What Killed Egyptian Democracy?


Mohammad Fadel in the Boston Review, with responses from Ellis Goldberg, Nathan J. Brown, Akbar Ganji, Micheline Ishay, Andrew F. March and Anne Norton:

Although the masses in Tahrir Square appeared unified on the day Mubarak fell, three broad groups were vying for power.

The first, associated with the military, took a minimalist view: the Revolution was simply about removing Mubarak and his cronies from power, and ensuring that his son, Gamal Mubarak, did not succeed him to the presidency. Given this group’s desire to preserve as much as possible of Mubarak’s order (without Mubarak), it was able to reconcile with old-regime elements. This first group originally lacked a distinctive ideology, but it eventually adopted a nationalist, sometimes even xenophobic, posture that distinguished it from the cosmopolitanism of Islamist, liberal, and socialist revolutionaries.

According to a second group, the Revolution aimed at broad reforms of the Egyptian state without uprooting it entirely. For this reformist group, the crisis stemmed from corruption. Mubarak, they argued, had undermined the state’s integrity by usurping its institutions to fulfill his and his allies’ personal and political ends. The Revolution needed to reform the state’s institutions so that they would meet the formal requirements of a legal order, accountable to the public will. Formal democracy was a crucial demand of this group because it was seen as the only way to ensure that the state would not again be hijacked to further the interests of a narrow group of Egyptian elites. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies belonged to this second group.

The third group, composed largely of young Egyptians, understood the Revolution as an attempt to fundamentally restructure state and society. The Revolution provided an opportunity to create a virtuous state. Doing so would, however, require a complete rupture with the ancien regime. This radical group had an ambivalent relationship with formal democracy. Although elections were desirable, the most important goal was the substantive transformation of the state and society. “Revolutionary legitimacy” trumped whatever legitimacy formal representative democracy could provide.

More here.