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Egypt at crossroad between dictatorship and democracy

Published: Updated:

Egypt celebrated on Saturday the third anniversary of the revolution that ousted long-term President Hosni Mubarak after thousands of Egyptians took to the streets for what was described as “the largest demonstration the country has seen for years.”

Since Mubarak was forced out of office, the Egyptian political life has dramatically changed, dividing experts on how close the country has really come in achieving the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Some optimists believe that Egypt has begun the process, albeit slow and contentious, of laying the foundations for democracy and is on track to one day be a “model for other Arab countries in the region.”

“This is not an overnight process, Egypt has achieved a lot so far but a lot of time is needed for the country to be a full democracy or comparable to Western countries,” Mohammed Badr, a political science professor at the University of Germany and a Specialist in the Middle East relations told Al Arabiya News.

“Going back to where the country was is just impossible, even though many little factors destabilize or slow its transition towards a democracy, Egypt is on the right track,” he added.

One of the factors slowing the transition is “the high rate of uneducated people in Egypt [that] will definitely have an impact on the switch towards a democracy,” said Sobhi Esseila, political analyst at al-Ahram Institute to Al Arabiya News.

“But it [lack of education] will not prevent it [the transition towards democracy]. It is possible to overcome the education issue by the help of cultivated people,” Esseila said.

A treacherous U-turn

Despite what some see as progress, others are more skeptical about the genuine improvements of the country stuck at a crucial crossroad in its democratic transition.

Despite the relief of many regarding the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, naysayers see Egypt as “taking a U-turn” straight back to the Mubarak military-dominated era.

“While the majority of Egyptians are quite happy to be rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, I believe that the Mubarak regime is about to be restored,” Beshir Abdel Fatah, a political science professor and a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al Arabiya News.

“I feel we have removed a dictatorship in 2011 only to make a U-turn and go back [to] where we started and sometimes I feel we are even going back to an era worse than when we started,” Abdel Fatah said.

More than just the increased military control of the country, Egyptians fear other regressions towards a Mubarak-like era. Recent legislation such as the anti-protest law passed without parliamentary oversight, a worrying precedent.

The harsh sentencing of civilians implicated in pro-Mursi protests are worrisome signals that the country is reverting to rule by repression, Fatah added.

Other analysts focus on the lack of freedom of speech as an indication that Egypt is far from being the democracy it wanted to be after the revolution of Jan. 2011.

Egypt’s freedom of the press status in 2013 has reportedly declined from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’, according to the non-governmental organization, Freedom House.

Reminiscent of Mubarak

Meanwhile, it seems the what kind of regime Egypt is ruled by became less important to the average Egyptian, whose main grievances for participating in the 2011 revolution was to “have food on their table no matter the kind of regime,” according to recent figures released by the Pew Research Center.

“One of the main reasons we went to Tahrir [in Jan. 2011] was to get more advantages and be able to earn more and have better lives, that we are not getting till now. It only worsened,” Ahmed Ali, a shopkeeper in the Heliopolis district told Al Arabiya News.

Egypt’s severe instability over the last three years has worsened the country's economy and debilitated its foreign currency reserves.

In addition, unemployment and inflation rose beyond the capacity of a workforce already struggling, not far off from the labor market under dictator Mubarak.

“The situation over the course of the last three years was so bad that actually I wish we can go back to the Mubarak days,” Ali said.