The Death of Hosni Mubarak and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Arab Spring in Egypt
Hosni Mubarak, the longtime ruler of Egypt forced from power in the 2011 revolution, died on February 25th. The death of such a repressive leader might otherwise have been cause for shared satisfaction amongst the people he oppressed, but instead it highlighted the unfulfilled hopes and promise of the 2011 revolution that toppled his regime.
Mubarak became president after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, the popular leader that helped bring peace between Israel and Egypt. And Mubarak would remain in power for almost thirty years, through a combination of repression, a system of patronage, and support from the United States. However, spurred on by the “Arab Spring” that started in Tunisia but soon spread throughout the Arab world, protests began in Egypt in January of 2011. Not long after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians were out in the streets, protesting youth unemployment, corruption, and police violence.
The Egyptian regime permitted these protests at first, but eventually crushed them by force, with 800 dying in clashes with police and the military. After 18 days, with the situation out of control, the military deposed Hosni Mubarak and declared that elections would be held. This would remain the high water mark of a revolution whose promise was never fulfilled.
- What has happened in Egypt since the revolution that deposed Mubarak?
Egypt, once again, is ruled by a dictatorship. It all started when the Muslim Brotherhood, after arguably co-opting the 2011 revolution, pushed through its candidate, Muhammad Morsi, as president in the 2012 elections. Morsi soon came into conflict with the secular military and judiciary and alienated vast swathes of the public due to misrule and constitutional power grabs. After a series of massive protests in opposition to Morsi, the military staged another takeover in 2013. And in the 2014 elections—which “fell short of international standards” to put it mildly—the military commander-in-chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi came to power with 95 percent of the vote. Since then, he has waged an extensive campaign of purging the Muslim Brotherhood and has instituted a regime more repressive than Mubarak’s. Torture and other serious human rights violations have become the new norm.
- What does the failure of the Egyptian Revolution mean for democracy?
Mubarak ultimately avoided responsibility for his violent crackdown on Egyptian protesters during the 2011 revolution. After initially being convicted of complicity in the murder of protestors and sentenced to life imprisonment, he was acquitted on retrial. He was sentenced in a separate case to 3 years for corruption, but this failure to hold Mubarak fully accountable, as well as al-Sisi’s stranglehold on power, demonstrates the difficulty in translating these kinds of popular movements for freedom into real democratic reforms. The only nation to have emerged as a fledgling democracy during the Arab Spring is Tunisia. Indeed, instituting a stable democratic form of government is far more complicated than a popular yearning for freedom. It requires rooting out a culture of corruption, authoritarianism, and anti-pluralism that can make the institutions of government fundamentally undemocratic. It also requires a willingness to implement a system of checks and balances within government. This process of reform is very difficult, especially because those who are entrenched in power will do anything to keep it at the expense of the people.
Uganda Prevents Over a Million First-time Voters from Voting in Upcoming Election
There is a general election upcoming in Uganda in 2021. However, it has been reported that more than one million Ugandans “who have just turned 18 will not be allowed to vote” in the election. The Uganda National Electoral Commission attempted to justify these actions by blaming a lack of resources and time to register new voters. Many throughout Uganda, including MPs within the Ugandan Parliament, do not accept this excuse. The Speaker of Parliament stated, “We shall not be party to any attempt to disenfranchise Ugandans.” It is likely that the Electoral Commission’s actions are simply pretext to help ensure that president Yoweri Museveni extends his decades-long stay in power.
- Is this kind of election meddling to be expected in Uganda?
Unfortunately, yes. Since emerging from the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in 1979, Uganda has not made much progress toward becoming a democracy. The current president and his party have ruled Uganda for 34 years. There are elections and some have been declared to be a reflection of the will of the people. But fraud, voter suppression and intimidation, and worse have been all too commonplace. And there is reason to expect that this will continue in the 2021 elections.
- Who is running against Yoweri Museveni in the upcoming election?
A popstar named Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, is running against the current president. Bobi Wine is extremely popular among Uganda’s massive youth population (77 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 25), making the Electoral Commission’s decision to prevent recently-turned-18-year-olds from voting even more suspicious. Bobi Wine has also faced harassment and even arrest in recent months simply for trying to hold public meetings. Wine and his movement have adopted red berets as part of their uniform, which the government has banned by reclassifying them as military clothing, revealing their deep anxieties about Wine’s popular movement.
