On January 25, 2011 Egyptians took to the streets in the millions, chanting “the people want the fall of the regime.” Mubarak’s 30 year dictatorship came to grinding halt and the world was inspired and moved to see the oldest civilization move towards becoming the newest democracy. Two years later Egyptians took to the streets again chanting what has become a slogan for resistance against dictatorship and tyranny across the globe. This time, their civil disobedience was aimed not at some dictator but Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president–a symbol of Egypt’s counter-revolution.
One need not search for examples of counter-revolution (i.e. overturning the new order established by the revolution) to learn valuable lessons about what is happening in Egypt today. Take the Constitutional Revolutions of Iran (1906) and the late Ottoman Empire (1908). The former kicked out the corrupt Muzaffar al-Din Shah, pitting different factions of the Constitutional Assemble (Majlis) against one another in what would become a bloody civil war, weakening the state and strengthening Russian and British interets. The latter ousted the absolutist sultan Abdul Hamid II and then saw the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) bring back dictatorship and the brutal repression of old.
The long term outcome of Egypt’s struggle is impossible to predict. And historical precedent does not necessarily predict future events. However, the hard handed policies of Morsi’s government and the virtual absence of any economic way forward could threaten the integrity and sovereignty of the state if left unchecked. That being said, I was struck by the words of Hamdin Sabbahi (a secular presidential hopeful) in a recent interview. In light of president Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Cairo, he said that the future of the Middle East rests upon shared economic interests and renewed friendship between Egypt, Turkey and Iran. That would be a much needed first for the region!