Skip to main content

Is Egypt back where it was in 2011?

By Khaled Fahmy, professor at American University in Cairo, Special to CNN
January 14, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Egyptians are voting on a draft constitution that would give the military more power
  • The referendum is expected to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections
  • Khaled Fahmy says Egypt appears to be back where it was at the start of the revolution
  • But he says if a military dictatorship tries to impose itself, street protests will return

Editor's note: Khaled Fahmy is the chairman of the history department at the American University in Cairo. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.

(CNN) -- Today millions of Egyptians are going to the ballot boxes to decide on a new constitution, the third time they have done so in as many years.

They are voting with high hopes that this referendum will put an end to the bloodshed, social tensions and instability that followed the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy in July 2013.

Khaled Fahmy
Khaled Fahmy

Seen as the lynchpin in the "roadmap" that was declared soon thereafter, the referendum is to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections. Once these elections are conducted, it is hoped that Egypt's revolution, which erupted exactly three years ago, will have accomplished its goals.

However, hopes that this referendum offers a panacea to Egypt's deep problems are wishful thinking.

The referendum is being conducted under measures that can only be described as draconian. An anti-demonstration law has recently been passed and put into effect with the result that dozens of young activists who were instrumental in the 2011 revolution -- but who continue to be critical of the military -- are now behind bars.

A ferocious publicity campaign urging people to vote "yes" is constantly blaring out of government and private media outlets. Human Rights Watch says seven members of the opposition Strong Egypt party were recently arrested for hanging posters saying "no" to the proposed constitution.

Arrests ahead of Egypt vote
Ahmed Heikal Talks Egyptian Referendum
Journalists detained in Egypt
Mohamed Morsy's trial delayed

The army is expected to deploy 160,000 troops with thousands of tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters to "protect the voting process."

The outcome of the referendum is not in doubt. If the preliminary results of the vote of ex-pat Egyptians who have already cast their ballots are anything to go by, the constitutional draft is expected to pass with an overwhelming majority that may approach 90%.

And it would be a mistake to believe that this outcome is the result only of army manipulation, intimidation and threats. There are millions of Egyptians who are willingly standing behind General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi -- the Minister of Defense and the mastermind of the roadmap.

Three years into the revolution, they are tired of the political instability, lack of security and deteriorating economic conditions. In el-Sisi they see a savior whom they believe is the only one capable of lifting the country out of its crisis.

Still others have become suspicious of the revolutionary youth whom they accuse of being inexperienced, irresponsible and untrustworthy. But most have been so frightened by the Muslim Brotherhood's brief rule and what they see as its dangerous, undemocratic maverick politics that they decided to give up essential liberty and purchase a little temporary safety.

However, while the outcome of the referendum is assured, so too is el-Sisi's failure to provide either safety or liberty to the millions of starry-eyed Egyptians.

I am willing to take to the streets once more against this new military dictatorship that is poised to impose itself with a civilian veneer.
Khaled Fahmy

For one thing, Egypt's economy is nearing total collapse, with a recent report by Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation showing annual growth rates plummeting from 7.2% before the revolution to a mere 2.1% in 2012-2013.

According to the same report, the rate of unemployment rose from 8.4% to 13.2%, and poverty rates worsened -- from 19.6% in 2010 to 25.2% in 2013. Meanwhile, foreign reserves more than halved in the three years of the revolution.

Equally dire is the political situation. While the Muslim Brotherhood is accused of failing fundamental democratic tests while in power, the subsequent hounding, arresting and killing of its members has only given the organization the kiss of life and assured its existence for generations to come.

Economically and politically, therefore, Egypt's problems are of such a depth and complexity that they cannot be solved by force. A political solution is desperately needed, one that el-Sisi and his henchmen seem singularly incapable of offering.

Deadly violence previews key Egypt vote
State of activism in Egypt
Egypt imprisons more protesters
Egypt on a 'proper path' to democracy?

Egypt thus appears to be back where it was in 2011 when its revolution erupted. A military dictatorship seems to be re-establishing itself, and the notorious security forces appear to be back in business, with a vengeance.

Still, as someone who took to the streets in 2011 against Mubarak, and again in 2012 and 2013 against Morsy, I am willing to take to the streets once more against this new military dictatorship that is poised to impose itself with a civilian veneer.

And I know that I will not be alone.

The many Egyptians who have participated in the 2011 revolution; those who have lost loved ones since then; the Muslim Brotherhood supporters who have been brutally suppressed and disenfranchised; and the many more who have become deeply engaged in politics hoping for a better future -- those millions of Egyptians cannot be wished away.

They have become bolder, more vocal and more experienced. At the same time, the military has shown a dismal lack of political tact and strategic vision.

Egypt's revolution, whose tragedy it is to tackle -- at the same time -- the two intractable questions of what should be the proper role of the military in politics and what should be the proper role of religion in politics, is still in its infancy.

The road ahead is long and bumpy. But I have no doubt that the future belongs to us.

READ: Military rule popular with Egyptians, study finds ahead of vote on constitution

READ: Egyptian army chief hints at run for higher office

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khaled Fahmy.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT