Behind Egypt's latest revolution: The police state just won't let go

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Muhammad Morsi is out. Egyptians had the biggest street party in history and he was out.

Jubilant masses streamed into the streets to the blare of patriotic songs. Veiled Muslim women danced with Coptic nuns. Fireworks lighted the skies and army helicopters buzzed the reveling crowds to their delight. Policemen in crisp white suits, newfound darlings to the same people who once revolted at their atrocities, distributed ice water and juice.

Behind the choreography, however, this was not a spontaneous revolt, rather the culmination of dedicated planning if not outright manipulation.

Pity the president. From day one, his opposition sprung into action. A dangerous amalgam had come together to counter his every move. The first freely elected Egyptian president was opposed by the menacing machinery of a state within a state, secular parties distrustful of the Islamists' rise, oligarchs who had made their fortunes under the corrupt Mubarak regime, a tainted judiciary, restless young revolutionaries who perceived the Muslim Brotherhood to have usurped their revolution, an anxious Coptic Christian church and, not least, the ruling families of affluent Persian Gulf states.

The plan was simple: to relentlessly goad a restless populace to its breaking point. The tools were many, but foremost among them would be a media machine bent on exploiting the newfound freedom of expression. Manufactured rumors, divisive rhetoric and hateful speech were all fair game. The message was clear: This president was not working for the Egyptian people; rather, he answered to a fringe group and was doomed to fail. "They are not Egyptians" was the common refrain. The smear campaign to vilify everyone and everything Islamist would reach pitiful lows.

In the course of the year, no less than 25 "million man" protests were called for by the opposition, and countless smaller ones. The protests were vociferous and violent. "Molotov foundries" sprung up overnight. Businesses and institutions were ransacked and burned. The presidential palace was breached and defiled. Not for want of financiers, a new occupation was born.

"I work for the revolution," a street thug once quipped. Amid a slumping economy, thugs for hire were plentiful. And operatives of a nominally dismantled security apparatus knew where to find them.

Opposition leaders went cynically silent, refusing to condemn the violence in all but the mildest terms yet quick to incriminate Mr. Morsi and "his people" in the same breath. No matter if it was his party's offices being burned and looted.

Saboteurs disrupted essential services. Trains derailed, killing innocent children. And Mr. Morsi was blamed. Garbage collection, a state monopoly, came to a halt almost throughout the country. And again Mr. Morsi was blamed. But perhaps most devastating of all were the escalating shortages of fuel and electricity. Brownouts were ratcheted up as the sweltering summer months approached. Lines at gas stations grew to intolerable lengths. By the time the grass-roots group "Rebel" called for a petition campaign for early elections, the people had had it.

Within a few weeks, 2 million signatures were claimed and by the eve of the mass demonstrations on June 30 no less than 22 million were announced. Never mind that these numbers were never verified. They had served their purpose, just as had the preposterous claim that 33 million people were on the streets that day.

Nor was the movement entirely grass roots. Wealthy and powerful patrons would soon brag of the financial and logistical support they had extended to the operation.

The military coup soon followed -- complete with the blessings of the religious establishment and representatives of the same ultraconservative brand of Islamists the president had been criticized for accommodating. In one stroke, the elected president was removed and abducted to a "safe place."

The constitution that had been approved by popular referendum was suspended and a hand-selected working group was tasked with rewriting it. The freely elected upper body of parliament was sent packing, just as the freely elected lower house had been the year before. TV stations were shuttered and Muslim Brotherhood officials were rounded up as a newly appointed attorney general got busy concocting charges. A hand-picked president managed to cobble together a "new" government of familiar names from the old regime.

Bearded men were taken off buses and mobbed to death or never seen again. Security forces conducted a heinous massacre of Morsi supporters during early morning prayers. Police stations once again returned to torture and abuse without a wince from a desensitized public. As if by eerie miracle, immediately after Mr. Morsi's removal, power cuts and gas shortages disappeared overnight.

There is no dispute that Mr. Morsi made political mistakes. He alienated potential supporters, particularly among the revolutionary youth, by appearing too cozy with the military and the far right. He sought to reform an inherently corrupt police system rather than replace it as his allies repeatedly advised. A presidential decree to facilitate finalizing the constitution served as a rallying cry for his opponents. But perhaps his biggest blunder was the decision to run for office in the first place.


Alaa Shalaby is a cardiologist for the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ( The views expressed here are his own and have nothing to do with his affiliations. He lives in O'Hara.


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