A Revolution Undone
Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt
Egypt’s democratic experiment has been derailed, but will her people remain committed to progressive change, and at what cost? Hellyer’s first-hand knowledge of the country suggests the price will be high.
Amid the turbulence of the Arab Spring, the revolutionary uprising that played out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square created high expectations before dashing many of its participants’ hopes. The unpredictable events and rapid upheaval that followed mean that five years later, Egypt’s unfinished revolution remains shrouded in confusion. The politics of the street has given way to Islamist–military détentes, the undoing of 2011’s democratic experiment, and unanswered questions around religion in the public arena.
A Revolution Undone blends analysis and narrative, charting Egypt’s journey from Tahrir to Sisi from the perspective of an author and scholar who experienced it first-hand. Scrutinising Egyptian society and public opinion, Islamism and Islam, the military and government, as well as the West’s reaction to events, Hellyer provides a much-needed appraisal of Egypt’s future prospects.
H. A. Hellyer is a senior non-resident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Centre for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, and an associate fellow in International Security Studies at RUSI, London. He has published widely on Arab affairs in the international press and appears regularly on broadcasters including the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera.
‘Hellyer presents a fresh take on the CNN version of Egypt’s Tahrir revolution, and a candid assessment of its unhappy end. This is the work of an engaged observer who delves into the repeated missed opportunities of the revolutionary movement.’ — The Times Literary Supplement
‘Hellyer meticulously unpicks the struggle for power that began after Mubarak stepped down, going beyond simplistic depiction of Egypt’s post-revolutionary politics as a battle between a (secular) military and so-called deep state against an Islamist or religious opposition.’ — Financial Times
‘Hellyer writes engagingly, … [he] believes there was nothing inevitable about Egypt’s evolution since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.’ — Foreign Affairs
‘Nuanced and refreshing … Hellyer’s book is worth reading to see how individuals can be transformed in a revolutionary situation.’ — Socialist Review
‘A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt … is informative, concise and interwoven with personal anecdotes and stories by the author, making the read all the more enjoyable … [T]he thoroughness and richness of the book constitutes not only one of the first comprehensive attempts at a history of post-2011 Egypt, but also provides ample empirical material for a deeper reflection on structure, agency and contingency, thereby making the read worthwhile.’ LSE, Middle East Centre blog
‘H.A. Hellyer is eminently qualified to inform, and interpret these punishing years since 2011 which have polarised Egypt and left many searching for certainties. There’s an academic’s rigour, a pollster’s precision, and a journalist’s compelling anecdotes in his chronicle of Egypt’s “unfinished revolution.” Committed to the principles of that peaceful protest, he doesn’t shirk from holding everyone to account: from the revolutionaries who failed to follow through; the Muslim Brotherhood which fell from grace and power; and a military which played a pivotal role throughout. Egypt’s story is still being written. But five years on, this book puts down an important marker.’ — Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent, BBC
‘Attempting to follow the extraordinary tumult in Egypt has often felt like wading through a dense fog. It takes an assured and skilful navigator to plot a constructive path through the gloom and shine a light where it is needed most. Hellyer is just such a navigator: thoughtful, perceptive and above all committed to the promise of revolution, even as he spells out with intellectual honesty and historical nuance where those fighting for a more democratic Egypt have gone wrong. His analysis is an antidote to lazy stereotypes and reductive binaries, and today it is more important than ever.’ — Jack Shenker, former Egypt correspondent for The Guardian; author of The Egyptians: A Radical Story
‘H.A. Hellyer has written an inimitable book. Specialists and general readers alike will benefit hugely from the accounts exquisitely related by an insider and a fair observer in one. Hellyer’s organic link to Egypt and consciously impartial perspective produce a unique combination that we should appreciate, as many of the books published on the subject tend to lean towards one view or one side. His writings have long made clear his consistent and balanced insight — and in this book, Hellyer lets no one off the hook, calling all to account.’ — Hassan Hassan, Associate Fellow of Chatham House; author of the New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
