Article originally published in The Atlantic Council’s ‘Egypt Source’ (4 April 2013)
Ambushes, kidnappings, torture and murder have come to characterize Egypt’s security sector’s engagement with the Egyptian public in both pre- and post-revolution Egypt. This has left many asking: How did the interior ministry survive its pre-Mubarak incarnation given that one of the revolution’s key demands was police reform?
The issue is more complex than simply looking at how former autocracies were able to reform their police forces during their transition to democracy. The problem arguably starts with how Egypt’s elite – the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, and former regime loyalists – relate to the 18 day uprising.
Nabil Abdel-Fattah in his book “Elite and Revolution: State, Political Islam, Nationalism and Liberalism” argues that the elite are still unable to comprehend the gravity of the 2011 events. This view sheds light on why they are unable to generate a national post-revolutionary project, post-democratic movement or an overhaul of the security establishment, simply because a number of them conceive of the 2011 events as a “mere democratic protest movement.”
As Abdel-Fattah notes “The majority have not absorbed the nature of the event and the end of the legitimacy of 23 July 1952 with its generations, ideas and legacy…The conflict is still at its peak , and reveals two speeds running together in Egypt: one attached to the legitimacy of 1952 and another that claims a still unclear revolutionary legitimacy.” In other words Egypt is experiencing an ideational and generational war that has pitted two appeals to historical legitimacy against one another.