Origins of a revolution

Ziad A Akl
Wednesday 10 Jul 2019

What light can the comparative study of revolutions throw on the 30 June Revolution in Egypt

Six years ago, life was contentious and dangerous in Egypt. The country was going through a phase in which it lacked proper security, and its citizens felt a sense of uncertainty about the future of their country during the rule of former president Mohamed Morsi with the Muslim Brotherhood in power. 

Mass mobilisation took place during the year when the Brotherhood was in office, and this created unity between the country’s political forces, social and youth movements, professional and social elites and state institutions.

There was a national coalition against the rule of Mohamed Morsi and the political influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Whether manifested in political coalitions like the National Salvation Front or the Tamarod Movement, the mobilisation was widespread at the time. 

The study of comparative revolutions has identified three phases forming the trajectory of any revolution: revolutionary origins, revolutionary processes and revolutionary outcomes.

Each of these is influenced by factors that differ from one phase to the other. In the Egyptian context, the origins of the 30 June Revolution had its own characteristics that should be pointed out. 

The origins of a revolution as a concept have to do with the factors and causes that create mass mobilisation within a society. It is this phase and these causes that lead to what are known as revolutionary processes.

Depending on the pattern of the latter and the matrix of factors that influence them come revolutionary outcomes. 

In the history of comparative revolutions and the study of political sociology, this equation is often repeated. However, the link between the origins of a revolution and the outcomes of it is governed by other factors, which means that the origins and outcomes of a revolution do not necessarily have to be theoretically connected. 

There is a lot to be said about the origins of the 30 June Revolution in Egypt. Perhaps social and political polarisation was among the main factors that constituted the origins of the revolution. The style and pattern of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political leadership caused divisions on both the social and the political levels. On the social level, the country’s elites were united in refusing to countenance Morsi and the Brotherhood governing alone. 

The country’s social elites were for once allied under one banner and were determined to oust Morsi from office.

They included political groups like the liberals, religious groups like moderate Sunni Muslims and Copts, and professional groups like doctors, engineers, journalists and judges.

There is no doubt that the 30 June Revolution was sparked by a wide alliance of social elites that resulted in mass mobilisation. 

Egypt’s political elites also had a role in mobilising for the revolution. Both political parties and social movements played a role. The appearance of the National Salvation Front was one of the main examples of the contentious politics of the regime and the opposition during Morsi’s rule.

The building of alliances with a multitude of diverse political forces at that time was unique in Egyptian political history.

The Constitutional Declaration issued in November 2012 by Morsi was a catalyst in starting a phase of mobilisation the like of which Egypt had not previously seen.

The political forces at that time were given every reason by Morsi and the Brotherhood to unite.

On the other hand, non-institutional political forces, including social movements and youth movements, were also at their peak at that time.

They clashed with the Muslim Brotherhood as a political organisation and with Mohamed Morsi as head of the executive branch. The social movements added much genuine anti-Brotherhood sentiment to the political repertoire, causing changes in public opinion towards the leadership. 

The origins of the revolution cannot be analysed without going back to the performance of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood within the public sphere. The Brotherhood, as a result of its ongoing political mistakes, created a common platform against which people could revolt on the ground.

However, it would be difficult to decide whether the 30 June Revolution was the result of the recurring mistakes of the Brotherhood or of the very successful mass mobilisation that built on elite alliances. 

The role of the armed forces is also central when discussing the origins of the 30 June Revolution. Coercive force is usually an influential factor within the trajectory of revolutions, but the armed forces in Egypt at that time did not take a political stance, but rather a nationalist one.

At a time of tension between the public and the administration, they decided to uphold the will of the public, helping to strengthen the public will to oust Morsi. There have been lots of interpretations of the significance of the army’s role, but the fact remains that it did not follow the political administration. 

The socio-political origins of the 30 June Revolution are symptomatic of the time between 2012 and 2013. Various mistakes were committed by the administration of the Muslim Brotherhood that stirred up flux in the public sphere, and they created motives for mobilisation on the one hand and for revolution on the other. 

Revolutions are not always similar when it comes to their origins or outcomes, and they are almost always to be analysed differently.

However, the origins of the 30 June Revolution and the processes through which it materialised show a society that decided against a non-representative political regime, with its will ultimately prevailing.

*The writer is a senior political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 11 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Origins of a revolution 

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