Who owns the Egyptian revolution?

By: Bjørn Olav Utvik, University of Oslo.

The idea that there are some who are “the revolutionaries” and others that “ride the revolution” into positions of power is widespread among certain segments of the forces that brought about change in Egypt. But the idea that the liberal and leftist youth should be considered  the privileged heroes of the revolution is dubious. These forces were certainly important actors in what happened but in the crucial days of January and February 2011 they were never alone.
In the preparations to the demonstration on 25 January, which in retrospect is seen as the start of it all, the youth movement of the Muslim Brothers took full part. A couple of days later the mother organisation threw its full weight throughout the width and breadth of the country behind the movement for freedom and democracy. There is little doubt that the strength, discipline and capacity of the Brotherhood organisation played an essential part in developing and sustaining the movement in the weeks and months that followed.
In the elections to the People’s Assembly, the first stage in establishing the democratic system demanded in the revolution, the political party established by the Muslim Brothers, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), became by far the largest with 37 percent of the votes. The idea that the FJP MPs are free-riders of the revolution can logically be interpreted in a number of ways:
1.    The voters do not support the revolution, and therefore voted for a non-revolutionary group.
2.    The voters may have supported the toppling of Mubarak, but do not think that the true revolutionaries have a credible programme for the road ahead.
3.    The voters would have voted for the true revolutionaries, but did not get to know about their parties because these lacked resources to make their policies and candidates known.
4.    The voters support the true revolutionaries, but were fooled into voting for someone else.
5.    The voters are, for lack of education or otherwise, not able to discern which parties and candidates that truly represent their values and interests.

A  sixth interpretation would be that the vote was rigged, but then the successful candidates would not really be riding the revolution, but rather conspiring with those trying to roll it back. It would also go against the reports of observers both Egyptian and foreign who have in general considered the elections to have been free and fair. There were lots of irregularities, and in a number of cases these led to a rerun of the elections, but the final outcome have almost universally been accepted as reflecting the preferences of the Egyptian electorate.
Otherwise the interpretations above may be investigated and debated. Against argument 1 it could be said that most of the winning candidates in the elections positioned themselves as defenders of the revolution. And like in Tunisia people have to a large extent voted according to the anti-regime credentials of the various movements. Those with a strong connection to the old regime received very few votes, and represent a tiny minority in the new parliament. The problem with argument 2 is that there was not one united alternative representing the revolutionaries, even in the narrow sense which excludes the Islamists. So there was no unambiguous revolutionary alternative for the road ahead to be supported or rejected. There is probably more to say for argument 3 in the sense that the many small parties started by groups of leftist or liberal (and even some Islamists opposed to the Brotherhood leadership) youth were new and unfamiliar to the electorate. Yet it is difficult to uphold argument 4. Most Egyptians have been familiar with the Muslim Brothers for a very long time, so the idea that they did not know for whom they voted seems hard to support. Finally argument 5 would seem to reflect a paternalistic attitude towards most of the Egyptian population, that is more in tune with Mubarak’s old ways than with the revolution that brought him down.
In any case, in science it is often assumed that the simplest explanation should be considered first. Most voters may be supporters of the revolution and may have voted for what  they considered to be the main forces that had brought it about and would safeguard its continuation into a democratic and non-corrupt system.