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Andrey Korotayev: Anatomy of the Egyptian Counterrevolution, Part II

By Peter Turchin March 27, 2014 3 Comments

As I wrote in the first part, one factor underlying the success of the 2001 Egyptian Revolution was strong intraelite conflict.

The second factor that lead to an unexpectedly fast success of the protestors was the formation of a wide opposition alliance, which united in a single coordinated front very diverse forces including not only all the possible secular opposition groups (liberals, leftists, nationalists and so on), but also Islamists in general, and the Muslim Brothers in particular.

The situation that we observe now is exactly the opposite.

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Firstly, the Egyptian Revolution made the Egyptian economic elite reconcile with the military, and in June 2013 they acted together in a well-coordinated front that allowed such a swift overthrow of President Morsi. No serious cracks in the new coalition of the Egyptian military and economic elites (that was formed in the first half of 2013) appear to be visible yet. The economic elites have understood that for them it turns out to be extremely counterproductive to continue any serious attempts to get hold of any economic assets controlled by the military, that it is much better for them to recognize the dominant position of the military in the ruling block, as well as the immunity and inviolability of the generals’ economic empire (among other things – through direct constitutional amendments). The economic elites have understood that any serious attempts on their part to get dominant positions in the ruling block may result in their losing incomparably more than gaining (emergent cracks in the ruling coalition are rather connected with the participation in this coalition of some leftist secularists – first of all, Hamdeen Sabahi and his Egyptian Popular Current [al-Tayyar al-Sha`biyy al-Misriyy]), whereas the continuation of the cooperation of this part of the ruling alliance with both military and [especially] economic elites can in no way be guaranteed – one would rather expect to see eventually the final split between the left-wing and right-wing secularists in Egypt).

Secondly, the Revolution with the subsequent Counterrevolution led to an extremely deep split in the January (2011) opposition “macroalliance”. What is very important is that this split took place along many lines. Within the overall macroalliance even the Islamist alliance was split, because the July 3 coup was supported by the second strong Islamist party – the party of Islamist fundamentalists/salafis Hizb al-Noor (as well as a number of prominent Islamic figures outside this party). Of course, the support of secularist-military regime by the Egyptian Salafi Islamists needs a special commentary (a special commentary is also naturally needed for the fact that in July 2013 the archconservative Islamist Saudi Arabian regime acted as a faithful ally of the anti-Islamist alliance that included an exceptionally wide range of forces – liberals, nationalists, leftists, ultraleftists – up to Trotskyists. The main point here appears to be connected with the fact that Saudi Arabia acts as the main financial sponsor of Hizb al-Noor. And as regards Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brothers pose a real threat to the respective country’s regime. In 1937 in the USSR it was much less dangerous to proclaim oneself a Slavophil rather than a Trotskyist (in 1937 the latter [but in no way the former] would have led to an almost immediate execution) – whereas for non-Marxists the difference between Stalinists and Trotskyists could look entirely insignificant. Similarly, for the Saudis Trotskyists are a sort of unreal exotics, whereas the Muslim Brothers for them are almost the same as the Trotskyists were for Stalin – they are precisely those leftist Islamists who question effectively the very basics the regime legitimacy and may even take concrete steps to overthrow it. And against such a background one can easily understand the readiness of Saudi Arabia (and the UAE and Kuwait, which have similar problems) to ally with anybody (including anti-Islamist minded liberals and Communists, let alone Egyptian military and economic elites) in order to weaken in its own homeland the enemy that threatens the very survival of the Arabian monarchy (with the natural exception of the Qatar monarchy). On the other hand, for the Egyptian Salafis the removal of the Muslim Brothers from the legal political arena was somewhat advantageous (irrespective of any connections with the Saudi interests), as it allows to strengthen significantly their own positions, including the potential further widening of its presence in the Egyptian parliament – as the present-day main legal Islamist party of the country.

The secular leftist-liberal alliance has been also split, as the majority of its members were so frightened by one year of the rule of Muslim Brothers, that continue to support the present regime. However, the forces that continue to oppose the regime remain deeply split – as the anti-regime leftist liberal-revolutionary youth still refuses any idea of a new alliance with the Muslim Brothers; suffice to say that one of its main slogans Yasqut, yasqut illi khan, in kana `askar aw ikhwan is translated as follows: “Down, down with all those who betrayed – be they military, or Muslim Brothers!”

Andrey Korotayev
International Laboratory of Political Demography and Macrosociological Dynamics
Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and  Public Administration
Moscow, Russia


Published On: March 27, 2014

Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin

Curriculum Vitae

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions. How do human societies evolve? In particular, what processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank project, which builds a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will enable us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.

Turchin has published 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a dozen in Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly cited researcher” by Turchin has authored seven books. His most recent book is Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth (Beresta Books, 2016).

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  • pjricherson says:

    To what extent do you think the dynamics in Egypt follow Peter Turchin’s theory of structural-dynamic cycles? It seems to me that non-elites have faced rapidly growing populations in the recent past, a shortage of ag land, and a stagnant non-agricultural economy. Education has prepared many young people for the lower rungs of the elite, but a stagnant economy cannot absorb them. Secular business, bureaucratic, and military elites vie for the small and static surplus available to them. No one has a plausible plan to escape from the tight constraints on Egypt surplus of people at all rungs of the social ladder relative to any plausible picture of economic growth that might support their ambitions. Factions organize to fight a zero sum game.

