chapter  5
From popular revolution to semi- democracy: Egypt’s first experiment with praetorian parliamentarism
Pages 23

One of the most complex issues surrounding the Egyptian Revolution of 25 January 2011 has been the controversial question of its end. According to the official narrative put forward both by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF ) and the Muslim Brotherhood, until its removal from power in July 2013, the Egyptian Revolution ostensibly ended successfully on 11 February 2011, the day president Hosni Mubarak and his family were toppled from power. All the momentous events which ensued, such as the legalization of political parties, the constitutional referendum of 19 March 2011, the parliamentary elections of November 2011 – February 2012 and the presidential election of May-June 2012, according to this narrative, belong to a ‘transitional period’ (marhala intiqaliyya) which was overseen by the SCAF during the next seventeen months. This view was supported from the outset by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose communiqué on 11 February 2011 declared the revolution ended on the grounds that, along with Mubarak, the entire ‘regime’ associated with his rule had also been dismantled: ‘To the people in revolt in every part of Egypt . . . we say: the easier stage has ended . . . which was the stage of the demolition of the corrupt regime. As for the next stage, this is the stage of building a new system’ (Rabi’ 2011: 191). In contrast to this narrative, the liberal and radical forces that spearheaded the popular uprising never considered 11 February 2011 as the end of Egypt’s revolution. According to this counter-narrative, the removal of Mubarak and his family from power must not be confused with the dismantling of the structures of his regime; until this is achieved, the revolution remains (and should remain) an open process. Proponents of this view have therefore maintained that ‘the revolution continues’, a slogan which was also used as the official name of a

left-leaning five-party coalition in the parliamentary elections of 2011-12. However, according to radical activists such as Hossam El-Hamalawy, the continuation of the revolution does not merely imply that its ideals still survive because they remain unfulfilled, but must be understood as a concrete political reality. ‘The Egyptian Revolution will not be settled in 18 days or months. It will take “years” ’, he maintained as early as November 2011 (El-Hamalawy 2011). Similarly, in November 2011 and February 2012, the acclaimed novelist Ahdaf Soueif (2011, 2012) wrote two articles entitled ‘The Revolution Continues’, in which she spoke about the revolution as an ongoing process which must be nourished ‘so that it shines more brightly in Tahrir’s approaching moment – approaching without a doubt’. Analogous views were widely expressed around that time across the mainstream Western press. In October 2011, the Financial Times issued a comprehensive report on Egypt entitled ‘Unfinished Revolution’, while the New York Times also referred to Egypt’s revolution in November 2011 as an ‘unfinished’ process (Khalaf 2011, New York Times 2011). Without attempting to resolve the question of whether the 25 January Revolution is continuing or not, the present analysis rests on the limited hypothesis that what began in Egypt on 25 January 2011 remains an incomplete revolutionary project. To avoid any misapprehensions, it should be stressed that both the theory of revolutions and contemporary historical experience concur that an incomplete revolution need not necessarily be a continuing one. For example, the historian of political thought John Dunn (1972: 246) has observed that ‘many revolutions are more than a little abortive’, while John Foran (1997: 241) also speaks about unfinished revolutions whose achievements have either faded away or have been reversed. If we turn to historical examples, the Turkish War of Independence in 1919-23 has been analysed by Ergun Ӧzbudun as an ‘unfinished revolution’ that reached ‘an impasse’ after 1950 (Ӧzbudun 1970: 401-402). Similarly, Egypt’s own political history from 1881 to 1951 can be narrated as a sequence of two incomplete revolutions: the ‘Orabi Revolt of 1881, which was suppressed by the British invasion and occupation of Egypt a year later, and the Revolution of 1919, which was gradually derailed by successive undercuts and compromises. In other words, what is being suggested here is that, regardless of whether it is still ‘continuing’ or not, the Egyptian Revolution cannot be understood at this stage except as a disrupted political process. On this basis, the aim of the present chapter is to provide a general assessment of the effects of the 25 January Revolution on the Egyptian state from the perspective of postcolonial state theory. Its core thesis maintains that, three years on, the momentous events that broke out on 25 January 2011 had so far managed to produce only a short-lived experiment of partial democratization whose future prospects remain indeterminate. In drawing this conclusion, the notion of democracy is treated here in its narrowest sense, that is, according to Joseph Schumpeter’s formula, which defines it as ‘an institutional arrangement . . . in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote’ (Schumpeter 2008: 269). Of course, this minimalist definition has been appropriately criticized for its elitist and one-sided perception as well

