Egypt’s Three Revolutions: The Force of History behind this Popular Uprising

This article, written by Omnia El Shakry, provides a sharp account of some of the major events in Egypt’s political and economic history over the last 100 years.  Understanding this history, specifically the factors surrounding Egypt’s previous revolutions, is crucial to fulling grasping the Egyptian Uprising of 2011.

An overview of the article follows below. The full article can be accessed here.

A primer in Egyptian history

1919 Revolution

Egypt was under British colonial rule from 1882 until the 1919 revolution. The country achieved its independence from British only in the aftermath of persistent protests. After two years years of stalled negotiations the British abolished martial law in Egypt and granted the country nominal independence in February 1922.  However, the british did not make a complete withdrawal from Egypt as they maintained  control over the security of imperial communications, the defense of Egypt, the protection of foreign interests and minorities, and the Sudan.

The post Word War I atmosphere in Egypt was marked by political and economic crisis. This crisis materialized in an expansion of the colonial-state bureaucracy, the state appropriation of cotton production, and the forced provision of supplies for British troops. There was also fierce competition for political power during this period between the middle class nationalists (effendiyya), the colonial regime, and the delegation Party. This postwar atmosphere were some of the most major contributing factors of the 1919 rebellion.

The 1919 revolution was an assertion of Egyptian nationalism in the atmosphere of British colonialism. This was a nationalist revolution.

1952 Revolution 

The atmosphere in Egypt in the 1930s was  turbulent. This was seen in an increase of activism by student groups, workers, unions, and peasen demonstrators. In 1952 this mood culminated with a military coup led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The coup led to the removal of Egypt’s monarch, King Faruq, and the entrance of Muhammad Naguib as President of the country’s new Republic.

The new government, which was ingrained with the revolutionary principles of Nasser, was marked by a highly state-centralized process of socioeconomic development and a populist nationalist ideology. Nasserism could be characterized by its promotion of the state as an apparatus to further both social welfare and economic development. The new doctrine in egypt would thus embark on a number of interventionist policies which focused on social planning and economic engineering. However, it must be noted, that the model was predicated on a foundational violence. This notion became evident in the Spring of 1954, during which a united front of protesters from various groups and classes gathered to demand an end to Nesser’s military dictatorship and a return to civilian rule. Nasser soon consolidated his rule and became Premier and the president of the Revolutionary Command Council in April 1954.  As Premier, Nasser made efforts to contain the possibility of any popular movements that could threaten his regime. Specifically, there were attempts to curb the two main ideological movements at the time, that is, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Marxist-Communist Left. There was also an abolition of political parties and organizations during this period.

The Nasser regime concentrated on removing the country’s old landed aristocracy through agrarian reform and cooperation with the old industrial bourgeoisie. This was done in an effort to bolster large-scale national industrialization. This change created a new class of “state bourgeoisie.”

1974 Neoliberalism 

The mid 1970s brought an end to Nasser’s pursuit of socialism and beginning of a liberalization process led by Anwar Sadat. Sadat’s Presidential Working Paper of October 1974 mark Egypt’s transition away from economic nationalism towards a free-market economy. With this transition came an inflow of foreign capital and the strengthening of the private sector through a series of concessions. Thus, both a internal and external process of liberalization.

Liberalization in Egypt meant a more favorable environment for foreign investment, a decentralization of foreign trade, an inflow of foreign aid, liberalization of fiscal policies, and a decentralization in state economic planning and control over the private sector.

By the 1990’s the Egyptian economy had accumulated a severe amount of foreign dept. With this debt, and the threat of default, came a series of IMF-mandated structural adjustment polices. Wealth in the country began to concentrate into fewer and fewer hands. With neoliberalism has come the removal of the state sector and the elimination of much of the country’s safety net and social welfare benefits.  Wealth became extremely polarized, and many Egyptians found themselves in worsening situations.  These conditions culminated in  January 2011, which was not a spontaneous eruption of protests.


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