Anatomy of a revolution
It is time to revisit the 1938 classic study by Craine Brinton, ‘The Anatomy of Revolution,’ in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions with particular focus on Egypt.
Based on an analysis of the four revolutions — English, American, French and Russian — that helped shape the world history, Brinton concluded that revolutions have a life cycle of their own.
They start against the "old order" to establish a moderate regime instead, which is followed by a radical one that witnesses a reign of terror, which in itself will be followed by a Thermidorian reaction that restores law and order and probably most of figures of the old regime and its policies. And this is the period that witnesses the emergence of a tyrant with unconditional powers.
Following the typical short honeymoon, Egypt’s President Muhammad Mursi emerged as a regional leader who managed to mediate the Gaza cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, providing face-saving to both sides of the conflict and at the same time winning praise domestically and internationally for that role.
Apparently he thought to capitalize on this achievement and empower himself to consolidate his presidency. He issued a decree that gives him extraordinary powers and which prevents the judiciary from challenging his decisions.
These edicts were met with quick and swift opposition from political powers as well as from the judiciary, which was seen as the guardian ensuring the separation of powers and a safeguard against the excessive of the executive branch of the government.
Are the contradictions referred to in the Brinton study emerging and that Mursi’s plan of going for an earlier strike asserts his rule and jumps straight into the era of the Thermidor, where a tyrant gets established?
Though the general analysis of Brinton of revolutions seems to be accurate, it still suffers from some shortfalls. First it was restricted to only four Western revolutions. That is fair enough. By then, or when the study was published in 1938, it was only the Western world, including newly emerging communist Russia, that counted. The rest of the world in Asia, Africa and Latin America either were languishing under colonization or living in the periphery, and as such didn’t count.
Moreover, by then the world was living through the industrial revolution with all its ramifications — politically, economically and socially. Today’s world has moved into a communication revolution with its ever-growing improved and expanding technology, which is bringing more people into political and economic play where they are having a say in their own affairs never seen before.
But more important, as regards developments taking place in Egypt, are events that are going to have direct impact on the region and open wide the question marks about the commitment of Islamists in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular to the principles of democracy and the exchange of power through the ballot box.
One of the big differences with Brinton’s study is that all the revolutions he studied and cited were bloody ones where the old regime was overtaken by force. Through the revolutionary fever that follows, measures are taken to get rid of the remnants of the old regime and pave the way for the change.
In the case of Egypt, however, it was a peaceful revolution that has impacted change. And that is why measures to deal with the old regime’s figures and policies have to resort to legal and constitutional approach, not a revolutionary one.
But the divisions that emerged in the society have developed into an open confrontation. And the fact that Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood are operating under an Islamic flag poses a serious challenge. For them this is one of the best opportunities to advance their cause since political Islam forces are on the rise generally in the region.
Encouraged by ascension to power in more than one country, the Brotherhood targets the power of the state as the best vehicle to advance its cause and make a difference. For this purpose, empowering the Brotherhood and enabling it to consolidate its grip on power comes first. If such an attitude is to take hold, it simply means that elections were carried out along one man, one vote, but only for one time.