  • I believe you can find answers to your questions in our paper (written together with Julia Zinkina) “Egyptian Revolution: A Demographic Structural Analysis” (see Incidentally, I would appreciate if you could let me know whether you would be able to find those answers there.


    Dear Prof. Andrey,

    Thank you for your study. I’ve read it & it’s very accurate in its analysis in a way that formulates all what we’re witnessing here in a precise & articulated manner, something that we really need to read here, ’cause demonstrating & taking to the streets a lot makes one ignore most of the time looking at the events from a wider analytical out-of-the-box perspective, which you’re study provides. So I’m adding some of my revolutionary friends’ emails to read this advice & put in their views as well (though I have to say that unfortunately most of the revolutionaries I know don’t know English well, so I’ll have to try & translate the conclusions of those studies to disseminate between them).
    I’d like to add some comments on the study:
    1. I rather think that the study gives a somehow exaggerated estimation of AlNour party’s (the Salafist party that supports the military regime) constituency in the streets. First; many, if not most, of the Salafists here in the streets support the MB against the military (contrary to the position of AlNour elite & party personnel). ‘Cause ordinary Salafists are most affected by the religious rhetoric dominating the streets (not the official & state-controlled religious speeches of AlAzhar leaders & the Great Mufti), & currently those dominating street religious rhetoric are mosques’ sheikhs (who are mostly supporting MB, ’cause of MB great capacity for organization through mosques, religious schools, & religious charity organizations mostly working through mosques as well) as well as the MB. Talking religious talk here in Egypt has become rather tantamount to supporting the MB (that has rigorously positioned itself well as the leader of the Islamic front & the victim of secularists & military confrontation of “Islamic” rule). And don’t forget, that one of the principal mediums through which Salafists received & expressed their religious & political views; the religious TV channels, have been immediately closed off the day after removing Morsi, & this is something that really angered ordinary Salafists against this new regime from its start. Second; Salafists, unlike MB, are not dictated or don’t rigorously follow certain leaders or organizations, as they are mainly considered a sect rather than an organization (like the MB), so what AlNour says doesn’t necessarily affect their decisions & political behavior. Remember for ex., when AlNour decided to support Abu AlFotouh in the 1st round of 2012 presidential elections. Most of the Salafists voted instead for Morsi, regardless of the decision of AlNour & some other major Salafi fronts. So as a conclusion, I think that the MB still have the support of most of the Salafists here in Egypt (which comprises a number that is even larger than MB members).
    2. It was a very brilliant ex. to resemble MB to Saudi Arabia with Trotskyists to Stalin. Though I really have to add that I’m still surprised at the adamant support of Saudi Arabia for AlSisi. ‘Cause I think that Saudi Arabia is also afraid of having a Nasserist regime kind in Egypt. Remember that Saudi Arabia was not very comfortable with Abd AlNasser’s revolutionary leadership model for the whole Arab World, who called for the overthrow of all monarchies in Arab countries to replace them with socialist-oriented & nationalist republican regimes. And this ultimately culminated into the proxy war between Egypt & Saudi Arabia in Yemen in 1962. I know that the context now is very different: there’s no tension between opposing two sides in the Middle East that goes along a bipolar international system (capitalist or socialist-communist), & however socialist might be AlSisi’s policies, he might never break the capitalist economic international system’s boundaries or interests; also I’m sure that the Egyptian military has given the Saudi monarch promises & warranties that they’d protect Saudi investments in Egypt, & more importantly, that Egypt will be on the side of Saudi positions & interests in the Middle East (for ex., the Egyptian FM has never moved to rebuild relations with Iran, which might stir Saudi Arabia unfavorably towards this new foreign policy). But still, I can’t help but ask: how come Saudi Arabia is not worried about having a new Egyptian military figure (who’s being related to Abd AlNasser in the media) who might get the whim in the future to push Egypt into a new leading position in the Middle East that might break Saudi Arabia’s current position as the single hegemon of the Arab World?
    3. Your view of Sabbahi as a socialist & reformist figure who would try to base new economic policies in Egypt that favor the poor, if he comes to power, is not really getting into my mind. Sabbahi has proved all this while that what most interests him is personal power, & I don’t think it a far possibility that Sabbahi will give in to the interests of the economic & business elite in Egypt, just as he easily gave in to the current military regime (regardless of all its violations & persecution of secularist revolutionary youth). In this regard, many politicians who formerly supported the revolution, & where rigorous opponents of Mubarak before the revolution, adopted the same corrupt policies & didn’t attempt any reforming of institutions when they got to power. For ex., Kamal Abu Eita, who was a very famous opposition figure who led demonstrations & workers’ strikes since the start of the century, & headed the General Union for Independent Syndicates, as well as being considered a very honest & persistent old fighter for workers rights, was appointed the Labor Force Minister after removing Morsi, & he did nothing! In fact, the persistence of corruption & favoring for businessmen interests during his tenure led to country-wide workers’ strikes that ultimately pushed the former cabinet to resign last February. So, I wouldn’t give Sabbahi that much confidence to do some serious change, IF (which is a nearly non-existent chance) he becomes the next president.
    In the end, we really hope that the parliamentary elections will be of a different more-promising story, that might allow us to have a small resisting force within the regime. That is until revolutionary youth could better organize themselves & get public support to make a 4th revolutionary wave. ‘Cause, as time passes by, & as the regime increases its oppression & persecution of all & any kind of opposition, I become more inclined to believe that revolution, rather than democratic transition, might be the only option that this regimes leaves us… But of course, only time would tell…

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