The revolution in Egypt was seen by many as impelled by submerged democratic and liberal tendencies in Egyptian society that, inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, erupted against President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial regime. Much was attributed to the Egyptian youth, who were described as a driving force of the popular revolution, and great hopes were attached to them as the ones who would lead Egypt into an era of Western democracy. Facebook and Twitter were also credited with huge influence in motivating the masses to struggle for democracy, and indeed the phenomenon came to be known as the Facebook Revolution.
This view was, for example, emphatically expressed in columns by the American journalist Thomas L. Friedman. In a New York Times column on February 11, 2011, Friedman conveyed his impressions from a visit to Cairo: “It [the revolution] was started by youth and enabled by Facebook and Twitter….This was a total do-it-yourself revolution. This means that anyone in the neighborhood can copy it by dialing 1-800-Tahrir Square.”1
Reverberations were heard even in Israel. Journalist Gideon Levy prophesized that the revolution was a determinative historical process that would inevitably give birth to a “liberal Western democracy.” In a Ha’aretz column called “Israel Must Congratulate Egypt” (February 13, 2012), Levy minimized the role of the Islamist forces in the revolution and wrote: “The prophecies of doom, according to which any democratic change would mean the rise of Islam, are also far from being realized. Look at the images from Tahrir Square: There are relatively few obviously religious individuals. They prayed quietly, surrounded by large numbers of secular revolutionaries.”2
An official Egyptian intelligence document3 reveals what the regime knew during the first days of the revolution, and it turns out that the Muslim Brotherhood played a central role in planning, inciting, and steering it. The document was posted on a new website that offers documents taken from the offices of Egyptian intelligence that were attacked and looted by mobs during the revolution.
The document originated in the Interrogations Department of Egyptian State Security and is dated January 28, 2011 – three days after the beginning of the revolution. The document sheds light on the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy, its translation into practice by senior officials of the organization including Mohamed Morsi, the new president of Egypt, and the security officials’ reaction to the thwarting of Muslim Brotherhood activity. The following is a (free) translation of the document’s relevant passage:
From information received it appears that a group of activists belonging to the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have recently held a number of meetings under the aegis of the organization. After a check carried out by branches of the international Muslim Brotherhood, the leaders discussed a decision concerning the need to exploit the prevailing mood in the domestic arena [in Egypt] and the impact of the events in Tunis on different groups in [Egyptian] society by means of inciting the masses with their different sectors against the regime [of Mubarak], in an effort to sow anarchy in the country by organizing demonstrations and processions that would demand political, economic, and social reforms. The aim was to pressure the regime and achieve certain goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly recognition of the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood movement whose activity is prohibited [by law], and the granting of permission for it to establish a political party.
The leadership of the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement began to implement this program with the onset of mass demonstrations in Tunis [December 18, 2010] by appointing the leader Mohamed Morsi al-Ayat [today the president of Egypt] as head of a committee to be called the “Liaison Committee with the Outside World.” Morsi instructed the committee members who fled the country to open channels of communication with foreign media, institutions, and forces, and persuade their representatives that the events in Tunis can also occur in Egypt, and that the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to control them [the events of the revolution] if it [the revolution] has the necessary support.
These leaders [of the Muslim Brotherhood] began this activity of theirs when they exploited the call, raised by Facebook youth on the Internet, to organize peaceful demonstrations so that they could express their demands peacefully. They began to encourage the young activists of the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in these demonstrations and perform acts of mayhem and destruction. They also called to organize simultaneous demonstrations in different areas of the republic, thereby creating a state of anarchy and disorder in the security domain in the country.
The document notes that on the basis of this information, 34 senior Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested, their homes searched, and documents, portable computers, and digital media confiscated. The detainees included seven top-level figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Morsi, ten senior members of the second-level leadership, and seventeen directors of branches and task-specific committees.