Egypt in transition: insights from Professor Monshipouri

Egypt's transition from revolution to democracy may take much longer than expected, says Associate Professor of International Relations Mahmood Monshipouri.  

While conducting research in Cairo earlier this month, he encountered a deeply divided nation leading him to believe that it could be five to 10 years before Egypt emerges from political instability.

 Photo of Associate Professor of International Relations Mahmood Monshipouri in front of a Cairo University building.

Associate Professor of International Relations Mahmood Monshipouri at Cairo University, where he interviewed students and professors.

"During the revolution in 2011, the protesters were united against President Mubarak but now internal divisions have come to the surface," Monshipouri said. "The country has an identity crisis over whether to be an Islamic or secular state."

In Cairo, Monshipouri interviewed members of the Muslim Brotherhood party, university students and professors, and a prominent Facebook activist who co-founded an activist group called the "April 6 Youth Movement."

His insights will help him complete his forthcoming book about the Arab Spring, titled "Democratic Uprising in the Middle East and North Africa: Youth, Technology, and Human Rights" and Monshipouri will also share insights with students in his Middle East graduate seminar this semester.

In recent months, tensions have run high in Egypt between the ruling Islamist party and the liberal opposition, which includes secularist, Christian and leftist groups. However, Monshipouri found that some people in Cairo believe the real conflict is between the Islamists and "the street," referring to spontaneous street protests that include people from various political backgrounds.

"People's main concern right now is the economy," Monshipouri said. "It was economic struggles that animated the revolution against Mubarak, and now people are facing the reality that the economy is worse not better."

Monshipouri observed peaceful streets in Cairo, but from talking with the city's educated youth, he found that the fervor of the protesters is still present. Their next step, he says, will be watching whether Egypt's parliamentary elections, which take place in April, are conducted fairly.

"Cairo doesn't look like a revolutionary capitol but the dust hasn't quite settled," he said. "It could be that Egypt's Arab Spring is the fire under the ashes. The streets are empty right now but they could erupt at any minute."

--Elaine Bible