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In Mubarak’s Egypt, It Was the Economy, Stupid

September 16, 2014

It was the failure of the Mubarak regime to alleviate poverty and deliver prosperity that led to the uprisings--not its authoritarianism, claims a recent article. Photo: Sophie Peterson.

It was the failure of the Mubarak regime to alleviate poverty and deliver prosperity that led to the uprisings–not its authoritarianism, claims a recent article. Photo: Sophie Peterson.

A new article appearing in the journal International Studies argues that the fundamental cause of the Egyptian uprisings was not anger at the regimes undemocratic authoritarianism but rather the failure of the Mubarak regime to provide economic prosperity to the majority of the population.

The article, “The Egyptian Uprising and the Global Capitalist System” by Ibrahim Aoude, is not the first to make this claim of course. What he does is make a strong attempt to embed the argument in the decline of the global world system especially in the wake of the 2008 world financial crisis.

Aoude begins by describing the crisis of the global (capitalist) economic system, drawing heavily on the works of Samir Amin (2001, 2003, 2011a, 2011b), with an emphasis on the 2008 global financial crisis and its continuing aftermath. He then describes how Sadat laid the groundwork for everything that has gone wrong in Egypt over the last forty years by drawing the country into the global economy, and how Mubarak’s continuation and acceleration of that policy worsened conditions.

He then sets the Egyptian revolution into the context of ongoing resistance to these policies, historically in Egypt but even more so in an international context, noting for example that

that despite the heavy indigenous (mostly civilian) casualties, the US has not achieved its goals in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Palestine.

Aoude notes three key things about the 18-days uprisings:

  1. They began as an effort by youth groups to support striking workers
  2. There was no direct involvement by organized political parties
  3. In spite of the presence of Muslim Brotherhood elements, the protests had a purely secular character.

These were followed by a post-Mubarak period characterized by eight factors:

  1. The chaotic and fluid nature of the political conjuncture
  2. The failure of the old political parties to capture the imagination of the population despite the increase in membership in the main parties or groupings.
  3. The deep state: the fact that the old regime still resides in state institutions and has substantial support in the private sector.
  4. Outside powers, primarily the US and Arab Gulf states, have influence over political groupings ranging from the old regime to Islamist groupings
  5. The lack of unity and centralized organization, or even coordination, among the secular opposition movements
  6. The militancy of the youth in defence of the demands of the uprising
  7. The politicization of the new protest movements
  8. The Arab dimension of the uprising

He concludes:

The election of Morsi bolstered the Tahrir Square II strategy (mass action) against imperial and neoliberal reactionary machinations. It remains to be seen who (Islamists or the secular forces) would triumph in the end and whether one or both of them can steer an independent strategy that would extricate Egypt from the political and economic rut in which it finds itself.

It’s a very ambitious article, essentially summarizing the entire Egyptian revolution to date. Much of it is very good, but (aside from his clear Marxist orientation) it is hard to see why he wants his central focus to be proving that the “real” cause of the revolution was economic (which, I fear, the article does not).

He is not alone, of course. What is this obsession so many scholars have with trying to show the “real” cause of the revolution, instead of simply acknowledging the powerful confluence of multiple causes?

Aoude is so fond of lists, one would think he would be keen on listing the causes of the revolution rather than trying to show that one was the underlying foundational cause of all the rest.

Here’s the abstract:

This article situates Egypt in the global capitalist system to understand better the causes of the uprising beyond the one that has been put forth primarily in the Western media, viz. the authoritarian, undemocratic Mubarak regime was the main source. While democracy is a critical instrument that gives people more say in the process of governance, the uprising was primarily caused by the failure of the Mubarak regime to bring economic prosperity. Indeed, poverty had increased and political repression was used to squelch any opposition to Mubarak’s economic policies. This article argues that the continuing uprising is part of a global resistance to a US-led global capitalist system.


Amin, Samir. 2001. Imperialism and globalization. Monthly Review 53(2): 6–24.

Amin, Samir. 2003. Confronting empire. Monthly Review 55(3): 15–22.

Amin, Samir. 2011a. The trajectory of historical capitalism and Marxism’s tricontinental vocation. Monthly Review 62(9): 1–18.

Amin, Samir. 2011b. An Arab springtime? Monthly Review 63(5): 8–28.

Aoude, Ibrahim. 2014. The Egyptian Uprising and the Global Capitalist System. International Studies 49(3-4): 315-330.

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