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Will the Turmoil in Egypt lead to Civil War?

Port Said may become the epicenter of the revolution if the demands of the populace are not met by newly elected President Mohammed Morsi

Port Said may become the epicenter of the revolution if the demands of the populace are not met by newly elected President Mohammed Morsi

On February 11, 2011, approximately two years ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down as the supreme leader of Egypt after a reign that lasted 30 years. His rise to the pinnacle of the country’s power structure came following the 1981 assasination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat.

This was considered the culmination of the Arab Spring, ignited by the Tunisian uprising following the sacrificial self-burning by Mohamed Bouazizi, after his goods were seized by Tunisian police. The “awakening” rapidly spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, eventually inspiring the Egyptians to take to the streets in mass protests that lasted 18 days, until Mubarak finally resolved to step down and abdicate his stranglehold over the Egyptian people.

Their success was praised globally as the corrupt Mubarak regime was overthrown and the path towards democracy and unity was supposedly paved. Things in Egypt were to become better for the people.

However, this dream, which seemed all too real 24 months ago has now come full circle back to the streets where the revolution began. Life for many Egyptian people has sadly not improved. Following the topple of Mubarak, a series of power struggles from the military generals, unwilling to surrender control to the people, delayed the transfer to democracy and allowed these same generals to  capture influence over the national transition.

Then the day of parliamentary elections came and the conservative Islamic parties, including the the Muslim Brotherhood, unexpectedly managed to gain control of the legislative branch in early 2012.   Six months later, the Muslim Bortherhood managed a second victory, claiming the presidency as Mohammed Morsi won the national election.

The shockwave to the youth activists groups was great as they remained the staunch voice of the revolution that realized the dream of Mubarak’s fall from power. However, they were not able to organize a strong secular party to offset the more conservative and established groups such as the Brotherhood.

Since Morsi took office on June 30, 2012, he has pushed an agenda that many fear is simply a return to the Mubarak Egypt, potentially creating the reality that the revolutionary movement was all for not. Morsi has since  taken actions of transferring power to the office of the president, such as absolute legislative authority, butted heads with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf) and granted powers to soldiers to arrest and try civilians in military courts. In addition, a new constitution gained the support of two-thirds of the voting populace. However, it has been harshly criticized by seculars and international organizations because it fails to provide certain protections and rights for women and limits freedom of speech in the face of religion, as well as permitting child labor.

The military remains the most powerful entity within the government, and the new constitution only increased that power. With 460,000 personnel and retired army officers occupying many of the high positions in regional governance, the authority granted to the generals and their soldiers continues to be a subject of scrutiny among moderates and secular citizens.

Throw into the tumult a catalystic event and the seeds of a second revolution could be planted. The February 2012 soccer riot at Port Said Stadium played this role as it struck another blow to the dream of a smooth democratic trasition. A match between two rival clubs turned violent, leaving 74 people dead and over 1,000 injured. Accusations that the police insighted the riot and unleashed paid, armed thugs to terrorize the spectators as they blocked the exits, preventing civilians from fleeing the carnage.

Twenty-one people have been sentenced to death over the violence and the trials have renewed protests and riots that have cost more than 70 people their lives and countless more injuries in both Port Said and Cairo. Many people feel the guilty, who have been condemned to take the fall, are simply scapegoats for a plan that was orchestrated and carried by the police to stricken the spectators with fear through a gruesome act against innocence.

All of this turmoil and infighting among the multitude of factions vying for control, or for the rights they feel they deserve have produced a disturbing environment that could descend into civil war. With President Morsi wielding his executive power to maintain a stranglehold on the country, but failing to address the dire economic circumstances that began the Arab Spring, the resenment among the populace continues to grow.

Furthermore, the role of the generals within the country and their constant power keeps them at odds with both the central government, who fears a potential coup, and the citizen’s who blame them for killing protesters and helping the Mubarak regime keep a tight grip on any political opponents.

Finally, the population of Egypt is still marred with a plethora of young, educated and unemployed people, still reeling from the promise of jobs but failing to see any tangible results. These were the voice of the original revolution and they compose the largest percentage of the renewed protests across the country. The adolescent government fears them the most, which is why brutal tactics by both the police and the military have been utilized.

Very little change has occurred across the country as it seems that they have simply moved from one stifling, inept governmental system to the next. The students and spirited youth displeased with a lateral shift have the ability to cause enough chaos to insight a second stage of the revolutionary process.

The problem remains that the second revolution will not come with limited bloodshed as the first did. With the generals holding a tight grip of control over the soldiers and the weaponry, the police utilizing their power to hurt instead of protect the populace and the Muslim Brotherhood, led by Morsi, not willing to relinguish the authority they so masterfully seized, the recipe for a a Syrian type conflict has taken form.

With a population four times the size of Syria and a land mass nearly ten times larger, the prospect of a bloody civil war between the conflicting sides seems dire indeed. However, with an economy in shambles and basic rights being denied to people that fought so hard to obtain them, it is only a matter of time before they feel they have no choice but violent retaliation. Hopefully the two sides can reach some sort of compromise and the economic issues can be gradually solved. If neither of these challenges are resolved with the delicacy to satisfy all sides, then war may be inevitable. With the growing mentality of non-intervention by world powers, a civil war in Egypt would surmount to nothing less than a lengthy bloody affair mirroring the Syrian war but on a grander scale.

General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi warned in late January that Egypt was headed to a possible “collapse of the state.” Without peacefully addressing these issues that still plague the common citizen, he may unfortunately be correct. This predication of an impending doom nationwide would have alarming repercussions on the entire region.



Daniel Donovan

Daniel is the Executive Director of a non-profit development organization that focuses on building infrastructure and training in rural Sub-Saharan Africa called the African Community Advancement Initiative ( . He has a Master's degree graduate in International Relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with his extensive financial background, Daniel also works as a consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence in Pretoria and the Centre for Global Governance and Public Policy in Abu Dhabi. In addition to his work at FPA, he is also a regular contributor to The Continent Observer and International Policy Digest. He currently resides in Denver, CO.