Egypt's Democratic Mirage

How Cairo’s Authoritarian Regime Is Adapting to Preserve Itself

Despite the tenacity, optimism, and blood of the protesters massed in Tahrir Square, Egypt's democratic window has probably already closed.


Contrary to the dominant media narrative, over the last ten days the Egyptian state has not experienced a regime breakdown. The protests have certainly rocked the system and have put Mubarak on his heels, but at no time has the uprising seriously threatened Egypt's regime. Although many of the protesters, foreign governments, and analysts have concentrated on the personality of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, those surrounding the embattled president, who make up the wider Egyptian regime, have made sure the state's viability was never in question. This is because the country's central institution, the military, which historically has influenced policy and commands near-monopolistic economic interests, has never balked.


As the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party burned to the ground, NDP members chaotically appeared on TV with a pathetically incoherent message; meanwhile, the message from the ruling military elite was clear, united, fully supportive of Mubarak, and disciplined practically down to a man. Indeed, this discipline could be seen throughout the military ranks. Despite the fact that a general with a megaphone stated his solidarity with the protesters while other protesters painted "Down to Mubarak" on tanks across central Cairo, no acts of organizational fragmentation or dissent within the chain of command have occurred.


Since January 28, the Mubarak regime has sought to encircle the protesters. Egypt's governing elites have used different parts of the regime to serve as arsonist and firefighter. Due to the regime's role in both lighting the fire and extinguishing it, protesters were effectively forced to flee from one wing of the regime to another. This occurred on two levels: first, the regime targeted the protesters, using the police as its battering ram. During the first days of demonstrations, uniformed officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds. Beginning on February 2, plain-clothes officers posing as Mubarak supporters -- some on horseback and camels -- carried whips and sticks to intimidate and injure those protesting against the system, teaching them a repressive lesson.


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