The State of Egypt's Revolution, Three Years Later

The Muslim Brotherhood has survived three major crackdowns in its 80 year history with its reformist agenda in tact. One under the monarchy in 1949, and two under Nasser in 1954 and 1965, did little to change the Islamic movement's belief in constructive conservatism. Whatever happened, its leaders clung to the dream of changing Egypt from within and gradually.

Until today. A major shift is taking place in the Islamic movement as some 13,000 of its senior and mid-ranking members fill Egypt's prisons. Some of them face the death penalty. With their property confiscated and the movement outlawed, the baton has been handed to a younger, more radical generation determined to finish the job started in Tahrir Square three years ago, even if that is at the cost of their own lives.

The Brotherhood's new breed of revolutionaries claim it's not a question of if, but when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the coup leadership are deposed. The end is nigh for the military regime, they claim, with nationwide protests planned for the anniversary of the revolution on January 25.

One told me: "Understand that Tahrir right now is a symbol, but we are going to celebrate both in Tahrir and in Rabaa. Stay tuned. It's going to be big. I promise you."

However counter-factual that may appear today after the referendum on a constitution last week which cements the ascendancy of the army over civilian rule, and which is being seen as a dry run for Sisi's candidacy as president, the Brotherhood insists the mood of revolt on the Egyptian street is growing. Thirteen people died last week in the first day of voting for the new constitution. Even so, the protest movement claims they have sympathizers inside the army.

It will not be business as usual if Sisi and the government are deposed in a fresh revolution. The younger generation shows little appetite for constitutional reform and another round of parliamentary and presidential elections. "What is the point of changing faces when the structure of how the country is governed remains the same? How can you have the rule of law when the judges, appointed by Mubarak, preside over fabricated cases against us?" said one.

Instead, executive power may shift to a revolutionary council, which will represent all revolutionary parties, secular as well as Islamist, and swift justice will be meted out in revolutionary courts.

They deny they are about to abandon democracy or non-violence and say they recognize the dangers of swift justice. There is a thin line between that and revenge of hundreds of their fellow demonstrators.

They recognize, too, if somewhat belatedly, that millions of Egyptians supported Morsi's downfall in July last year and that when Morsi was in power he did not go far enough to form an inclusive government. In fact they say he should have refused to form one until all elements of Tahrir Square had come on board. As a result, there is still now a gulf to bridge between secular revolutionaries and Islamist ones.

Distrusted by the secular groups though they are, they are counting on the fact that everyone is hurting under an autocracy harsher than anything experienced in the dictator Hosni Mubarak's time. The latest sign that painful splits could be mending was Ahmed Maher's statement in which the jailed leader of the secular April 6 youth movement regretted supporting the coup.

The Brotherhood thought that they could do it on their own and they found out to their cost that they were wrong. One of the new leaders says: "Egypt is bigger than all of us. No one will be able to lead the country on their own. We believe there is enough common ground between us and the secular revolutionary parties to finish this struggle. When you say that on the 25th all of us are calling for a revolution, be sure that when the blood mixes in the streets it does not distinguish between secular and Islamist."

Yahya Hamid is one of the new generation of youth leaders. He was part of Morsi's inner circle of advisers and became investment minister. He was at the main sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya, survived the mass shootings and fled the country. Now he is among 50 mid-ranking leaders wanted on treason charges.

The new strategy, endorsed in a meeting which took place during the Rabaa sit-in, is as much a product of their analysis of the mistakes made in deposed president Mohamed Morsi's first year in power as it is of the six months of repression which followed.

"Changing faces is not changing the system. If you ask anyone on the street what we should do the day after [Sisi's overthrow] they will tell you to purge every institution starting with the army," Hamed said.

Hamid had a ringside seat at Morsi's failed attempts to reform the security forces, quietly and from within. He revealed to me that Morsi sacked as many as 700 generals in the interior ministry and three quarters of the army's top brass. Reality only dawned when the generals Morsi appointed went on to mount the coup in July last year. Hamid is openly critical of the Brotherhood's other mistakes. He says they should have gone the extra mile in forming a government of all the factions in Tahrir Square.

But there is one cardinal error that both the Brotherhood and most of the secular opposition both made. When the dictator Hosni Mubarak fell, each put their trust in the army as guardians of the transition to democracy. In so doing, they let the institution with the greatest interest in maintaining the corrupted status quo roll back their revolution.

Asked to explain the army's stranglehold over Egypt's government, Hamid gives a bizarre reply:

"Look at the price of a kilo of meat. The Morsi administration tried to bring the price down by importing meat from Sudan. The price came down to 53 Egyptian pounds per kilo and their aim was to get it to 40. Not everyone was happy. This popular move ate into the profits of the company importing the meat which is run by -- and for -- Egypt's general intelligence service. What happened after the coup? The price was restored to 75 Egyptian pounds per income and Egypt's spooks breathed easily once again."

It's the same story with every ton of imported wheat grain, from which the security forces take their cut. It's like that with all the commodities. Hamid likened the army's budget to a "black box," closed to anyone outside it, including the elected president. At one point, Sisi himself vetoed a motion to have the army's budget scrutinized in detail in the national security council. This is the very point that is now being enshrined in the constitution. It is clear why. The army controls 62 companies, all of them major players in construction, property development, and real estate.

America also proved a fickle ally to Egypt, and Washington's commitment to democratic elections -- the first in Egypt's history -- was wafer thin. Behind the scenes , the US administration was maneuvring to get rid of Morsi.

At one point in the death throes of Morsi's administration, Anne Patterson, then U.S. ambassador, told Morsi that if he appointed the opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei as prime minister and Ahmad Jamaluddin as interior minister (a man thought to be close to Washington), she would personally bring 100 U.S. businessmen to invest $10 billion in Egypt.

"That is what Patterson said. It's unbelievable. So when a call comes on July 1 from Obama, Morsi to his credit said that the decision is not for anyone but the Egyptian people," Hamid said. By that time, Washington was telling Morsi to call new elections on condition that the incumbent could not run as candidate.

Little surprise now that the White House is now preparing to resume all aid programs to Egypt, curtailed in the wake of the mass shooting of demonstrators. It's a move that, if it materializes, Washington could yet come to regret, for it means any Egyptian government that follows Sisi's downfall would be duty bound to prove its independence from Washington.

The ripple effects would not just be felt in the Sinai peninsula, where an insurgency is taking place, and on the border with Gaza, but in the region as a whole. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bankrolled the military backed government since the coup. The Kingdom fears the Brotherhood for two reasons: as a rival interpreter of Islam and because they know full well that what takes place in Egypt could happen too at home.

The new Brotherhood radicals differentiate between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They claim there are senior members of the House of Saud who are appalled at what is being done by the chief of intelligence, Prince Bandar, in the name of the old King Abdullah. They say there is "still time" for the Kingdom to change course . But for the U.A.E., it is too late. Its fate, the Brotherhood says, is sealed. Post-Sisi, Egypt would not shy away from openly promoting revolution in fellow Arab countries.