Mihaylo Economics Associate Professor Sherif Khalifa is the author of the 2015 book, Egypt’s Lost Spring: Causes and Consequences, which examines political developments in his native Egypt from 2010 to 2013. This period encompassed the fall of the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship, a defining moment in the Arab Spring, and the subsequent conflict between the country’s moderate and Islamist factions.
“Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” Those were the words of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Jan. 25, 2011, as protests over the death of a young activist at the hands of police started in Cairo. The protesters had low expectations and the decades-long dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak seemed secure.
Yet in a remarkable period of three weeks, the protests in Cairo grew to a popular uprising encompassing a broad cross-section of Egypt’s 80 million people. With Islamists, secularists, Coptic Christians and others demanding his ouster, Mubarak was finally forced to give up power on Feb. 11, 2011, a day that will forever be the defining moment of the Arab Spring, a series of revolutions against dictators in the Middle East.
How did the unforeseen Egyptian Revolution come about? Why did the pro-democracy movement deteriorate into bitter factional in-fighting between pro-and anti-Islamist factions within Egyptian society? What are the implications for the future of Egypt, the world’s largest Arab country in population and a bellwether for the region?
The Importance of Egypt
Khalifa notes that Egypt, which has a historical record extending more than 6,000 years, was the first unified nation-state in history. It was also the first nation to fall into tyrannical leadership.
Khalifa notes that revolution in Egypt is remarkable considering the relative calm the country has experienced for generations. “For years, Egypt was the living embodiment of the calm before the storm. No news worthy of anyone’s attention came from the land of the pyramids,” he wrote. “The stillness and inaction were misinterpreted by many as a sign of stability in a part of the world where countries seemed to be destined to their fair share of turmoil. Then suddenly, the country that was considered a pillar of stability in that turbulent area began to shake at the foundation.”
Triggers of the Egyptian Revolution
The book recounts how Mubarak, who led Egypt from 1981 until his ouster in 2011, took over following the assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat, who had reached a historic peace agreement with Israel in 1978. Mubarak, who was miraculously spared Sadat’s fate, reacted to the country’s divisions by withdrawing from the country’s previous spheres of influence in the Arab world and developing a foreign policy focused on courting the West. In the Mubarak era, Egypt was at times pro-Israel and always preserved its peace treaty with their predominantly Jewish neighbor.
Outwardly, things looked good for Egypt in the 2000s. The Egyptian economy grew at a 7% annual rate from 2005 to 2008, declining to 5% during the Great Recession – a much better performance than the U.S. at the time. Yet most of the nation’s people remained locked in poverty and the gap between rich and poor widened. In 2010, youth unemployment stood at 25%, joblessness among the general population was 9%, and inflation was at 11%. Social services, such as health care and food subsidies, had been repealed under the Mubarak Administration, angering many people.
Egypt was not the first Arab country to experience revolution in 2011. That distinction goes to Tunisia, which overthrew its leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, at the beginning of the year. Nor was it the last: Libya would depose dictator Muammar Gaddafi; Yemen and Bahrain would be shaken by protests; and a rebellion against Syrian President Bashir al-Assad would begin that country’s long civil war, which continues to this day.
Millions of Egyptians rejoiced the day Mubarak resigned, but the departure of their longtime leader was only the beginning of a protracted sectarian crisis. “To this day, Tahrir Square remains blocked with tanks, armored carriers, and double coils of barbed wire,” Khalifa writes. “Thousands of those yearning for freedom continue to languish behind bars. A new law to ban street protests, free assembly, and public expression was passed and continues to be in effect.”
After Mubarak was deposed, Egypt was ruled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a group of military leaders who ruled the country while a new constitution could take effect and democratic elections could be held. A new president, Mohammed Morsi, was elected on June 24, 2012. Morsi was opposed by liberal, Christian and secular groups, and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group which had been persecuted under Mubarak.
On July 3, 2013, amid massive protests, the Egyptian military deposed Morsi in a coup d’état. The military-backed authorities arrested many Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters and fired on pro-Brotherhood supporters during street demonstrations. Egypt’s leader is currently Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had been the head of the country’s armed forces.
Khalifa’s Hopes for His Book
Khalifa’s book was written for a wide range of readers, including those interested in Egyptian politics in particular or Middle East developments generally, political scientists, students of American foreign policy and historians.
In addition to a chronology, the author provides commentary on the definition of a coup d’état, the goals of all players in the Egyptian political drama and a prognosis for the country.
“While I do not claim that I have done justice to all the arguments and points of view, I hope that this contribution will pave the way to a debate that will continue to pose questions about what happened in Egypt,” he writes. “In my attempt, I do not intend to offer ready packaged interpretations, to echo other’s convictions, to refute or make a rebuttal to certain arguments, to vindicate anyone or any group, or to justify anyone’s behavior. I will try to present all points of view. Usually, the best approach to achieve that is to try to go through their thought processes at the time. I do not claim that I have done that in a way that will satisfy the inquiry of all on this topic. But I hope that the gaps in my arguments can be filled by others who will continue the quest to dissect the crisis in Egypt and will proceed with the pursuit to fully comprehend its dimensions.”
Khalifa’s book is available on Amazon and at the Pollak Library.
About Sherif Khalifa
Mihaylo Economics Associate Professor Sherif Khalifa explores these questions in his 2015 book, Egypt’s Lost Spring: Causes and Consequences. Published by ABC-CLIO, the 298-page text provides a chronology of political developments in Egypt from 2010 to 2013, with commentary on the background and motivations of the various players and the implications for the region and beyond.
Khalifa, who teaches courses on economic development and macroeconomics for both Mihaylo undergraduate and graduate students, earned his doctorate in economics from Johns Hopkins University. His published articles on Egyptian affairs have appeared on the Al Jazeera website, Foreign Policy Journal and Al Shorouk, one of Egypt’s top newspapers.