Organizing for revolution, or, why the liberals failed in Egypt

If you’ve been following the news, you know that the run-off for president of Egypt this month will be between a representative of the old, pre-revolutionary regime on the one hand, a representative of a conservative Islamist party on the other hand.  What happened to the young idealist who rallied to overthrow the Mubarak regime?  The well-known political scientist Francis Fukuyama writes about it here.  Read it, and let me know what you think of his argument.  We’ve studied enough revolutions by now to have some insight.

In case, the above link doesn’t work, here’s the URL:

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4 Responses to Organizing for revolution, or, why the liberals failed in Egypt

  1. ryan says:

    I agree with much of Fukuyama’s argument. Mubarak’s regime became extremely unpopular, as we saw during the demonstrations. So it is surprising that they would be fielding such a viable candidate in the new elections. Yet it makes sense; the old regime is not just influential in Egypt’s current political scene, it still controls the government in Egypt, minus Mubarak. Perhaps more surprising is the conservative nature of the Islamist candidate. I had thought that a leading contender was a moderate Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood. The lack of a liberal candidate despite liberalism being the apparent driving force of the revolution does indeed warrant an explanation. If what Fukuyama says is true and a large portion of the population is still conservative, and especially rurally, this makes sense. It would mean that the revolution was driven by an urban elite, something we have seen before, for instance, in Russia. Yet the urban elite went on to control the government in Russia. A possible explanation for the differences between the two revolutions is Democracy. If it is indeed true that the population is in large part conservative and it was the urban liberals driving the revolution, that means that the liberals, perhaps even if they were more competent at organization than they have proved to be, could be defeated in the Democratic vote that they have been promoting so much. In Russia, this is exactly what happened, except that the Bolsheviks ignored the vote, and started a war which they were able to win. This could not happen in Egypt, however, because the military power is in the hands of the old regime. Maybe that is a consequence of a revolution rooted in democracy in a society that is opposed to Democratic values.

    • Elliot F says:

      After reading this article, I did see many parallels between this revolution and the French Revolution of 1848, which I studied. Much of what has occurred in Egypt mirrors what happened in France; first, an educated elite wanted to overthrow the existing regime and replace it with a more democratic government, and second, they were supported by the mass of urben laborers who were discontented with the nominal amount of income they received, and were forced to sustain themselves on. These two groups were enough of a force to drive the revolution from an urben stand point, but much of this turmoil did not reach the surrounding rural communities. The revolutionary fervor which captured the students and intellectuals of Egypt was unable to root itself in the rural population as a whole. This is not an unusual trend in revolutions, and has happened many times before. It seems to spring out of a certain way of thought, which is, “Even when leaders and intellectuals change, the peasants shall remain.” This pessimistic, if somewhat realistic, assumption suggests that the lot of the rural people will remain the same, even if the intellectual sphere of a country changes. Because of this, it seems that peasants can only hope to improve there lives through small gains, rather than complete, radical change. This way of thought tends to make rural population more conservative than would be assumed, as even though they could gain much from a revolution, rural peasants often prefer the stability of the existing institution.

      • Elliot F says:

        Hit the wrong enter button…

        And Ryan, I dont think that the army will have that much of an effect on the voting itself, if the majority vote in the way that reactionary peasants tend to do. What I mean by this is that the army can disregard the results, but the election results themselves could very well support what would be seen as a “reactionary”. Even if there was a true liberal candidate up for election, history has shown that even though they represent the ideals of the urben based revolution, these types of candidates can be out voted by more traditional political groups. It is not that the rural population of Egypt is opposed to democracy, but, as Mansel accurately states, they think that, “… change should be managed in such a way that that existing social institutions… are preserved.” I agree when you say that this urben revolution had this reaction due to a universal suffrage, but I would focus less on the significance of the military as a leading factor. My personal belief, is that military action often follows the lead of outstanding social movement and action.

  2. Dr. K says:

    The Islamist candidate is from the Muslim Brotherhood–more moderate than that very conservative Salafists, but still not what a lot of Egyptian liberals were hoping for after the revolution.

    Your argument about a rural-based reaction overcoming a liberal urban revolution reminds me a bit of the dynamic that Eliot described in his paper about the 1848 revolution in France. I hope he chimes in.

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