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The situation in Egypt is extremely complicated and changing constantly. The arguments between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood go back over half a century and they are much more complicated than the press tends to give them credit for.

I just wanted to share a tiny bit of context to help the world understand the different stakeholders, what they want, why they're angry, and why the first democratically elected leader of Egypt lasted so little time.

Thank you very much to Mohktar Awad for spending so much time on the phone with me yesterday setting me straight!


Egypt's military bails out the country

The Muslim Brotherhood

Gamal Nasser


 Good morning John!

Good morning John!

So Egypt had a revolution this week! And if your an American like me you're probably like, "Didn't they just have a revolution? Didn't they give somebody else a chance?"

Well if that's how you're feeling, please allow me to correct your ignorance as I have corrected my own, and as I explain what's going on with Egypt, absolutely as quickly as I can.

 Four Main Power Holders (00:12)

There are four main groups here that are holding a lot of power. Let's go one by one.

  1. First, the old regime, which began when Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew king Farouk, who was sort of a puppet king of the British.

  2. Second, The Muslim Brotherhood: a political, social and religious institution that advocates that all Arab states should be based on Islamic law. They also advocate getting there through hard work and politics and NOT through violence.

  3. Third, the Egyptian military, which is SUPER WEIRD!!

  4. Fourth, young, disenfranchised, largely unemployed activist people who want a revolutionary, liberal Egypt

Now I'm not saying that those are the only four factions in Egypt. There's a 10% christian minority, there's a crazy radical Islamist side, and there are secularists who are not disenfranchised young people.

But those are the four main players in our story. Now a little more about them:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood was actually banned in Egypt after a rouge member tried to assassinate Nasser in the '50s. It was forced underground, where it thrived extremely effectively.

    • Many members now are wealthy and in the middle class and they were for a long time in government, just as independents.

    • They hold powerful positions, the fund social programs like schools and orphanages and mosques.

    So they're kinda rich and powerful but at the same time people don't really understand them and are kinda afraid of them and the old regime did vilify them a lot. So lot's of people like them, lots of people don't. It's complicated

  • And last to the military. The armed forces in Egypt are very different than how we imagined armed forces if we lived in the western world. Or really, if you live anywhere.

    • The military in Egypt owns a great deal of the land in Egypt. It can sell that land autonomously, like for real estate development, or it can lease it for resource extraction.

    • They have a bunch of factories; factories that are staffed by conscripts; by people who were drafted into the army, and are basically now free labor for the army. And those factories don't just build military equipment. They build like gym equipment, and refrigerators, and Windex.

    • They have farms and ranches and they sell the Egyptian people their chickens and bottled water.

    The Egyptian military does not need to make power grabs, because the Egyptian military remains in control of like 40% of the Egyptian economy, and they are VERY powerful. They also, according to their rhetoric, have a 'sacred bond' between them and the people of Egypt. And they are, in some cases, apparently outside of what we would call, "the law". That's going to be important.

 2010 (02:18)

So by 2010 the current 'president' -- now we say president, but really he's a military dictator-- is Hosni Mubarak. And he is TERRIBLE! He didn't start out terrible but he's terrible now, he's sort of just, just the head of a kleptocracy that extracts resources from a failing economy, and gives it to himself and his cronies. He's also jailed lots of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, so the Muslim brotherhood hates him. Meanwhile, his son, educated in Europe, comes back with a banking degree, and wants to completely overhaul the whole way that the military controls the economy. So: Mubarak's regime has now pissed off the Muslim brotherhood, the disenfranchised young people, AND the military! You can see how this is not going to go well!

Meanwhile, the internet happened, and the 30 years of censorship that Mubarak has placed on top of Egypt is coming to an end. Because he cannot control it. When the young people of the Arab Spring take to the streets calling for Mubarak's resignation, the Muslim Brotherhood cautiously follows. And when Mubarak is like, 'Hey, military! We've got a problem, right?' they're like, 'mmmh, nah not really.' So Mubarak steps down.

 2011 (3:12)

So it's 2011. We have Islamist, who want elections for a new parliament to take place immediately, because they already have an infrastructure for campaigning, with lots of money and lots of power structure.

