Eric Trager writes: When an Egyptian court dismissed all criminal charges against former dictator Hosni Mubarak last weekend, many called it the final nail in coffin of the “revolution” that ousted Mubarak from power in February 2011. “Egypt’s revolution is dead,” CNN reported. “The January revolution is over; they ended it,” the father of an activist who was killed during the uprising told the New York Times. After the July 2013 ouster of Egypt’s first freely elected president and the subsequent rise of another former military general to the presidency, the end of Mubarak’s criminal case looks like the icing on Egypt’s counterrevolutionary cake.
Yet this narrative misunderstands what Egypt’s Tahrir Square revolt meant to many Egyptians, particularly those from the country’s political center, which is overwhelmingly rural and traditional, although not necessarily Islamist. Far from desiring the far-reaching – revolutionary – political reform that the “Arab Spring” narrative embodied, many of these Egyptians endorsed only the uprising’s two most basic goals: ending Mubarak’s 30-year rule and preventing the succession of his son Gamal. From their perspective, Mubarak had simply ruled for too long, and his apparent attempt to install Gamal as his successor reeked of pharaonism. For these Egyptians, the “revolution,” as they refer to the uprising, didn’t die with Saturday’s trial verdict, because Mubarak still isn’t president. And ever since Mubarak was overthrown, their goal has been to return to normalcy, even if that falls short of democracy.
It is difficult to establish just how widely this view is held: Polling in Egypt is notoriously weak; the Egyptian military used its control of the state media to discourage further revolutionary activity after Mubarak fell; and the current regime has quashed dissent substantially. But it is a sentiment that I have encountered repeatedly during the dozen or so research trips that I have taken to Egypt over the past four years, and it is useful for understanding the main reason the “revolution” didn’t die on Saturday: A true revolution never happened in the first place. This is what a crucial bloc of Egyptians wanted: stability, as they defined it, rather than the deep institutional reforms that a true revolution required. [Continue reading…]