Egypt is on the Northeastern tip of Africa and the Southwestern tip of Asia, with the transcontinental land bridge of the Sinai Peninsula between them. It is a country packed full of people, the 15th most population dense country in the world, and the most people of Africa or the Middle East. It also has the longest history of any country in the world, having been continuously inhabited since 10th Millennium BC. They are key players in the Muslim world, and what happens there matters.
HISTORY FOR CONTEXT
In ancient Egypt, the story unfolds from fishermen to grain-grinders to a desert people. A unified kingdom by 3150 BC, the ancient pyramids we think of didn’t even happen until Egypt was already in its fourth dynasty. The famous pharaohs that we know (Nefertiti and Ramesses II) didn’t even happen until the 18th dynasty, which began the New Kingdom period. It was during the 30th dynasty that Egypt finally fell to the Persians in 343 BC. Like the rest of the area, the Hellenistic state followed until the last of its rulers, our celebutante Cleopatra (VII) and her Mark Antony, and their famous suicides in 30 BC.
That did was the end of it for the Egyptian people, because then history began to repeat itself. The native Egyptians, the common people began to rebel against the Helenstic culture and civil wars plagued the government. The kingdom eventually declined until being annexed by Rome until the Muslim conquest. The Byzantines reclaimed control (remember that the Byzantines are the Romans after they converted to Christianity) briefly in the 600’s, before the Arab Muslims conquered them and Egypt became part of the Islamic Empire – for six whole centuries.
In 1517, the Ottomans conquered the Arab Muslims in Egypt the same as everywhere else. They had trouble controlling the people, though, because the military families were like a caste system that had been there since the time of the Pharaohs. This is important and comes in to play in modern times.
Napoleon invaded in 1798, and the French ruled until being overthrown by the British. At this point, Muhammad Ali was set up as viceroy, but led it into a classic Egyptian dynasty as it was passed down to son after son. When the Suez Canal was built, Egypt was in such debt that they sold out to the British, surrendering their dynasty to a puppet government of the British. This increased the divisions between the military and the people and the actual ruling government, until the late 1890’s when the British and French armies had to actually fight the Egyptian military they had been controlling – ultimately establishing the nationalist movement of the people demanding their own government (rather than a puppet government for the British). In an attempt at compromise, the British re-instated the dynasty, with Ali’s descendant set up as leader of this de facto British protectorate and giving him the title of “sultan” to make him sound Islamic instead of British.
So there we have it, the military and the Islamists and the people and the government all tangled up, none having what they wanted exactly, and none too pleased with the others.
MODERN EVENTS LEADING UP TO ARAB SPRING
All this bubbled up and spilled over until Egypt won its independence from Britain in 1922, drafting a constitution and setting up its own Parliament in 1923.
However, Britain wouldn’t get out of the way entirely, and this led to a military coup d’etat in 1952, the second big revolution in Egypt.
By this revolution, the military stole control of the government and the power from King Farouk, declaring Egypt to be a republic in 1953 and installing General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. But the real guy behind the military winning control of the government was Gamal Abdel Nasser – who promptly put the President under house arrest in 1954, transferring the government to himself in 1956 by essentially kidnapping the Suez Canal (but that’s another story).
This Nasser guy stayed in power until he died in 1970, when he was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat is the one who flipped, becoming an alliance with the United States instead of the Soviet Union. He was also the guy who made the first peace treaty with Israel in 1979 by trading peace for getting the Sinai back. This is important because it made the Arabs mad, which got Egypt kicked out of the Arab League, and ultimately got him very nearly assassinated.
(NOTE: This philosophy that plays into the crisis in Egypt, about the Muslim Brotherhood believing all states should have governments based on Islamic law is part of the crisis in Israel. The Jews do not want a state based on Islamic law, and the Muslims do not want to submit to a government that is not based on Islamic law.)
Because of the assassination attempt, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned from Egypt. It continued to grow in power underground, becoming the population of the middle class and wealthy. They began to fund social programs, and some were even in government as independents.
And once again, the military and the government and the Muslims and the people are all on different sides, in the same country, all of them upset with each other.
RETURN OF THE PHAROAHS
Then Hosni Mubarak came into power.
February 2005: Mubarak decides to change the rules without asking anyone. He called it “election reform”, but made the requirements for candidates so limited that only he could win. Almost no one even tried voting. The runner-up was arrested.
2006: Human Rights Watch group reports serious human right violations, including routine torture.
2007: The group Amnesty International releases evidence that Egypt is being used as an international center for torture.
March 2007: More “reforms”, this time giving the military more power and giving the president (Mubarak) power to dismiss parliament.
