Egypt: the Arab Spring 2.0

Protestor in Cairo’s Tahrir Square behind a flaming barricade. AAP/Mohamed Omar

Recent days have seen a return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square by thousands of Egyptians concerned by what they see as a delay by the ruling military council in implement full democracy in Egypt.

With reports of dozens of people killed by the security forces during the protests, are we seeing a new more violent uprising by the Egyptian people, or is this the inevitable second phase of the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February this year.

The Conversation spoke with Middle East expert Mat Hardy of Deakin University to discover why Egyptians are back on the streets and what this might mean in the longer term.

Is what is happening in Egypt now simply the second phase of a revolution that began in February?

It is definitely the second phase of the revolution because Egyptians have the feeling that their revolution wasn’t completed properly and that nothing was going to change because it seemed to them that old ruling class and the same old cronies were going to be back in control perhaps with a military president as well.

It is definitely not a separate revolution, it is the Arab Spring 2.0.

Is there a danger the “peaceful” protest that marked the start of the uprising has morphed into more violent protests as seen in Syria and Libya?

The difference this time around is that the government are using force in a greater fashion than they were the first time round. The first Tahrir Square revolution was predominantly peaceful because the government didn’t crack down very hard on it.

But we are seeing a greater use of the security services this time which is giving the protestors less choice about whether they want to do things peacefully or not.

Are the Egyptian military absolutely beholden to the US? If told to back off will they?

Who knows whether they will do what they are told. I certainly think they are smart enough to know that they shouldn’t really be angering the US because it was the US’ very rapid withdrawal of support for (former President) Hosni Mubarak that left him much further out on a limb than he was probably thinking he would be.

I would say that the interim government, the military council, angers the US at its peril.

Being brutally honest, do Israel and the US want genuine democracy in the Egypt? Is it in their interest?

From the US point of view, a stable democratic Egypt is very much in their interest. Israel may be a little more reluctant to see a full blown democracy next door because their natural fear would be that the democracy would end up under the control of parties and people with an anti-Israeli ideology.

It isn’t the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets though is it? This is normal Egyptians who want the sort of democracy we take for granted in Australia.

That is right. This isn’t a fundamentalist inspired movement. I think it is really important to say that the reason these protests are happening indicates the kind of emphasis in Egypt and other Arab states on the presidency.

We know they are having parliamentary elections starting next week however in these countries they are very much used to being controlled by a single figure and that is why they are very much more interested in the presidential elections and when they are going to happen than the parliamentary elections.

It isn’t that conceivable for them that you could have a parliament that would overrule the president. They don’t care so much about the parliamentary elections.

In that regard, the trope about the Arab need for a “strongman”, even if it is a democratically elected one, is still present in the Arab body politic?

They don’t know any different. Egypt has never had a democracy, most of the Arab states have ever had any sort of democracy that it has been able to be sustained. We have the assumption that parliaments are free and fair, people in the Arab countries don’t have that, they are used to the parliaments being a rubber stamp for the ruling party and the presidency.