The American Interest

Egypt's Non-Revolution

The fall of Hosni Mubarak came as a complete surprise to experts and policymakers.  Why did the shadowy leading figures in Egypt’s political-military establishment, men who have profited handsomely from Mubarak’s three decades in power, risk their own power and privilege by pulling the plug on him?

As Cairo returned to its chaotic daily routine, the answer became clear: What happened on February 11 was not a “revolution” at all, but a military coup.  There was no regime change like in Iran in 1979, or in Eastern Europe a decade later, or in Tunisia in January.  Egypt’s regime was never in real danger.  At their peak, the protests in Tahrir Square and all other hot spots around the country gathered fewer than one percent of Egypt’s 83 million people.  The crowds were disproportionately middle-class and nonviolent, unlike the 1977 bread rioters.  The protesters’ demands focused on corruption, police repression, and democratic reforms, but their seething anger was aimed at Mubarak personally.  His departure was their main demand.  This suited Egypt’s top brass, which remained in complete control throughout the crisis.  Mubarak had to go because the generals decided that he had become a liability to the regime’s viability.  Paradoxically, the regime itself is now stronger.

A year short of six decades ago, the army brought down King Farouk, and...

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