The more liberal factions, who want to first create a constitution BEFORE electing parliament so that they can have some time to use the revolutionary energy to create a revolutionary new constitution, and, you know, build up their campaigning apparatus.

And the military, who just wants stability because they want to keep selling lands to real estate developers, and kitchen appliances and stuff. The military, because they want a new government as soon as possible sides with the Islamist, which is not a normal pairing. That doesn't normally usually happen, in Egypt.

It is important to note that America is also calling for elections as soon as possible because we don't want it sitting there as a military dictatorship now in control of everything because that's not how we do things, we're Americans.

With support from everyone except for the revolutionaries, the elections go forward and yes, surprise, surprise, the Islamist win the majority of the seats of the parliament.

The revolutionaries are feeling betrayed by their military, who's supposed to have a sacred bond with them, and by the American government, who they thought was going to be a great supporter in all this. They made that impossible revolution possible, and they are not being represented in the new government that is being formed. That's annoying.

Worse than this, crime is way up, the police have kind of been disbanded, the youth on the street are calling for the election of a new president as soon as possible, in the hopes that they can get somebody in there who actually represents them.

 Elections (4:29)

The election happens, and it it SUPER ANNOYING because we have two people in first and second getting 25 and 24 percent of the vote, that being the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, and a candidate who basically represents the original regime of Mubarak that we just overthrew.

The rest of the votes, more than 50% is split between progressive or liberal candidates. And they don't get to be in the run off election.

So now, we have to pick, between the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and the original regime. Fantastic. Mohammad Morsi wins barely, weirdly enough, which is almost OK at first, because there is a mandate of revolutionary fervor, and Morsi is supposed to take that into account; but then he doesn't. He turns out to be really terrible at his job.

 Morsi (05:12)

Now to be fair this is an extremely difficult job, it's difficult to take into account all of these different factions. But he's not even trying. He's extremely divisive.

Lots of intelligent people are telling Morsi to stop being such a tool, but he refuses. He's undermining the biggest opportunity the Muslim Brotherhood has EVER had. And to top it all off, last November, he passed a degree saying the constitution didn't apply to things that he said. So great. We've got ourselves another dictator. Fantastic.

So this makes the courts unhappy. It makes the people unhappy, it makes the military very unhappy. But the revolutionary youth, of Egypt; they are not having it. At all.

A small group of young people starts going door to door, asking people to sign a petition, saying that they will take to the streets on June 30th. Millions of people sign. In the end, as many as 22 million people. That's more people, than voted for him in the first place.

The Egyptian people, now, are freaking out. They think that this MAY be how the civil war starts, right? And the Military is freaking out too because even if it isn't how the civil war starts, 22 million people on the streets is just a logistical nightmare.

Now everybody is asking Morsi to make some concessions. Instead, he gets on a stage and gives probably the worst three hour speech of all time. It's dismissive, it's divisive, it's defensive, it's drivel. It's other D-words too.

So yeah the protesters say, 'To heck with June 30th,' and they just go ahead and take to the streets right after the speech. Apparently only 10 million people in the streets across Egypt are enough to enact the sacred bond between the Egyptian military and the Egyptian people. And the military goes in and they remove him from office. Using force.

 Military Coup (06:37)

Is maybe the weirdest coup of all time. A coup that it should be said is supported by a lot of people. The head of Egypt's military does not install himself, because as we said previously, he's already got a lot of power. He doesn't need that.

Instead he installs the head of the constitutional court as the interim president. Hopefully the first step on a path that will lead to some stability so that the Egyptian military can keep selling refrigerators and chickens and stuff.

 Analysis (07:02)

My only bit of analysis here is that revolutions tend to be incremental steps forward for the actual people of a country. They can be large ideological steps, but change happens slowly.
Cultures have to change subtlety, because they are composed of so many different people, and people cannot all change their minds at the same time. We can hope though, and really we can only hope that these incremental changes are for the stability of the country and the overall happiness of its people

And that's something that despite all of the news media's prophetic ramblings, we are never going to know, until we know it. We're gonna just have to wait and see.

Sabrina, I'll see you on Tuesday.

[transcribed by Ana Pond]