February 11th marked the 4th anniversary of the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in a wave of massive popular protests after over 30 years in power. Just a few short years later, Egypt is back under autocratic rule.
A military council ruled Egypt in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s departure, and the country had a brief flirtation with electoral democracy that led to the election of a Muslim Brotherhood government that was itself overthrown in a 2013 military coup. It’s somewhat ironic that Egypt’s protests, which helped unleash the “Arab Spring,” have led to the elevation of former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is arguably more authoritarian than any of the leaders he replaced.
The following map, from British risk analytics firm Verisk Maplecroft, helps explain this turnabout. Egypt has a highly respected military (at least within Egypt) and very little history of civil violence.
But the chaos of the post-Mubarak period — and, some would argue, Sisi’s heavy-handedness in disposing of his rivals in the Muslim Brotherhood — led to a gradual deterioration in internal security. Today, jihadist groups like Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which has sworn allegiance to ISIS, prowl the Sinai, and bombings occur in Cairo with a frequency that would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago.
As the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Eric Trager argued in a recent essay in Politico, Egyptians are more concerned with reclaiming their country’s previous order and stability than they are with democratic reform.
The above map suggests that the conditions that led to Sisi’s rise — and scuttled one of the most important political experiments in modern Middle Eastern history — will remain firmly in place.
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