Basically, what happened is that while Mubarak was still using the title “President”, he had dismissed judicial and parliamentary powers, so that he and the military held all the power. We call that “military dictatorship”. In Egypt, they call that “Pharaoh”.
This is actual an important piece of the puzzle, because the military in Egypt is different than how we think of military. The military in Egypt, this generational caste system of the descendants of Pharaohs own the land and the economic power in Egypt. They sell the real estate, lease the resource extraction, and own the factories. The factories are staffed by conscripts, or males between 18 and 30 who are drafted into the army and have to work for free. The products that are made and the food that is grown is then sold to the people of Egypt. So the military owns the land and the food and the factories, force the people to work for free, and then sell the products to the people.
That’s no fun for the people.
Except, because of this ancient philosophical rhetoric, the people submit to this because they know the military will protect and care for them if it is needed. The military follows through on this because it can’t keep its power without the free service of the people. Sacred history or abuse cycle, that’s how it works in Egypt.
And it worked for 30 years, because the people didn’t know better, because of very strict censorship.
Until the internet came along, and with it a new generation that new better.
ARAB SPRING… and SUMMER… and the SUMMER AFTER THAT
2010: The initial trigger for the protests begins when Mubarak sends his son to Europe for college, and the son comes back with a banking degree. The son wants to reorganize how Egypt does its economy, because the conscription isn’t good for the people and there are better ways to do things. This makes the military on edge, because they don’t want to lose the power they have from the economy and conscription.
January 2011: The people began to protest Mubarak’s military dictatorship and the torture it was doing. The protestors are “primarily young, disenfranchised, unemployed, activist people who want a revolutionary egypt“. The wealthy and middle class, now the Muslim Brotherhood, slowly begin to join when they realize an overthrow would give them a chance to regain power.
Mubarak tries to call on the military to settle the people down and make it stop, but they are upset about the recent changes in the economic power, so they just sort of don’t respond at all.
Later, the military joins because they need everything to finish quickly so they can get back to the wealth gained from stable conscription service (which doesn’t happen when everyone is out in the streets instead of in factories and on the farms).
February 2011: Mubarak resigned (and fled).
This was the celebration you saw on TV that happened in Tahrir Square.
What you didn’t see was that the Egyptian military was still in power and promptly dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.
The Muslim Brotherhood wants elections to happen right away because they have the money and social power for campaigning.
But the liberal and progressive factions want to first create a constitution, so that the whole government can be done right instead of just replacing the power.
The military is the deciding vote, going with the Muslim Brotherhood for immediate elections, so they can get back to the job of the military: selling real estate and selling the products that furnish these developments. This is “not a normal pairing“, the military joining sides with the Muslim Brotherhood, but the military does so just it wants things to calm down.
Then, to make things more complicated, America swoops in to side with the military and the Islamists, because America doesn’t want a military government in control without any government leadership (it’s not the way we do things around here, right?).
So what this means is that elections happened quickly, with support from everyone BUT the people themselves.
The people demand constitutional reform.
November 2011: The first parliamentary election since the “Arab Spring” revolution was held. There was a huge turnout of voters.
BUT, the Islamists win the majority of seats in parliament.
Now the the people feel betrayed by the military, who did not help them with fair voting, AND betrayed by the new government because they are not being represented. They also feel betrayed by America, who they thought would help support the revolution but who instead cared that any leader was in place (to keep military power in check).
As vlogbrothers explain, this is “annoying” because there would be no revolution if it weren’t for the people, but now there has been a revolution but no one is listening to them!
So when the elections happen, the first and second place winners getting 25% percent of the vote each, meaning that half the people of Egypt vote for someone besides the old President.
Mubarak can’t win now, so he stayed away.
This leaves the people with the choice of either the Muslim Brotherhood, who was already in power, or someone from the original regime they were trying to overthrow!
This means the people are not themselves represented, with either a military choice or a Islamic state choice, but no one representing the people themselves.
June 2012: Mohamed Morsi was elected president. This meant that now the Muslim Brotherhood held the power. In addition, the new cabinet for parliament was announced in August, including four more from the Muslim Brotherhood, and so the liberal and secular groups walked out for fear that the Brotherhood would force Egypt to be an Islamic state based on Islamic law.
This Morsi guy won by a hair, and at first the people were not too upset because at least there had been an election, and they hoped he would do a good job. The people thought that because he had ridden their coattails for the revolution and to get elected, he might show some gratitude and help set things in order.
He did not.
And he did a really bad job.
Everyone said so, and everyone told him so.
