Skip to main content

Is Egypt back where it was in 2011?

By Khaled Fahmy, professor at American University in Cairo, Special to CNN
updated 1:12 PM EST, Tue January 14, 2014
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
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT