Will Mubarak's state return?

Abdullah Kamal
Abdullah Kamal
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This question is already there, reflecting fears of some people who took to the streets in early 2011 against the Mubarak regime. In fact, these fears are more personal than being credible worries about the possibility of the Mubarak regime’s comeback.

Plainly speaking, apart from a limited, ineffective chunk of Mubarak sympathizers, supporters of the former president are aware that time does not go backwards. Mubarak himself could not hope his regime will be revived. My personal belief is that he is experienced and mature enough to banish any thought of returning to power. All what he wants is to have his image rehabilitated- a wish that the succession of events paradoxically seem to fulfill while he is alive.

When people take to the streets in large numbers it means that they have real objections to an Egyptian social pact. Throughout 2011, massive anti-regime protests were staged. The second time around, the number of protesters was far higher and pointed to a public demand for a new social contract. These protests eventually led to the toppling of President Mohammad Mursi. The leaders of the later protests built a fragile alliance with the powers that led the 2011 protests against Mubarak’s regime.

I refuse to believe that what happened January 25- February 11, 2011 was a revolution, it was not a revolutionary act.

Abdullah Kamal

The message imparted on July 3, when Mursi was deposed, is that all Egyptians want neither a theocracy nor an exclusionary ruling system. They want the state institutions to stage a strong comeback. None said that they wanted the reinstatement of the Mubarak regime.

However, most Egyptians agreed over the need for an updated version of the state that was created in Egypt after the 1952 revolution. This concurrence reflects a strong view shared by the traditional powers, the so-called “couch party” (the apolitical majority) and the middle class, who thrived in the post-1952 revolution state.
On January 25, 2011, a category of Egyptians took to the streets venting anger. Initially, that anger targeted one institution, i.e., police, not the whole regime. It was very soon afterwards that regional and international factors combined to redirect this anger. The result was that the epicenter of the protests reverberated with chants of the slogan: “The people want to overthrow the regime.”

Many Egyptians now realize who masterminded the chaos that occurred during those protests including attacks on prisons and police stations as well as the turmoil in Sinai. Many protesters later found out they had been manipulated by the Brotherhood whose true colors have been exposed in the past two years. The Brotherhood’s agenda was to tighten its grip on state institutions, alter society’s identity and ostracize all others, including their one-time manipulated partners.

What was it?

I refuse to believe that what happened January 25- February 11, 2011 was a revolution, it was not a revolutionary act.

Veteran journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal said in a TV interview last week that he had told Hussein Tantawi, the military ruler who took over after Mubarak stepped down, that what happened was a “revolutionary state of affairs.” It was not a revolution for more than one reason.

The “revolution” is beyond denial and controversy. In terms of motives, there was no all-out anger in Egyptian society or sweeping determination to introduce radical change.

In terms of objectives, the protesters sought to end Mubarak’s rule, while the slogan they chanted was: “Bread, freedom and social justice.” Thus, there was a wide gap between the aim and the slogan. Subsequently, the slogan lost its luster once Mubarak stepped down.

In terms of action, Mubarak willingly quit, though he might have come under pressure. He was not forced to leave the presidential palace or evicted by the angry public.

When there is room for discussion and negotiating, then there is no revolution in the full sense of the word. “Revolution” does not recognize negotiations. In practice, negotiations did occur with the Mubarak regime regardless of the outcome.

In terms of results, Mubarak handed over power to a state institution, which is the army. At the time, the protesters chanted in joy: “The army and the people are one hand,” a fact that calls into question the credibility of the slogan: “The people want to topple the regime.” Anger started against one state institution and ended up accepting another state institution. This year, Egyptians allowed state institutions to take the lead. For this and other reasons, I call it a “state revolution.”

In one way, the post-1952 state took over after Mubarak stepped down. Mubarak himself is a symbol of that state. With the people accepting the military’s takeover after Mubarak, rules of the regime were still there. There was, accordingly, no justification for the so-called revolutionary legitimacy to set in.

