On January 25, 2011, millions of Egyptians poured into the streets to join a protest against the long and autocratic rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen tense days later, the military removed Mubarak from power and promised to oversee a transition to democracy. On June 30, 2013, millions of Egyptians poured into the streets to join a protest against the Islamist government of President Mohamed Morsi. Four days later, the military removed Morsi from power.
The formal symmetry of these events separated by two and a half years was deeply misleading. The first was an unprecedented mass mobilization rooted in an empowered public sphere, pressing novel demands on an arbitrary and unaccountable state. The second represented the public sphere’s co-optation by a state that was able to manipulate the street into cheering its exercise of arbitrary power.
The difference between the two uprisings soon became apparent. On August 14, 2013, Egyptian security forces moved against an Islamist encampment at Rabaa Square in central Cairo, massacring over a thousand people in broad daylight. The vast majority of the Egyptian public applauded the atrocity. In the months and years that followed, the Egyptian media became an enthusiastic cheerleader of military rule and repression, while peddling an astonishingly toxic brew of conspiracy theories, state propaganda, and incitement.
What happened? How did the Egyptian public go from cheering the overthrow of an autocratic regime to celebrating its revival in a span of less than four years? How were the independent, critical, and free-spirited voices of Tahrir Square seduced by the cynical hypocrisies of military rule?...