‘A Revolution Undone represents the most authoritative, thoughtful, and nuanced account to date of Egypt’s 2011 revolution and its aftermath. The book is replete with the kind of unique insight that emerges only from direct proximity to the events it describes. Hellyer’s is a voice of studious integrity, allowing the book to achieve the near impossible when it comes to analysing Egyptian politics today: balance and perspective. A bold, defining, and — ultimately — hopeful statement on the Arab Spring that should be read by anyone interested in the future of the Middle East.’ — Peter Mandaville, Professor of International Affairs at George Mason University; author of Islam and Politics
‘Throughout the tumultuous events of 2011-2015, H.A. Hellyer has been a lucid but hardly dispassionate analyst. Now he has written a book presenting that period that draws on the same assets as his contemporaneous analyses: he writes from the heart but without losing a touch of his clear-headed thinking. Those who remember only a confused tumble of events will find a sure guide, but even those who recall these events well will learn from his book.’ — Nathan J Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University
‘It is hard to imagine a better qualified analyst of recent Egyptian history than H.A. Hellyer: a British political scientist of Egyptian heritage, conversant in the modern history of Islamic thought, equipped with the most credible public opinion polling, well-connected with a broad circle of activists and diplomats, and a Cairo resident who personally lived through the upheavals of both 2011 and 2013. Hellyer started out cautious about the first protests in 2011 but he came to identify what he calls Egypt’s “revolutionary current” as its best hope, and his honest and probing account of those events will be a great resource for future students of that history.’ — David D. Kirkpatrick, correspondent for The New York Times and its Cairo bureau chief from 2011-2015
‘H.A. Hellyer has written a deeply knowledgeable and personal set of reflections on the Egyptian revolution and its grim aftermath. It is impossible to read this book and not come away with a sense of the spirit that drove the young people of Tahrir Square in the early days of 2011, and which drives many Egyptians still. Many books have been written with the words “Egypt” and “Revolution” in their titles, but this is the only one worth reading.’ — Tarek Masoud, Sultan of Oman Associate Professor of International Relations at Harvard University; author of Counting Islam: Religion, Class and Elections in Egypt
‘A Revolution Undone combines in the most revealing of ways both the author’s participatory observations and his analytical skill in tackling questions of politics, religion and human rights. This is a persuasive analysis of the structural realities hindering democratic governance in this most populous country in the Middle East.’ — Amr Hamzawy, Associate Professor, Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo; author of A Margin for Democracy in Egypt: The Story of An Unsuccessful Transition
‘To see Egypt through H.A. Hellyer’s eyes is to observe with rare immediacy the turmoil, excitement, lost hopes, and ultimate uncertainty since the heady days of protest in 2011. Engagé but never one-sided, affecting but also clear-headed, he powerfully demonstrates how an Islamist right and authoritarian military have each tried to highjack the post-Mubarak order. That this will be a successful revolution in the long term depends, in this eloquent and unflinching analysis, on whether the precipitating search for dignity is not betrayed.’ — James Piscatori, Professor of International Relations, Durham University
‘Hellyer combines an engaging personal memoir with insightful and balanced analyses to present a clear portrayal of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. His account departs from the all-too-common treatment of the major elements as monolithic, and instead, provides an understanding of the complex mosaic of Arab Spring politics in Egypt. One strength of his analysis is his coverage of the evolution of coverage of the changing political scene. As he shows, observers played important roles in constructing the various narratives of the revolution. In the growing library of books on the Arab Spring, Hellyer provides a refreshingly intimate perspective that will be of use to all interested in twenty-first century political developments.’ — John Voll, Professor Emeritus of Islamic History, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University
‘Part personal narrative, part contemporary history, H.A. Hellyer’s A Revolution Undone provides a brilliant, gripping account of Egypt’s 2011 revolution and its aftermath. Told from the unique perspective of someone who lived through and bore witness to these historic events, the book is most notable for its analytical and moral clarity. Ultimately, the author’s conclusion is an uplifting one: the young revolutionaries who flooded Tahrir Square may have failed to change the political order in Egypt, but the idea of the revolution continues to inspire and have resonance in that country and far beyond.’ — Stephen R. Grand, Executive Director, The Middle East Strategy Task Force, The Atlantic Council; author of Understanding Tahrir Square