as its disregard for some of the fundamental principles of modern democracy, such as respect for human rights, the separation of powers, public deliberation and popular participation (Diamond 1999: 8-10, Pateman 1970: 17-20). However, its adoption here serves the limited purpose of providing a basic yardstick for the minimum institutional arrangement required to indicate that a political system has made the crucial transition from authoritarian to parliamentary rule. Alternative definitions, such as Robert Dahl’s six criteria for the ‘minimum level of democratization’ proposed in 2005, are so intricate and demanding that even some established democracies would fail to meet them (Dahl 2005: 187-197). Drawing on postcolonial state theory, originally introduced by Hamza Alavi (1972) and later expanded by the subaltern studies scholar Partha Chatterjee (1993) and others, the present analysis will follow four main themes. First, it will argue that the 25 January Revolution is an incomplete political project, whose development has been undercut both from above, by the praetorian elements of Egypt’s postcolonial state, and from below, by sharp divisions within the revolutionary movement itself. Second, the chapter will provide an overall assessment of the institutional effects of the 25 January Revolution, stressing specifically that, because it was repeatedly disrupted and unsettled, this popular uprising succeeded only in destroying part of the edifice of Egypt’s postcolonial state, while leaving a substantial part of it unaffected. In this regard, the revolution will be presented as having deformed rather than transformed the structures of the Egyptian state. Third, the analysis will examine the concept of ‘praetorian parliamentarism’: that is, a type of power-sharing arrangement whereby the military/bureaucratic elements of the postcolonial state participate in government with a set of new representative institutions. Special focus will be given to the dual dynamic of cooperation and conflict underlying this arrangement and how this became a major source of instability and crisis during the presidency of the Islamist Muhammad Mursi, from 30 June 2012 to 3 July 2013. The discussion will conclude with an evaluation of Mursi’s attempt to challenge the postrevolutionary praetorian-parliamentary settlement through the concentration of substantial powers around his person and how this attempt provoked his overthrow by the popular uprising of 30 June 2013. Before turning to these issues, however, it seems appropriate to clarify a key methodological point. Much of the ensuing discussion will be focusing on state institutions and structures. This emphasis should not be understood, however, as implying an elitist perception of politics that attributes secondary importance to civil society and the popular movement that led the 2011 Revolution. On the contrary, the view adopted here maintains that, for most of the period from 25 January 2011 until 3 July 2013, Egypt’s revolutionary movement has been the primary driver of political change in the country, more so than either the military or the elected politicians. However, if the present analysis turns to state structures, this is mainly because it finds the effects of revolution most visible at the level of institutional formation. In other words, the state is of particular interest to us here because it offers the most accurate measuring device for the political

impact of revolution. This conclusion arises from a ‘strategic-relational’ conception of the state which, following the political theorist Nicos Poulantzas, sees the state as the ‘material condensation’ of the dominant forces in society (Jessop 2007: 1-2). Poulantzas, of course, was careful to observe that social relations are never mirrored perfectly in the edifice of the state, but their reflection, he argued, appeared ‘in a refracted form’ because the state always interprets how social struggles will be inscribed in its structures (Poulantzas 1979: 129-131, Hall and Hunt 1979: 197). Consequently, when we examine the political effects of revolution through their impact on the state, we must never expect to obtain a precise image, but only an approximation. Nevertheless, this approximate imprint can still reveal to us more about the political meaning of a revolution than any sociological or cultural study, although the latter can enrich our understanding of revolutions in other important ways.