Originally posted in The Week on January 26:
The future of Egypt’s ‘unfinished’ revolution: 4 predictions
A year after the Tahrir Square protests began, the uprising’s end game is still in doubt. What’s next for Egypt?
Cairo’s Tahrir Square was teeming on Wednesday when thousands of Egyptians gathered to mark the first anniversary of the revolution that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. In the year since the protests began, the military leaders who took control after Mubarak’s government fell have promised to hand over authority to an elected president by summer, and Islamist parties have won a majority in the parliament that will write the country’s new constitution. What happens next? Here, four predictions:
1. Islamists will rule Egypt… for now
It looks like “we must brace ourselves for forms of Islamist rule for several terms,” says Ed Husain at the Council on Foreign Relations. The Muslim Brotherhood won nearly half the seats in the new parliament, and more fundamentalist Salafists are the next most powerful bloc. If Egypt’s secularists take the easy route, and simply rail against Islamists, their future is bleak. But if they “undertake the political hard grind necessary to win hearts and minds” away from the Brotherhood with “coherent messages of economic development and political freedom,” they might eventually gain power.
2. Egypt will be plagued by economic woe
A year of turmoil has left Egypt facing a financial crisis that “could undermine its political transition,” say David D. Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh in The New York Times. Egypt has “mounting debts, negligible economic growth, and dwindling foreign reserves.” Its new leaders will almost certainly have to further devalue their currency, which could cause food prices to soar. Egypt might even be forced to accept a “financial lifeline” from the International Monetary Fund, a bitter pill “after eight decades of denouncing Western colonialism and Arab dependency.”
3. The newly awakened population will demand results
Many activists have been “disappointed with the pace of progress,” says Ben Gittleson at Salon. “Thousands of civilians languish in military prisons, substantive police reform has yet to materialize, and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has repeatedly extended its rule despite promises to step down.” But Egyptians have now had a taste of political freedom, however imperfect, in the “relatively free and fair” parliamentary elections — a big change after growing up with rigged votes under Mubarak. They’re not likely to turn back now, however long the battle lasts.
4. The military and Muslim Brotherhood will have it out
“Mubarak’s downfall wasn’t the triumph of popular protest,” says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. He fell because the military turned on him and forced him out. The generals have “been the constant in Egyptian politics and society” for 60 years, and they won’t yield that position easily now. Military leaders “spent the last year consolidating” power while allowing only “the rudimentary appearance of democratic institutions.” The country’s “unfinished” revolution is heading toward a “confrontation between the military and Brotherhood,” which the military would win. “And the people of Egypt will still be screwed.”