About this blog: Ashraf Khalil, an Egyptian-American journalist who has been based in Cairo for most of the past 15 years, was in Tahrir Square as the Egyptian revolution unfolded. In his forthcoming book,
“Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation,” Khalil recounts the uprising and assesses the years of growing tensions that led to it. We asked Khalil, who has covered the Middle East for a variety of publications including the Times of London and the Economist, to consider how the revolution could be lost.
Thousands of young Egyptian protesters have once again taken to the streets and are battling security forces in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The scenes of civilians defiantly braving tear gas and buckshot amid rising casualties are instantly reminiscent of January’s historic 18-day uprising against entrenched dictator Hosni Mubarak.
But this time, the villain in the eyes of the protesters is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, a collection of senior generals that helped force Mubarak’s resignation on February 11 and has run the country ever since.
These renewed waves of unrest are a sort of mass acknowledgement that January’s revolution is only half-finished, and could still go horribly wrong without constant street-level vigilance and a willingness to physically confront the state.
Here’s a rundown of potential worst-case scenarios.
1 — Meet the New Boss
The Supreme Council decides that it simply can’t trust the Egyptian people to govern their own affairs and that they must continue to hold the reins of power. For public relations reasons, this would probably be accompanied by the creation of Mubarak-style pseudo-democratic façade complete with sham elections that produce an ultimately powerless parliament and presidency while the Supreme Council holds ultimate veto power over basically everything important.
This scenario would be quietly supported by certain segments of the U.S. government and by Israel — which has been openly nervous about the rise of an Egyptian government that actually reflects the will of the Egyptian people.
2 — Revenge of the “Remnants”
The word “fuloul” or “remnants” has entered the modern Egyptian lexicon as a catch-all term for the thousands of unreformed Mubarak loyalists still lurking on the fringes inside and outside the government. This category includes the entire Interior Ministry and the Army itself — which prospered greatly under Mubarak and will resist any attempt to curb the perks and influence it has enjoyed for decades.
These “remnants” could also sneak back into power at the ballot box in upcoming parliamentary elections — especially if activist and reformist forces boycott the vote.
3 — Red State/Blue State
The Supreme Council has repeatedly insisted that the Tahrir protesters don’t reflect the will of the nation and that the silent majority of Egyptians still trusts the generals. They might actually be right.
With the help of a compliant state-owned media, the Supreme Council could split the country into warring camps and paint the Tahrir protesters as irrational fanatics sabotaging Egypt’s future. This pro-Supreme Council majority of citizens would then look on in approval as the new regime cracks down hard on the remaining protesters.
4 — The Islamic Republic of Egypt
Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and far more radical Salafist groups are strongly against any talk of delaying the parliamentary elections — which started Monday and continue for six weeks through multiple regional rounds. They know they are the only forces truly prepared for a national election.
The Brotherhood in particular have been preparing for this moment for literally decades, while most of the liberal/secular parties were just formed a few months ago. An Islamist-dominated parliament would be responsible for overseeing the writing of a new constitution — giving it the chance to essentially redefine what kind of country Egypt will be going forward.
5 — The Failure of the Internal Revolution
Egypt doesn’t just need a revolution in its governing structure; it needs one in its personal morality and societal ethics. The Mubarak years had a genuinely corrosive effect on Egyptian society.
Citizens began to forget about the concept of right and wrong, or justice under the law. All disputes, large or small, immediately devolved into power games and battles of competing wusta — influence or connections.
The trademark Egyptian sense of community nearly evaporated, and behavior ranging from corruption to sexual harassment, littering and acting like jerks in traffic became endemic. Many of these behaviors have continued like a bad hangover into the post-Mubarak era.
Regardless of what happens with the government, an inability to reshape people’s personal moralities and ethics will be a massive failure of the revolution.
Follow Steven Levingston on Twitter @SteveLevingston