February 8, 2013 | Policy Brief

Egypt’s Never-Ending Revolution

February 8, 2013 | Policy Brief

Egypt’s Never-Ending Revolution

Since January 25, Egypt has witnessed an unprecedented wave of nationwide protests which have left more than 60 people dead. The country remains in a state of lawlessness.

The protests, which began on the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, voiced the discontent of non-Islamists (which is not the same as secularists, because it includes Muslim groups that do not support the Muslim Brotherhood agenda) who believe their revolution was hijacked by Islamists. While the protests lack a clear leader, the National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition of the main non-Islamist parties, is participating and giving voice to demonstrators’ grievances.

The crisis began in earnest in late November when President Mohamed Morsi granted himself legislative and executive power and rushed the country into a dubious referendum on a new constitution. The draft constitution did not provide enough protection for secularists, women, or Coptic Church representatives who withdrew in protest, citing the authoritarian practices of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. Two weeks later, the new constitution was nevertheless approved by 63 percent of the country in a referendum that the opposition believes was not carried out in a fair, transparent fashion. This crisis in confidence was made clear by the nation’s judges, who are responsible for overseeing the electoral process, and who boycotted it to protest the way in which the Islamist-dominated government and its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood strong-armed the country into passing the referendum.

Non-Islamist parties and activists prepared for a second “January 25th” revolution—this one directed against the Islamists instead of Mubarak’s regime. They were met with police brutality and other practices employed during the Mubarak era. But repression failed to quell the protests. President Morsi has since called for a national dialogue, although the NSF has refused to participate unless the government yields to its demands for changes in the constitution, as well as a change-up in the national cabinet.

So long as the non-Islamists feel alienated, the prospects for stability in Egypt are dim.  But the situation could deteriorate further still.

New concerns about the economy threaten to thrust Egypt into a frighteningly new era of instability. In the last month alone, the Egyptian pound lost more than 10 percent of its value, while foreign currency reserves are at their lowest in 16 years—$13.6 billion. To tackle this problem properly, the government will likely need to remove subsidies, increase taxes and find other ways to offset price increases. All of this will require belt-tightening on the part of average Egyptians, who are already frustrated with two years of chaos and political turmoil.

The only way out of this dangerous moment is national unity and dialogue, rather than repression and brutality reminiscent of the former dictatorship. The longer it takes the Morsi government to understand this, the harder it will be to remedy.

Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former official in Egypt’s secular liberal Wafd party.