Comparing the current socio-economic scene with its counterpart on the eve of the 1952 revolution is not too far-fetched, despite the vast difference in the nature of Egyptian society in terms of behavioral patterns in both eras.
If we contemplate the two scenes, we would find a common denominator, despite the 55 years separating them. Indeed both eras witnessed the escalation of a social crisis and rising levels of general dissatisfaction with the regime’s performance which are, however, expressed in two very different ways.
Over the past three years, these socio-political interactions have entered a new phase, one characterized by increased labor unrest in the form of random strikes and sit-ins which are, more often than not, extremely disorganized.
But while the era of political protests waned with the fast demise of the so-called “protest movements led by the now defunct Kifaya Movement for Change, social protests have gained more ground, spreading like wildfire and succeeding to meet the demands of large sectors of society, which in turn has heightened the level of antagonism with the regime.
Thus there is a clear analogy between what happened in the past three years in Egypt and the post-World War II era marked by an explosive social crisis.
But the central difference between then and now is that the current regime did not ignore the crisis the way the pre-revolution regime had done.
However, despite the current regime’s awareness of the extent of this crisis, it seems unable to deal with it properly; nor does it have a clear vision as to how it should handle the rising number of protests.
Even though the difference may reflect well on the current regime, its weak performance will only encourage the outbreak of more protests, especially considering the absence of a grand plan to contain the problems and respond to growing social demands.
The regime’s confusion vis-à-vis such demands is never more apparent as it is with the question of government subsidies on products and services.
The government wishes to reduce these subsidies but doesn’t know how to do so without triggering more social protests. In one way, this problem is related to the regime’s obsession with maintaining the patriarchal state which was set up post-1952 and its attempt to reinstate it at a time when it would be difficult to secure the necessary resources required to do so.
The regime wants to balance a very difficult equation: to uphold the image of the President/father without providing the essential resources to meet rising social needs.
It’s no secret that there is a huge contradiction between, on the one hand, the government’s moves to meet protestors’ demands, and on the other, to cut down subsidies – in effect taking back with both hands what it’s giving with one, and doing so in an overtly haphazard manner, devoid of vision or a systematic policy.
The best example of this is the real estate tax draft law, slated for approval by the People’s Assembly in its current session, which makes no distinction between rich and poor, commercial and residential units, or luxury villas and humble apartments.
Hence, if the ousted regime of 1952 had failed to grasp the extent of the social crisis back then, it seems that the current regime is fully aware of its danger but is confused as to how it should manage it.
That said, the situation is safer today than it was on the eve of the July 23 revolution for two main reasons: first, the social crisis lacks a direct political angle; and second, there is no alternative to the regime but the Muslim Brotherhood, which would be an impossible option in the short haul.
Dr Waheed Abdel Meguidisan expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.