Egypt: From Revolutions to Institutions

A special report from Reboot highlights opportunities to support the people and groups that are designing better governance in Egypt.

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As Egyptians head to the polls for a historic constitutional vote, the world watches and waits to understand just how structural long-term changes to the country’s governance system will be. While mainstream media stories focus on admittedly appealing narratives of technology-enabled change, numerous groups and institutions continue to work outside the spotlight to build a new political structure.

Reboot’s focus is on understanding rapidly changing mechanisms of social interaction, and leveraging them for better societies. As practitioners at the intersection of governance, technology, and social science, we help our clients build effective programs and identify optimal investments that will lead to a better future. Developments in MENA in recent weeks provide many examples of the type of systemic change that is possible. Likewise, these events will prove instructive on the larger patterns of social change we are all observing. As a global population that has routinely been excluded from political power continues to gain access to information and communications tools, we can only expect more social ruptures. Thus, we decided to abandon the armchair analysis and get our feet on the ground.

In settling on a research destination, the answer was easy. Egypt has long been a political, cultural, and social leader in the Arab world. Its people’s success in unseating Hosni Mubarak, their autocratic ruler of 29 years, was both historic and emblematic of larger patterns in the region. As students of history, we know the story of any revolution truly begins on Day 2. How Egyptian society navigates this present period will have outsize impact on the region, and likely the world.

Therefore, we believe the lessons of the Egyptian revolution tell a larger story about emerging forces in global governance. It is hard to point to an example of a peaceful, popular revolution ousting a sitting regime in such a short timespan. And in the early months of 2011, the Egyptian military’s restraint set an example for governments pondering what state sovereignty is worth when it represents little more than a monopoly over the systematic use of violence.

These profound shifts occurring in Egypt demand deeper study. Yet despite the opportunities they portend, there are no guarantees that outcomes will indeed better serve citizens. The previous regime’s ability to rebrand and reconstitute is a major threat. The ability of a long oppressed society to quickly move beyond angry protests and on to civil debate remains an open question. And whether forces that have long benefited from a dysfunctional political system can be forced to cede their positions is hard to say.

The answers to all these questions are yet unwritten. The Egyptian people’s will to reform is formidable and resolute. Having endured a repressive governance ecosystem for decades, however, they now require support in building a robust civil society and participatory political institutions.

‘Egypt: From Revolutions to Institutions’ is a look at the people, organizations and forces that will drive the next stage of Egypt’s political transformation. Extensive conversations across societal strata informed our analysis. We traveled to four locations across the country and spoke with day labourers, factory workers, factory owners, cab drivers, farmers, youth activists, labour organizers, community organizers, NGO officers, government officials, journalists, lawyers, white collar professionals of all stripes, and politicians. Cairo provided a strong foundation for keeping abreast of the national dialogue as it evolved. Day trips were taken to El-Mahalla El-Kubra, a critical hub of dissent and labour organizing; Kaisariya, a small village outside Mahalla; and Damanhur, capital of the agricultural province of Beheira.

Yet even with that breadth, no field study can provide every answer. This is only the tip of the iceberg in an extremely complex situation. Our goal is to provide timely analysis early in Egypt’s transformation process. Our hope is that institutions working for Egyptians can build upon this information in developing their programs and designing their services. There are many ways to support the Egyptian people in their struggle for a more effective state. We hope our research can inform responsible, impactful investment decisions.

This is only the beginning. Along with our team in Egypt, we will be continuing to build upon this preliminary analysis. In the coming weeks, we will be releasing additional data from our study as well as the Arabic version of this report. Looking ahead, we will be supporting various actors in mapping the path forward in Egypt. This is a time of immense opportunity for the Egyptian people, and we feel honoured to be a part of the vibrant conversation.

Download the full report here.

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