Two years after Egypt’s ‘January 25th Revolution’, the pro-democracy groups that were instrumental in bringing about the demonstrations find themselves isolated, both domestically and internationally. Their isolation is an indication of just how radical a threat the uprising represented.
The threat to Egypt’s established order by the protesters can be summer up in two of its most popular slogans. The first was ash-sha’b yurid isqaat al-nizaam, the people want the downfall of the regime. Changing the nizaam, the ‘system’, doesn’t just mean the removal of Mubarak as head of state or preventing his son Gamal from ‘inheriting’ the presidency: the slogan symbolized the rejection of the parasitic corruption and abuse of power that permeated every aspect of life, from ordinary people to the highest echelons of public life.
The second slogan was aish, horreya, adala igtema'eya: bread, freedom, social justice. This slogan outlines the kind of society protesters wished to see the nizaam replaced by: protesters wanted a more inclusive social, economic and political system to replace the oligarchic, authoritarian kleptocracy which has ruled Egypt and continues to do so to this day.
The contemporary incarnation of the nizaam is founded upon an at least temporary compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces, in which the former are allowed to front state institutions – but in key senses not control them – while the latter retain their vast economic privileges, thanks to a constitutional guarantee of inscrutability for their budget and presence in the government. Key to this compromise is the shared – if not common – interest in growing their economic influence through a privileged access to and control over state resources (whether as material assets or as legislator).
Still today, these slogans epitomize the root causes for the protests against the Muslim Brotherhood-fronted nizaam. They also help explain democratic forces’ isolation from the groups closest to power in Egypt today and from their international backers, the Gulf states and their western counterparts.