Limits of people power

The outcome of the struggle in Egypt will resonate in the Arab world

Catching the virus from Tunisia, hundreds of thousands of people spontaneously spilled into the streets of Cairo on January 25, 2011, demanding the end of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old autocratic dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood climbed on to the bandwagon 10 days later, but somewhat tentatively. The army opted to remove Mubarak from office on February 11, 2011. Instead of quickly moving towards a civilian dispensation, it started ruling directly through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). People were back in Tahrir Square, demonstrating against them. The army was forced to organise elections.

Despite the Brotherhood's unparallelled ability to mobilise supporters and its soft pedalling of its assertive Islamic persona during the election campaign, in the first round of the presidential elections in 2012, the voter turnout was a modest 46 per cent. Mohamed Morsi secured only 24.78 per cent of the votes. The Brotherhood's electoral fortunes had declined since the parliamentary elections a few months earlier. Later, only 32.9 per cent of the electorate voted in the referendum on the new constitution drafted by the Islamists. An underwhelming 63.8 per cent approved it. These percentages were a clear indicator of the popular mood. They should have prompted caution and introspection rather than celebration.

The Brotherhood suddenly found itself catapulted to the position of ruler, a dramatic departure from its traditional role as agitator, insurgent and opponent. It failed to capitalise on this historic opportunity, choosing to push its Islamist agenda, for which people had almost explicitly denied a mandate. Morsi's whimsical and increasingly autocratic rule ignored a steeply declining economy. This resulted in crowds, significantly larger than the anti-Mubarak ones, demanding his ouster.

All this indicates that despite a huge majority of Egypt's population being Muslim, people want good governance rather than an Islamic state. People had not got rid of Mubarak and later the SCAF to live under an Islamist dictatorship. They want true democracy. Raw "people power" had won three times, against heavy odds, indicating that the country's political landscape has changed dramatically.

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