Only he didn’t listen, didn’t ask for help, and didn’t fix anything.
He just kept doing a bad job.
He did a bad job until the people were mad at him for just being the next Pharaoh, the Muslim Brotherhood was mad at him for ruining their chances for real power with the support of the people, and the military was mad at him for keeping the people mad at him so no one is buying real estate or working in the factories.
November 2012: “President” Morsi declared himself immune from the constitution.
That didn’t appease the people, calm the military, or comfort the Islamists.
Now everyone is really mad at him, and everyone knows he is just another dictator.
The military is upset, the Muslim Brotherhood is upset, and the people are upset.
So the people try another revolution, trying to get the Islamist government and military to listen to them. They go door to door, all over Egypt, getting people to sign a petition saying they promise to meet in the streets on June 30th of 2013. They want another revolution, since the last one only replaced the power but didn’t revolutionize the government.
More than 22 million people signed the petition, which is more people than voted for Morsi in the first place. The entire country is stirred up, so the military and the government and the Brotherhood join forces to urge Morsi to make concessions to the people before civil war erupts (again).
Instead, he gave a speech. A three hour long, poorly presented, really divisive speech.
December 2012: The speech was so bad, and so divisive, that the people don’t wait for June 30th. More than 10 million people take to the streets as soon as he finally stops talking, for the most violent battle in the modern streets of Egypt.
Morsi responded by signing into law the Constitution of Egypt, for which only a third of the people got to vote for and which dissolved the provisional constitution that had been adopted after the revolution.
In addition, this new Constitution included a “Blasphemy Code“, by which people may be sentenced to death (even if they are not present for a trial) for speaking out against the government.
It also made the state religion now be Islam.
By June 2013, more than 30 foreigners (including 16 Americans) were accused, tried, and sentenced under the Blasphemy Law, all of them workers for nonprofit groups. The Americans received the longest sentences (five years).
January 2013: More than 50 people are killed during the street protests, and the military begins to understand the state of Egypt can’t function if the people can’t function.
March 2013: Morsi wants to bring parliamentary elections forward to April, but the court refuses him. This is huge.
June 2013: “President Morsi appoints Islamist allies as regional leaders in 13 of Egypt’s 27 governorships. Most controversially he appoints a member of a former Islamist armed group linked to a massacre of tourists in Luxor in 1997. This prompts protests and the Luxor governor subsequently resigns.” (BBC NEWS) The country is now short on fuel and water, because of the impact on the military factories.
June 22: Islamist supporters pour into the streets to show their support of Morsi, clashing with the revolutionaries (“the opposition”) protesting against him.
June 29: Egypt is running out of fuel, electricity, and water. Revolutionaries ransack the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, sparking dueling street protests that become violent.
June 30: American college student Andrew Pochter is killed during street protests. Islamist defenders of Morsi camp outside the palace to protect him.
July 1: Millions of revolutionaries flood the streets to protest.
July 2: The military gives Morsi 24 hours to respond to the people before they intervene. The protests have continued and grown bad enough and public enough that this somehow “invokes the sacred bond between military and people” (vlogbrothers).
July 5: The military finally goes and removes Morsi from office by force. They don’t replace him; they just remove him. The head of the constitutional court gets put in as a temporary head of government. International response includes:
- Syria declares this to be the “fall of political Islam“;
- According to American law, the US cannot support Egypt if the leader is deposed by force;
- Some Islamists blame the Muslim Brotherhood for reaching for too much power too fast;
- Other Islamists blame the Muslim Brotherhood for picking a bad leader and not choosing wisely;
- Most acknowledge the power of the youth in sparking changing, but criticize their falling short in being able to implement it;
- Some claim that America’s acceptance of the coup will lead to violence because Islamists will lose faith in democratic process; and
- Conservative Islamists try to reassure that the coup was not an attack on Islam itself.
July 9: Islamists stage a peaceful sit-in for Morsi, but it becomes a mass shooting – 54 die. The military states that the sit-in was not peaceful, but that the Islamists attacked first and were armed.
July 11: Obama announces he is sending 4 F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, despite concerns that US should not aid Egypt since its leader was overthrown by force. Obama refrains from using the word “coup” in reference to Egypt, as that would legally require the US to stop sending aid.
The new government of Egypt has still not disclosed where Morsi is being held.
The new government says a panel to amend the constitution will be set up within 15 days, a new parliament within four months, and a new president voted on in early 2014.
The Islamists say they won’t let it happen, and are demanding the return of Morsi.
The entire coup of Egypt explained in seven minutes, faster than my cochlear implants can listen: