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Egypt’s Democracy in Reverse

NEW DELHI – Egypt has had a long and difficult couple of years. From January 25, 2011, when millions of people poured into the streets to rally against Hosni Mubarak’s regime, to the army’s recent overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi, the country has experienced a fall from euphoria into division and frustration – a pattern that seems to have become an inescapable feature of revolution. Was Egypt’s democratic transition doomed from the start?

Although Egypt’s revolution followed Tunisia’s, it was the successful overthrow of Mubarak’s regime that gave rise to the moniker “Arab Spring.” But, despite the country’s ostensible progress from Mubarak’s military-backed dictatorship to Morsi’s democratically elected government, it appears that not much has changed. Indeed, the army is now suppressing another “people’s revolt” – this time, by supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

With Egypt’s military restoring its grip on power, the country’s hoped-for political renaissance is slipping from view. Although plans for a new constitution and fresh elections in the next six months have been announced, the waywardness of the coup’s aftermath – reflected in the death of more than 50 protesters and the arrest of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and their leaders – calls into question a democratic future.

External factors further undermine Egypt’s democratic prospects – and those of the Arab Spring countries that have viewed Egypt as a model. The brutal suppression of popular rebellion in Syria by President Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’athist government raises doubts that Arab countries will soon escape their legacy of oppressive leadership. On the contrary, the deepening in recent years of the long-standing Sunni-Shia schism throughout the Muslim world heralds further violence.