Egyptian conditions – and a favourite of the more secularly or Christian minded Egyptians.

      But those that were protesting over the last days of June and into July were a bizarre bunch of an “opposition”, ranging from the democratic centre to the left, from the unions to the Christian minority, and also including any grouping from anarchist students to the former supporters of the Mubarak regime. All they have in common is to not want Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood rule the country, apart from that they would not get on amongst each other.

      And it is a fact that Morsi was democratically elected, and that the Muslim Brotherhood forms the majority of the parties that were voted for. So we are back to the hypocrisy of the US and the west, wanting democracy of the kind that suits them, but not one that may give power to parties that they do not like.

      There are the Salafists also, who would rather have Morsi than any of the others as president and in government, but they are the ones to watch now.

      Egypt is deeply divided, and the military leaders saw this all along. So they just waited for their time to take hold of power again. Any future government will either be one they condone, or it will be one that will possibly take over Egypt after a civil war.

      It will not come to a proper civil war, rather a kind of subversive war by islamist extremists now, as Al Qaeda and others have not only already infiltrated Syria, they are present in Egypt, same as in Libya and some other places there.

      I fear that we will soon get the first series of suicide attacks not seen like that in Egypt yet, and the military will have a tough time to also deal with mass protests, possibly strikes and the likes from the Muslim Brotherhood.

      That is the likely scenario, and that is why the US are desperately keen to get El Baradei into power, never mind he will only be a puppet of convenience, for them and the military running the show, as they have largely done for decades, even controlling much of the economy.

      I see the Middle East turn into a fighting ground for years to come, and eventually the Suez Canal, same as the Arabian or Persian Gulf will fall under the control of regimes hostile to the US.

      The world is changing, but it will not be as many hoped for.

      • Hmm. I haven’t seen any evidence the US are dead keen to get him in power. ElBaradei has been a thorn in their side on the international stage this whole century, whether on the IAEA, fearlessly refusing to swallow their line on Iran, or backing Gaza peace convoys. He has Western morals and values far beyond any Western government. Hence “divisive” in realpolitik terms.

        I think even going so far to say Egypt is “deeply divided”, much less talking bout suicide attacks, is going too far. No Westerner saw either revolution coming – we don’t understood the real facts on the ground. So it is ludicrous for any of us to think we can predict the outcome.

        All we can speculate on is the big power plays around it. Of course US penetration, but I think Russia and China will work to give the Egyptian military options. Hence the US go-soft on the coup.

  5. Perhaps what is growing in Egypt is not “democracy” per se, but something else. We’ve seen it in the Occupation of Wall Street, USA; Brazil; Turkey; Iceland, and elsewhere.

    What we may be seeing is something as new and radical as when the first Parliament, with MPs chosen by The Vote, came about in England – and which shook the very foundations of Absolute Monarchy.

    I’m not sure what this new thing is or where we’re heading with it, but change is a-coming, and only future Historians – with the benefit of miraculous 20/20 hindsight vision – may be in a position to put a label on it.

    In the meantime, as in the turbulent period of 1848, we are swept along by a current of History – heading god knows where.

    • Yep, we’re going to learn to be much slower ascribing “democratic” status to nations by appearances and processes, and pay more attention to what is being achieved.

  6. What has happened in Egypt to its fledging democracy is of no great surprise to me. For starters democracy was always going to be a hard sell in a country that is accustomed to dictatorship. People discovered, clearly to everyone’s great surprise, that economic conditions trump everything else – including democracy. As much as the majority wanted Sharia Law, it turns out that Islamic rhetoric from their leader doesn’t fill their empty bellies. There are various facts and figures that, if anyone had been paying attention, heralded this coup: murder rates in Egypt have tripled since 2011 and robberies are up a staggering 10 fold. As usual, the MSM was totally asleep at the wheel, and “no one saw it coming”.

  7. Hi Chris, some see a revolution, I see a democratically elected government violently deposed by USA and Israel black ops. The same is happening in Syria, due for presidential elections next year that country has been inflicted by Israeli style sectarian agenda. See 1967 USS Liberty: Dead in the Water, documentary by the BBC aired 2002.

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