Egypt’s Second Revolution: Purging the Mubarak Regime’s Legacy

Thousands of Egyptians are ticked off and fighting for democracy. Again. By Vivian Salama.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Ancient Egyptians believed that every person has three souls: Ka, Ba, and Akh. When a pharaoh was dying, priests went to great lengths to preserve the body in the hopes that even in death, the soul of the pharaoh dwells on earth for eternity.

More than 16 months after Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's modern-day pharaoh, resigned and was imprisoned, reports of his death have once again managed to overshadow the country’s historic transition period, just days before his predecessor is to be announced and while protesters took to the streets to purge his legacy from the incoming administration. State-run Middle East News Agency reported late Tuesday that the defunct leader was “clinically dead,” later backtracking to say that he experienced a "fast deterioration of his health" and is on life support.

With both camps claiming victory and official results not expected until June 21, tens of thousands of people poured into Tahrir Square Tuesday night with spirits reminiscent of the 18-day demonstration that brought down the former regime. The protesters donned face veils or long, thick beards and carried campaign posters of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi—the presumed winner by many. Some, young hipsters by American standards, carried red socialist flags. Others brought their children and waved red, white, and black banners that read “I love Egypt.” To many activists in Egypt, it doesn’t matter who wins the presidential election. One theme was universal across the square: the revolution continues.

Even as the last of the votes were being counted and Mubarak death rumors made the rounds yet again, demonstrators chanted in unison, denouncing the country’s current ruler—the military—following a series of recent legislations that some say amounted to a soft coup. They chanted: “We’ll finish what we started! Down, down, military rule.” Faced with the dilemma of choosing between the stalwart former Air Force commander Ahmed Shafiq and Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, many are fearful that a military clampdown is inevitable, regardless of who the president is.

“Revolution is about controlling the state, and so far this revolution has failed to do that,” said Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and an active secular youth activist. “This is not a time for political and ideological disputes between parties because we are fighting for a country that we don’t rule. If you want to have a serious fight, one that’s meaningful, get the power in the hands of the people, then fight over it all you want.”

"Both sides ran an equally dirty and fraudulent campaign, and violated the hell out of every rule there was," Mahmoud Salem, a sharp-witted blogger turned politician and author of the popular blog “Rantings of a Sandmonkey.” "The Muslim Brotherhood basically pushed for announcing their results and claiming victory early, thus creating the impression that they won, before the tallying was over and before the injunctions on specific polling stations was made. This way if they win, they have momentum, and if they lose, they can claim fraud."

For many of the youth activists who were a driving force in last year’s revolution, the fight for democracy has just begun. With hopes momentarily dashed for establishing a civilian, secular state, many say that they will neither accept totalitarian military rule nor will they welcome an Islamist president who doesn’t adhere to secular governance. The group faced an upset in last year’s parliamentary elections following the crushing defeat by the Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafists. The problem, say some observers, was the lack of organization.

“Once they accomplished their first goal of ousting Mubarak, they didn’t know where to go from there,” said Said Sadek, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. “The biggest mistake in this revolution is they did not organize a revolution party quickly. There has to be a revolutionary party that unites all the groups. There was an attempt but it failed.”

The race revealed that bureaucratic hurdles were no match for the unyielding influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Long at odds with the state, and only recently accepted as a legitimate organization, the Brotherhood has seemingly adapted to circumstances working against it, winning substantial support in cities and villages across Egypt. But youth activists say they haven’t given up. With little representation in government, secular youth activists have been forced to take their mission to the streets, providing much of the same grassroots services that earned the Muslim Brotherhood its reputation nationwide.

A controversial ruling passed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces stated that the military—not the president—will determine who writes Egypt’s permanent constitution and will oversee the national budget. A decree from earlier last week allows the military to arrest civilians. Many observers say that despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s claim to victory, the race is too close to call and Ahmed Shafiq may pull off a surprise upset in the end.

“It doesn’t make a different who wins, both of them will be puppets of the military” said Laila El Gueretly, an activist with the Free Egypt Party who slept in a tent in Tahrir Square for 18 days during last year’s revolution. “It’s not about Shafiq or Morsi. Regardless who wins, we will be fighting the same regime, the same oppression, the same corruption.”