“Early 2011 was a dramatic period in modern Egyptian history. The
mainstream mediaa**s narrative on the Arab Spring portrayed popular
uprisings as the driving force that swept away the regime of Hosni Mubarak
and opened the door to democracy. But a closer examination indicates that
the rules of the past still apply. Concentration of power, physical
isolation from the outside world, and dependence upon outside forces for
economic security remain the trifecta that drives Egyptian society and
To understand the Arab Spring one must first understand the factors that
led to it. This is a discussion that must begin, not with the aspirations
of those that protested in Tahrir square, but with the strategic
imperatives of the military, the true vanguard of the Egyptian state.
Nassera**s plan to elevate the military as the vanguard of society worked,
but in years after Nassera**s death the military itself shifted position.
Rather than partnering with the Soviets to create a regional sphere of
influence, the military evolved its vanguard position in Egyptian society
into a system of ossified control. The state still owned nearly everything
of worth, but it was managed by and for the benefit of the military brass.
Everything from banks to import/export to agriculture — already heavily
influenced by the military under the vanguard system — was consolidated
into a series of military oligarchies. Rather than working to elevate
Egypt economically, the military oligarchs mostly divvied up the local
spoils and lived large.
This was a stable system from the late-1970s until the mid-2000s.
Egypta**s shielded geography limited the ability of any international
economic interest to challenge the military staffsa** personal fiefdoms.
Egypta**s partnership with the Americans mitigated international pressure
of all sorts, and in many ways even Egypta**s ostracism from the Arab
world due to its treaty with Israel allowed Egypta**s generals to rule
Egypt however they saw fit.
As (now deposed) President Mubarak aged, however, an internal challenge
arose to the military oligarchy in the form of the former presidenta**s
son, Gamal Mubarak, who wanted to transform Egypt from a military
oligarchy into a more traditional Egyptian dynasty. Doing this required
the breaking of the militarya**s hold on the economy. Gamal and his allies
— often with the express assistance of international institutions like
the World Bank — worked to a**privatizea** Egyptian state assets to
themselves. This process was a direct threat to the militarya**s political
and economic position at the top of Egyptian society. The military also
viewed Gamal, who never completed his military service, as a political
neophyte, incapable of understanding and managing the countrya**s security
The result was the a**Arab Springa**. In the months leading up to the
January demonstrations, Egypta**s top generals were delivering very stern
ultimatums to the president to abandon any hope of passing the reins to
Gamal while looking at their options to unseat Mubarak via more
unconventional means. The military strategically positioned itself early
on in the demonstration as the honest broker and guardian of the
protesters, taking care to avoid a violent crackdown on the demonstrators
while Mubaraka**s internal security forces were vilified on the streets.
Such a light hand was not due to lack of capacity, but due to lack of
need. The demonstrations provided the generals with the means to dismantle
the Mubarak legacy, the biggest liability to their own livelihood, while
maintaining the paramount role of the military.
But perhaps the most central indication that the a**revolutiona** was
misconstrued comes from the participation levels. On the day that Mubarak
ultimately stepped down the protests reached their peak. By the most
aggressive estimate only 750,000 people — less than 1 percent of the
population of densely populated Egypt a** took to the streets. In true
revolutions such as that which overthrew Communism in Central Europe or
the shah in Iran, the proportion regularly breached 10 percent and on
occasions even touched 50 percent. In short, Egypta**s Arab Spring was a
palace coup, not a revolution.”