Political transitions in contemporary political science Mainstream political science scholarship explains transitions away from authoritarianism as a result of splits within ruling elites that enable democratic forces to mobilize at the level of civil society (O’Donnell et al. 1986). Once a transition has begun, democratic consolidation depends on the establishment of certain prerequisites: institutions that facilitate democratic procedures (such as free and fair elections and the rule of law); a political culture that embodies democratic values; and/or elites that follow the democratic rules of the game, among others (Schedler 1998). This literature tends to be elite-focused. Where non-elites play a role, it is as ‘civil society’, holding governments to account and embodying liberal values (Diamond 1994). Since Hosni Mubarak stepped down, commentators have sought to understand the persistence of authoritarianism and the limited democratization of Egyptian politics. Indeed ever since his ousting, timelines for handovers, elections and referenda have gone ahead despite popular protests against human rights abuses and continuing injustices. The actions of the Muslim Brotherhood after February 2011 were aimed at consolidating their power rather than consolidating democracy. They attempted to colonize state institutions and marginalize dissenting voices, and they unleashed repression on protesters in the name of ‘saving the revolution’ and respecting the democratic will of the people (Sayed 2013, Stacher 2012). Can we explain or understand the apparent endurance of authoritarianism in Egypt by identifying the absence of prerequisites for democratic consolidation? Should we point to the lack of rule of law? Or the lack of respect among elites for the rules of the democratic game? Building on these themes, scholars and commentators have largely identified two obstacles to a democratic transition in Egypt: the ‘deep state’; and the behaviour of Egypt’s political elites. The ‘deep state’ refers to the strength of the security forces and their allies within the state that are hostile to democracy and to democratic accountability. Their interests lie with authoritarian rule. The ‘deep state’, so the argument goes, remains the greatest obstacle to democratic consolidation by preventing implementation of the rule of law (Amrani 2012, Brownlee 2011). For more than two years after the fall of Mubarak, no steps were taken to reform the security services in order to prevent the wide-scale abuses that had happened under Mubarak. Moreover, there was almost no accountability for the actions of the security services during the eighteen-day uprising or afterwards (Amnesty International 2012, Human Rights Watch 2013a). This provoked many protests, including massive demonstrations in Port Said from January through to March
2013 (Amnesty International 2013). Following the 30 June uprising, security forces failed to prevent the killing and wounding of scores of protesters (either for or against the deposed president Mursi) (Human Rights Watch 2013c), and they may even have been responsible for many of the killings (‘Rights Groups Demand Dismissal of Interior Minister’ 2013, Human Rights Watch 2013b), thereby contributing to political tensions and deadlock within Egypt. Indeed, despite its democratic impulses, the 30 June uprising may have facilitated a reconstitution of the ‘deep state’ (Jadaliyya Egypt Editors 2013). A second trend among commentators and scholars has focused on the antidemocratic behaviour of the new ruling elites, first the SCAF and then former President Muhammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who were widely considered to be the real decision-makers during Mursi’s presidency. The SCAF ’s disregard for democratic process ranged from a failure to empower the civilian government to the violent repression of dissent. During his period in power, Mursi failed to reach out to other political forces, despite his narrow majority in the presidential elections of June 2012. In addition, he issued a presidential decree in November 2012 that concentrated powers in the hands of the president, replaced editors-in-chief of state-owned newspapers with Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and used violence against those demonstrating against the new constitution (Abou-El-Fadl 2013, Al-Arian 2012, Carothers and Brown 2012, Trager 2013). As a result, many Egyptians who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and for Muhammad Mursi became disillusioned with both, giving impetus to the 30 June uprising initiated by the Tamarrod (‘Rebel’) campaign (Abdel-Baky 2013). Simultaneously, the former political opposition was also criticized in some quarters for its lack of unity and weakness (see Carothers 2013 for a rebuttal of some of these criticisms). While all of the sources mentioned above provide valid observations on the development of post-Mubarak politics, they do not help us to understand how these events came to be, despite a massive mobilization against the authoritarian rule of Mubarak, and despite continuing popular protests and resistance against authoritarian practices in post-Mubarak Egypt (Abou-El-Fadl 2013, Al-Jazeera 2013b, Jadaliyya Egypt Editors 2013, Hall 2012). The focus on the ‘deep state’ and elites – whether SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood or the political opposition parties – does not fully represent the political dynamics of post-Mubarak Egypt, which include the role of ordinary people mobilizing: not only protesting on the streets but also launching and promoting new initiatives within communities, workplaces, universities and other civic spaces created as part of the ongoing revolutionary process. Perhaps one of the most important lessons of the 2011 uprisings, not only in the Arab world but globally, is the desire of ordinary people to redefine democracy away from mere adherence to political procedures and elite-led institutions (elections, parliaments and the judiciary), and towards a human-centred or deep democracy that supports the dignity of the people. This dignity encompasses human rights and freedoms, including social justice. Indeed, the two slogans of the 25 January demonstrations were ‘bread, freedom, human dignity’ and ‘bread, freedom, social justice’. In other words, politics
cannot be reduced to the actions of political elites within formal political institutions but must recognize the agency of non-elite actors in shaping political outcomes. Consequently, a broader conceptualization of politics is necessary in order to understand political transitions.