- Why is this important to the United States?
Although the United States is the world’s oldest democracy, it also suffers from forms of voter suppression (albeit ones not yet comparable to those of countries like Uganda). Whether it’s purging voter rolls, limiting voting time, or implementing unnecessarily strict voter ID laws, all these things impair the exercise of people’s democratic rights.With countries like Uganda in mind, we must strive to improve our electoral system, remembering the importance of defending our robust system of democracy. We can always do more to protect and expand the franchise for all who are eligible.
Democracy At Work
All Hail Super Tuesday!
Super Tuesday is the closest thing we have to a national primary voting day. Fifteen contests are held across the nation: fourteen states plus American Samoa, and roughly one-third of total pledged delegates are allocated.
- Why is Super Tuesday important?
The US presidential election cycle takes much longer to play out than in other democracies such as France or Canada, where the entire process is distilled into a matter of weeks. To many, it feels like the American process drags on forever, with months-long campaigning and ad wars. Super Tuesday is the day, after months of punditry and only a few actual votes, when we have more clarity about the party nominee. This adds tremendous symbolic importance to the day. Indeed, like every major election in the US, Super Tuesday is a profound expression of democracy where the people come together to exercise their franchise. However, this was not always the case. In earlier periods of American history, party machines played a much larger role in picking candidates.
- Biden resurrects his campaign and then some
After beginning his comeback in South Carolina last Saturday, Biden prevailed in 9 states on Super Tuesday, including in Texas. By some estimates, and with votes still being counted in California, he emerged with 566 delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 501. The former Vice President is now the frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination.
- Wouldn’t a national primary make things easier?
Maybe. As always, the presidential race so far has been obsessed with questions about momentum and timing. 24-hour cable news endlessly recycles commentary about the latest head-to-head polls and seemingly ever-changing questions over electability. This obsession reflects the horse-race element of politics, which takes away the focus from substantive policy. Case in point: the reason Joe Biden’s candidacy appeared dead is because the Democratic primary began with two states–Iowa and New Hampshire–that are patently unrepresentative of the wider Democratic electorate. Imagine, just for a moment, that the primaries had begun with South Carolina where Joe Biden won big and then proceeded to Iowa and New Hampshire. The political news story of the last month would have been flipped on its head. Why not have a national primary in which all the state contests are held on the same day? In such a situation, the horse race and incessant media punditry would be replaced, at least somewhat, by real questions about policy. Without a doubt, a national primary would also be more cost effective (no need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over many months), would allow many candidates to spend their time governing rather than campaigning, and would be less anxiety-inducing for the rest of us. And importantly, in a national primary, every state’s primary would end up mattering, as opposed to the current system where the nominee is often informally crowned early on in the process. To be sure, there are possible downsides for a national primary. For example, lesser known candidates may not have an opportunity to develop the momentum necessary to challenge more well-known candidates. But the idea of a national primary is something that should be seriously considered in the future.
Mexico Unites Against Femicide
The month of February saw two of the most brutal murders of women in Mexico in recent memory. The murders of Ingrid Escamilla, 25, and Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, 7, ignited rage in a nation experiencing rising rates of violence against women and girls. Time Magazine states that “about 10 women are slain each day across Mexico just because they are women, the government and activists say.”
In response, feminist activist groups have pushed for “A Day without Us” on March 9, the day after International Women’s Day, where women will stay home and seek to viscerally demonstrate how dependent Mexican society is on women to function.
- Coalition Building
What stands out about the “Day without Us” campaign is the vast coalition that has assembled around it. Feminist groups have joined hands with the government, religious groups, corporate groups, and people of all ethnic and class identifications to take a stand against gender-based violence. Many corporations and government departments have stated that they will not penalize women for missing work. With 22 million female workers in the Mexican economy, withdrawal of their labor for the day is estimated to cost the country’s economy 1.37 billion dollars. It is a testament to the seriousness of violence against women, and the level of commitment of the state and civil society to bring it to a halt, that they are willing to put aside profits for gender equality.