Egypt's Military Learns its Lesson

How the Ruling Council in Cairo Contained a Second Revolution

The second revolution has, supposedly, come to Egypt. Over the past twelve days, tens of thousands of Egyptians have gathered in Tahrir Square to demand that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cede power to a civilian-led National Salvation Government. Egyptian security forces responded by killing at least 40 people, wounding more than 1,000, and blanketing parts of downtown Cairo with weapons-grade tear gas. The ugly scenes recall the earliest days of the mass uprising in January and February, the first revolution, which ended Hosni Mubarak’s reign. But this second revolution has one major problem: so long as Egyptians avoid Tahrir Square, it is somewhat easy to ignore.

The sit-in began on November 18, when an Islamist-led mass demonstration withdrew from Tahrir Square, leaving behind a handful of protesters, including family members of people killed during the first revolution. When Central Security Forces violently dispersed this small sit-in, thousands of youth activists quickly mobilized, battling police for control of the square. As the violence surged, thousands more poured into Tahrir, and the deadly tumult forced the SCAF to make some concessions, such as vowing to cede power by July 2012 and accepting the resignation of Egypt’s unpopular interim government. But this second revolution has failed to achieve its biggest goal -- namely, forcing the SCAF to hand executive authority over to a civilian-led National Salvation Government, headed by Mohamed El Baradei.

The second revolution has failed because, since a ceasefire went into effect on November 24, it has been remarkably contained. Indeed, beyond Tahrir Square, Cairo is moving as normally as ever. Just a few feet from the Tahrir entry points, where overeager youth activists pat down everyone who passes through, shops are open and pedestrian traffic is swift. Right across the Nile, in the swanky island neighborhood of Zamalek, the cafés are crammed until 2 AM. The markets are full in lower-income Imbaba; the ATMs are working in middle-class Dokki; and the restaurants are serving in wealthy Mohandessin. And in recent

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