But what resulted post-Mubarak? Three partners emerged The first was the “anger partner.” who were not intellectually prepared nor did they have a socially accepted ideology. The second is the “opportunistic partner,” namely the Brotherhood, who manipulated its alliance with the “anger partner” to attain its goals and later get rid of its allies.

The third is the “partner by compulsion,” namely the army, who shared with Mubarak the desire to keep the state coherent, even if this meant making concessions. The post-Mubarak political process moved, catalyzed by incomplete revolutionary anger, which lacked a substantial program and devotion to clear-cut principles.

Bread and justice

In the two years that followed, it transpired that there was no genuine faith in the slogan: “Bread, freedom and social justice.” A large part of society was left out in the cold during those years. The “anger partner” and “opportunistic partner” joined hands to do this, with no objections from the “partner by compulsion.” No-one paused to ask how freedom could be fulfilled when one group is excluded, how justice is administered when social powers are sidelined or how some people could give themselves the right to thrive at the expense of others.

Ironically, the January 2011 powers, who violated inspiring human rights by excluding traditional forces from the post-Mubarak political process, were themselves later sidelined by the Brotherhood. Hence, the emergence of double exclusion that expanded to include women and Christians.

It soon became obvious that the Brotherhood was seeking to wreck the broad concept of the state and its institutions. In the last week of his rule, Mursi acted foolishly by issuing decrees against Egypt'with deeply entrenched bureaucracy, thereby broadening the scale of his “Egypt against adversaries” who later joined the revolt against his regime. Protestors from across Egyptian society turned up to push for an end to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule.

It was not surprising that the anti-Brotherhood protesters celebrated victory even before their objective was attained. Their revolutionary objective was genuine, clear-cut and unshakable. They had no doubts that they would eventually obtain their objective and had no intention of negotiating.

Back again

With all this in mind, does the current situation herald the return of Mubarak regime's as some among the January 2011 powers and the Brotherhood propagate in a bid to trigger national rifts? The answer is simple. Mubarak was the one who turned over the page of his rule. Egyptians turned over a page of his successor's regime. They have ushered in a new era in their country's history.

As mentioned earlier, the question reflects personal rather than societal fears. Simply, some among the January 2011 powers have failed over the past two years to assert themselves politically and socially. Had they done this, they would not have posed this question in the first place. In effect, we have at hand an elite struggle over spheres of influence rather than a conflict between two camps in society.

Given that the June 30 revolution depended on a public influx of traditional forces the January 2011 powers are concerned of losing whatever ground they still have due, they have a doubled feeling of defeat. They failed to achieve what they sought when they took to the streets this year. They had to ally themselves with the Brothood and alliances such as these are usually paid for.

These contradictions can be seen in two current scenes. The first pertains to the caretaker government, which is composed of three different groups: the first belongs to the liberal Democratic Egyptian Party including Prime Minister Hazem al-Bebalwi and his two deputies Zyad Baha Eddin and Hossam Issa; a Mubarak-era group including ministers of investment, finance, foreign affairs, the youth and sports; the third group hails from the two states, ministers of defense, the interior, the military production and local development.

The second scene is related to a board tasked with rewriting the constitution drafted by Mursi's Islamist allies last year. The 50-member panel comprises representatives of the traditional powers and the January 2011 forces as well as representatives of the bureaucracy and figures from both states.

Two examples may be indicative. One member of the board is Mona Zulfakar, who was an active member of the Mubarak party's influential Policies Committee. The second is Jaber Nasser, who was not an opponent to the Mubarak regime.

The future

One certain thing, however, is that the new rulers are in a difficult position when reaching out to well-known representatives of the traditional forces who deserve to be approached due to their substantial efforts in removing the Brotherhood rule. For instance, the recent talks held by the presidential office with political parties avoided contacts with representatives of the traditional powers as though they did not exist or the presidency did not partly derive its legitimacy from them.

