Repeating the Past: Further Mass Protest in Egypt

By: Andrew Morsilli


Egypt is once again becoming the scene of protest against a government perceived to be repressive and tyrannical by some elements within the country. The ousting of president Morsi in recent months has sparked new waves of protests and clashes with the new military backed government that has taken power. It looks increasingly as if Egypt is repeating near history. The new atmosphere of violence and discontent is reminiscent of the civil unrest that occurred at the beginning of Egypt’s uprising to depose president Hosni Mubarak. If the new political climate is in fact developing the same volatile atmosphere it had during the first uprising, we are likely to see new waves of mass protest and indeed perhaps another change in government. All of these political pressures that have now come boiling to the surface derive from years of political and civil tensions that have spanned decades and only breached the surface recently in the form of protest at the advent of Egypt’s political awakening almost three years ago now.


In February of 2011, protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo Egypt started the Arab Spring, which quickly spread to other countries in the Arab world, resulting in civil unrest and protests in countries such as Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and others. The battle cry of these protesters called for an end of government persecution, and demanded new democratic institutions, social justice, among other things. After months of protests and with the backing of the Egyptian military, president Hosni Mubarak was driven from power after a three-decade reign and numerous allegations of negligence, human rights abuses, and corruption. With his ousting the first free democratic election in decades took place on May 23 and June 16, which resulted in the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, the first outspoken Islamist as head of state in the Arab World.


On November 22 2013, protests against Morsi and his new constitutional policies led to the deaths of numerous protesters and ultimately to his overthrow by the military. An interim government has been set up by the Egyptian military, who are now suppressing resistance to their new policies. Many supporters of Morsi have protested his ousting and taken to the streets to show their displeasure with the regime change. In the past months since the overthrowing of Morsi clashes between protesters and the military have becoming increasingly violent.[1] Furthermore, the government is imposing harsh crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in general. Egypt’s central government stripped tens of thousands of Imams of their preaching licenses and has ordered that all such licenses must hereafter be acquired from Al-Azhar University in Cairo; those without a license will be fired from their positions.[2] In addition the government of Egypt has recently banned activities and seized assets of the Muslim Brotherhood, including hospitals, schools, and charities.[3] This overt persecution only serves to further foment resistance by Muslim Brotherhood enthusiasts and those that see the echo of the past governments in these newest crackdowns.


Egypt is a country that has a long tradition of military dictatorship with various generals holding important posts within the government, most notably the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a group of military judges who held power between 2011 and 2012.[4]  Morsi’s deposition as the first democratically elected president by a military coup smacks of deceit for many Egyptians, who fear that this is a precursor to a return to military rule. In the new government the generals in power hold important positions in National Defense Council, and the defense minister would be exclusively an army officer, giving the military a de facto veto over matters of national security and foreign policy.[5] This newest wave of crackdowns against Islamists in particular seems eerily similar to Mubarak style attacks on personal freedoms and is bound to have more than a few of the veteran protesters from the original revolution wondering if this will be a repeat of the horrors of military dictatorship of decades past. These policies will have many fringe groups and disaffected persons rallying in support of a cause that is not necessarily their own, but represents and reenacts the struggle against a repressive central government, a theme all too well known in Egypt.


On October 1 anti-coup protesters protested in Tahrir Square, the iconic site of the original protests against President Mubarak in 2011 that garnered worldwide attention.[6] The reclamation of the space, which is synonymous with protest against an unjust government, is a statement by these protesters that there is still more work to be done in Egypt. On the heels of this protest came an order issued by the Egyptian authorities stating that anyone protesting against the army on Saturday, October 5th would be treated as agents of foreign powers and jailed. This repressive atmosphere in which the right to protest is being vehemently denied by the central powers is an atmosphere that mimics Mubarak’s regime. This perceived failure of democratic reform in Egypt has sent the message to other countries effected by the Arab spring that the only way to guarantee rights is through the use of violence and intimidation. Additionally, this environment of increased violence and repression stemming from the government crackdown could foster the image of Muslim Brotherhood as political martyrs, thus utilizing them as a rallying point for other marginalized groups. Such a symbol could create conflict between protesters and the Egyptian authorities, and we may see another wave of mass protest, leading to sectarian violence and political instability.


Andrew Morsilli is from a small town in Rhode Island. He is a Junior at Emory University and is a History and Religion double major with an emphasis on politics and public policy. Andrew can often be found reading about both ancient and medieval history but also has an intense interest in the history of grassroots political movements and campaigns for civil rights. Andrew’s main interest in his studies is the interplay between historical events and religion and how both affect one another and societies around the world. He spends much of his free time with friends discussing politics and gets his exercise on the Emory Intermural Fencing team.

[1] Michael, Maggie. “Egypt Political Roadmap Announced Amid Mass Protests.” Huffington Post, July 09, 2013.

[2] Bradley, Matt. “Egypt Cracks Down on Radical Muslim Clerics.” The Wallstreet Journal (New York), September 11, 2013.

[3] BBC News (London, England). “Egypt to Take over Banned Muslim Brotherhood Assets.” October 03, 2013.

[4] Ashour, Omar. “Egypt: Return to a Generals’ Republic?” BBC News (London, England), August 11, 2013.

[5] Ibid

[6] “Egypt Anti-coup Rally Held in Tahrir Square.” October 1, 2013. Accessed October 6, 2013.

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