Is Egypt experiencing a second revolution? And if so, how does it compare to its first? Conflict event data gathered and published in Trinity College Dublin helps shed light on the level, patterns and dynamics of violence in the second largest economy in the Arab world.
On the 1st of July, the Egyptian military issued an ultimatum to the embattled president, Mohamed Morsi, who has faced a wave of mass protests and popular unrest. Either come to a power-sharing arrangement with opponents, or step down in a military takeover which would see the dissolution of civilian rule only a year after the country’s first democratic elections. Egypt appears to have found itself not so much at a crossroads, as a multi-lane roundabout: the same demonstrations that brought about the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime now look likely to topple the country’s first post-revolution president. But how does this ‘second revolution’ compare to its predecessor? Event data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset (ACLED) illuminates key differences and similarities in the patterns and dynamics of political unrest.
The events which precipitated the transition to democracy in Egypt were spectacular in terms of size and impact, but in terms of the discrete number of protests, demonstrations and rallies taking place across the country, this latest wave of unrest surpasses its 2011 predecessor (see Figure 1). This does not represent a measure of crowd size or participants in the protest, but the number of distinct protests taking place on a given day in Egypt. In this way, it tells us that more groups are organising discrete demonstrations and counter-demonstrations than were in 2011, which suggests that the groups involved are more diverse, less coordinated (or less willing to cooperate) than when central, massive protests were taking place in early 2011.
Figure 1: Events by Conflict Type, Egypt 2010 / 2011 and 2012 / 2013
Protests and rallies are also more geographically widespread than they were in 2011 (see Figure 2). Cairo is still predictably witnessing the highest rates of protesting and rioting, but the most recent wave has seen an increase in conflict in Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan and Asyut among others. Riot and protest activity is still overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas, but the wider geographic spread of this second wave of unrest reflects the wide basis of mobilisation and dissatisfaction across the country.
Figure 2: Riot and Protest Events, Egypt, 2010 / 2011 and 2012 / 2013
In spite of these patterns of intensified unrest, it should also be noted that the protests have to date been less violent than those of the 2011 period. An enduring narrative of the first Egyptian uprising was that it was almost entirely peaceful, and yet, as Figure 3 shows, riots, battles and attacks on civilians led to high levels of fatalities throughout the unrest. This level of lethality has not been witnessed to date in Egypt’s second revolution, but the situation remains extremely volatile, and the potential for widespread and devastating violence remains a troubling possibility.
Figure 3: Records of Conflict Events and Reported Fatalities, Egypt, 2010/2011 and 2012 / 2013