The coming parliamentary elections are set to help develop Egypt’s future image, particularly if these polls are fairly and honestly conducted. Everyone, including the January 2011 forces, realize that the traditional powers that rendered the revolt a success, will be influential in the coming elections.

Significantly, the January 2011 powers and their followers are pushing for imposing legal restrictions to head off the expected results of those polls or at least to ensure that the traditional forces will be under their thumb. This is a big illusion underpinned by a desire to trigger a destabilizing conflict, staving off the possibility that the new parliament will be a true representative of society. Those ploys also carry the risk of generating a low voter turnout, which would negatively effect the turnout of the elections.


At this point, I would like to emphasize the following:

1- There are intrinsic differences in terms of the ruling system, the ruling figures and the elite. The ruling system refers to a set of rules on which the people agree. These rules will be revamped Egypt'as the constitution is rewritten, which means that the resultant system will not be seen like in the final years of Mubarak's rule. Nor will it be the Brotherhood's ruling system.

The ruling figures refer to the people in power who may move from one ruling system to another based on certain criteria, namely: political and professional competence, ethical integrity and abilities as election candidates. The elite, who can include ruling figures, also comprise intellectuals and opinion-makers. Such people are subjected to public assessment based on their ideas and innovativeness to the benefit of the common good. Their credibility hangs on serving are in the public interest. Egypt and elsewhere, many such figures have displayed such abilities that have made them timeless personalities who are always needed and appreciated at this point. These elite have yet to tell the public why they backed the Brotherhood with its bitter experience. These elite are seen locked in personal rivalries that hardly heed public interests. Above all, a group of these elite face a credibility crisis due to their Western ideas.

2- The June 30 revolution was inspired by and resulted in overwhelming patriotic feelings, laying emphasis on the Egyptian identity, much to the Brotherhood's chagrin. I dare say this tendency has grown in Egypt since 2004. I experienced this tendency first-hand when I moderated a debate through a regular corner titled "Egypt Above All", which appeared for around two years in the weekly magazine Rose El Yousef. For sure, it has taken shape in recent months and is bound to be influential in shaping Egypt's future image.

3- The June 30 revolution has led to a steadily evolving conviction of the importance of having in place robust state institutions: the presidency, the army, the police, the judiciary, the religious establishment, irrigation and agriculture, all key pillars of the pharaonic state etched on the Egyptian mind. Egyptians will use this conviction as a yardstick for those coming forward to serve the public. They will be judged by how far they can safeguard the national security rather than by being part of the Mubarak regime or not. A relevant key rule is that the state envisioned by Egyptians should be civil and all-inclusive. Voters and the general public will turn their backs on anyone perceived to infringe these rules. Given that the June 30 protests were a popular revolt backed by the army, police and judiciary, the millions who took to the streets on that day to force the Brotherhood out of power looked forward to an updated version of the post-1952 revolution state grounded on the military institution while aspiring to democracy.

4- The most important message delivered by the June 30 revolution is that no-one should be excluded and that the common foe is terrorism ideologically fed by the Brotherhood and its offshoots in Egypt and abroad.

5- Egyptians have become aware of the importance of modernization and reform in their comprehensive meanings. The interrelated message of the January 2011 revolutionary action – before hijacked by the Brotherhood, and the June 30 revolution that toppled the Brotherhood is the importance of having a modern Egypt that lives up to Egyptians' aspirations.

At the end of the day, any talk about ruling systems or national reconciliation should heed the above-mentioned five observations. These remarks go beyond naïve fears about the Mubarak regime's return.


Abdullah Kamal is an Egyptian journalist and political analyst and an adviser to al-Rai Kuwaiti newspaper in Cairo. He is working now on writing a book about the end of Mubarak era under the title of The Penultimate PharaohHe has been editor-in-chief of both Rose El-Youssef magazine and newspaper (2005–2011) and a member of Shoura Council (2007 – 2011).

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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