Academic journal article Social Justice

The Impermanent Revolution: The Organizational Fragility of the Egyptian Prodemocracy Movement in the Troubled Transition

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Impermanent Revolution: The Organizational Fragility of the Egyptian Prodemocracy Movement in the Troubled Transition

Article excerpt

THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION OF 2011 HAS OFTEN BEEN CELEBRATED IN THE media and among Western activists as a "leaderless revolution," in which participants were mobilized through informal networks of friendship and by resorting to the power of social networking sites. Indeed, there is some truth in such accounts, even though they often tend to downplay the importance of a diffuse charismatic activist elite within the movement and to exaggerate the role of the Internet (Gerbaudo 2012). What is often forgotten, however, is that the almost exclusive resort to informal mobilizing structures, which characterized the uprising against Mubarak, has contributed to some of the strategic problems encountered by the revolutionary movement during the phase of transition to democracy. The revolutionary movement has suffered from the lack of solid coordinating structures that might sustain and direct its long-term struggle. Moreover, a widespread libertarian fixation with the imaginary of leaderless resistance has made revolutionaries largely incapable of crystallizing the movement's practices and moral aspirations in newly founded organizations and institutions that might give a degree of permanence to revolutionary gains. In this situation revolutionaries have been no match for their adversaries and in particular for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which electoral victory after electoral victory has progressively strengthened its grip on power. With their tight and sturdy organizational structure, the Islamists have easily managed to outmaneuver a revolutionary movement that is pervaded by anti-organizational cynicism and a self-defeating reluctance to participate in the arena of electoral democracy.

This article will discuss the organizational fragility of the Egyptian revolutionary movement during the transition phase between the fall of Hosny Mubarak on February 11,2011, and the first months after the new president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, assumed power. This period is of significant interest for understanding the long-term dynamics of the revolutionary movement. Further, it offers powerful lessons for Western anticapitalist social movements, which have drawn much inspiration in terms of tactics and forms of organization from Egyptian activists. During this phase activists have progressively become aware of the risks entailed in loose coordination following the model of "leaderless resistance." Although effective during the uprisings, after the revolution it has not proved suitable for the struggle for democratic consensus.

Between the fall of Mubarak in February 2011 and the election of the new president in June 2012, Egypt was in the midst of a "troubled transition" (El Gandy 2012). It was a particularly testing period for the secular and progressive section, which constituted a crucial part of the revolutionary movement against Mubarak and subsequently found itself challenged by the military junta and the rising Muslim Brotherhood. After Mubarak resigned as president, a military junta assumed power under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), whose Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi had been Mubarak's Minister of Defense. The SCAF soon came to be seen as a continuation of the old regime. Members of the junta repeatedly showed a reluctance to respect the timetable for the handover of power to a civilian authority. They were intent on maintaining control over the "deep state" of the army and public companies, beyond democratic scrutiny, in a way reminiscent of the army's role in Turkey in the 1980s and early 1990s. In response to the military's perceived "betrayal" of the revolution, after the spring of 2011 activists staged street demonstrations that often became all-out confrontations with the security forces (Noueihed and Warren 2012).

Besides the power of the military, activists also faced the increasing dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood, which in the month after the revolution slowly managed to conquer the different apparatuses of the state (Bradley 2012), including the presidency. …

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