This is an historical perspective on the Arab Spring – particularly in Egypt, but generalisable to some extent to other Arab countries – from a historian by education and practice. A peculiar personal experience drew me from being another Egyptian protesting in Tahrir Square in Cairo to the state historian of the Egyptian revolution. Only one week after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president, the head of the Egyptian National Archives together with the Minister of Culture appointed me as Chair of an official committee empowered to document the momentous popular uprising of January 2011 that captured the attention of the world. I assembled a team of archivists, historians and IT experts. We set about planning how to accomplish the mammoth task ahead of us.
Soon we found ourselves having to find answers to difficult questions: ‘How do we go about collecting people’s testimonies?’ for example. Or, more worrisome, given that we were a government committee: ‘Can we guarantee that the testimonies do not end up falling into the hands of security agencies to be used against the same people who had entrusted us with these potentially self-incriminating testimonies?’
Historical questions presented the most difficulty. When did the revolution end? Did it end with Mubarak’s step-down? With the constitutional amendments of March 2011 that banned the then ruling party, dissolved parliament and called for fresh parliamentary elections? With these parliamentary elections that were held in November 2011? With the presidential elections in June the following year? Given that we were still attending funerals of friends and loved ones, running from one police station to another looking for demonstrators who had been arrested, and still demonstrating to demand the release of our comrades – given all this, was the revolution still going on?
Most difficult of all were questions not about when and how the revolution ended – if ever it did – but when it began and where it originated. Was it launched on 25 January 2011, National Police Day, when we took to the streets to protest against the endemic use of torture in prisons and other places of detention? Or did it begin on 14 January when Ben Ali, the Tunisian President, fled his country to Saudi Arabia, inspiring people in Egypt to say: ‘If the Tunisians could do it, then maybe we can, too’?
Or was its beginning on New Year’s Eve 2010 when Muslims and Copts took to the streets protesting against what they believed was their government’s complicity in the bombing of churches? Or a few months earlier with the beating to death of the young Alexandrian activist Khaled Said, who later became the icon of the revolution? Did it start in 2008 when thousands took to the streets all over the country in solidarity with the striking workers in the industrial town of Mahalla? Or were its origins in 2004 with the birth of the Kefaya (Enough!) Movement, whose members were protesting, week in and week out, against Mubarak’s dictatorial rule?
Did it start in March 2003 when we took to the streets protesting against the US bombing of Iraq and when we occupied Tahrir for a few hours? Or did it begin in March 2000 when the Israeli Prime Minister paid his ill-fated visit to al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, prompting thousands of Egyptian university students to spill out of their university gates to demonstrate in solidarity with the Second Palestinian Intifada?
My colleagues on the committee and I pondered these questions, and probed even more difficult ones.
During the last years of Mubarak’s long reign, were we demonstrating against the President grooming his son Gamal to take over the presidency and effectively transform the republic into a monarchy? Were we demonstrating against the endemic use of torture by the Egyptian police? Were we demonstrating against the debased choice with which Mubarak presented us, whereby he was effectively telling Egyptians: ‘Either accept my torture chambers or Islamist rule’?
Or did the revolution have deeper roots still? Was it, rather, a revolution not only against Mubarak’s 30 black years, but against the July Regime set down 60 years earlier in the wake of the 23 July 1952 revolution? That revolution offered us another debased choice: giving up our constitutional and political rights in exchange for social and economic rights. Were we rebelling to assert our entitlement to have both kinds of rights – constitutional and political, as well as social and economic? Egyptians who took to the streets on 25 January 2011 overwhelmed the police by our numbers, determination and tenacity in just three days. Were we then, on 28 January, the Friday of Rage, doing what we should have done in the wake of Egypt’s catastrophic defeat in the Six-Day War on 6 June 1967, when, instead of asking the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to step down and face trial, we begged him to rescind his resignation and remain the country’s uncontested leader?
Or did the revolution have even deeper roots? Perhaps we were protesting against the intrinsic military character of the modern Egyptian state – a state put in place by Mehmed Ali in 1805. Mehmed Ali, a Macedonian adventurer, set about to change the status of Egypt from a mere province of the Ottoman Empire to a special realm that he and his sons could rule for a hundred years. In doing so, he founded an army that would dominate all aspects of Egyptian life and forever change the nature of the country. Were we specifically rebelling against the state that was created as a result of founding this army, an army that forced peasants to serve dynastic interests that made no sense to them, to struggle for causes in which they did not believe, and to die in wars that were not theirs?
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These are the questions that I faced when I undertook to chair the committee that was to document the January 2011 revolution. The questions made me see that Egyptians were revolting not only against Mubarak and his cronies, but against a state that, to paraphrase Karl Marx, came dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with dirt and blood. The modern Egyptian state was not founded on the flimsiest notion of constitutionalism or the rule of law. We entered into no social contract that tied us to our ruler, who descended on us with his ilk like vultures ravaging town and country.
It is a state that has repeatedly failed its citizens, is inherently despotic, and suffers from a foundational legitimacy crisis.
For the past 200 years, Egyptians have not spared any effort in rebelling against this tyrannical state. In contrast to what is taught in Egyptian schools, we did not revolt only against foreign invaders, be they French or British. We also resisted this domestic Leviathan by all means at our disposal.
In 1821, and in the wake of higher taxation, more frequent corvée (forced labour) levies, a draconian monopolies policy and, above all, an unprecedented conscription policy, Egyptian peasants revolted in a massive popular uprising in the south. This peasant uprising spread from Qina to Aswan, and 20,000 men and women participated; 4,000 of them were killed. The following year, an equally large uprising spread in the Delta, only to be quelled by six machine guns commanded by Mehmed Ali in person.
In 1844, another large uprising erupted in Menoufia in the Delta, where government warehouses were set on fire and the pasha’s agents taken hostages. There were also cases where peasants were reported to have uprooted cotton plants from their fields, despite the fact that cotton was one of the world’s most valuable commodities. Destroying it would have cost farmers dearly. Then 1863 saw a large uprising erupt in the south of Egypt, in the same area of the 1821 rebellion.
In 1879-1882, people from across Egyptian society rose in a nationwide revolution under Ahmed Urabi. Urabi headed a movement aiming to subject the Egyptian military state to constitutional rule, one that would define the rights and responsibilities of the khedive, the monarchial ruler, and separate his purse from the public purse. In short, Egyptians sought to put limits on the monarch’s unlimited power. The revolution was on the cusp of succeeding, but on 11 July 1882 the British navy answered the khedive’s call for help in confronting the Egyptian people’s constitutional movement. The British bombarded Alexandria and defeated Urabi’s troops, inaugurating a military occupation that would last 70-odd years.
The British occupation dissipated Egyptians’ revolutionary energies. Occupied Egypt had to fight for constitutional rights and for independence at the same time. Two and a half decades after the defeat of Urabi’s army and the landing on Egyptian soil of British troops, Egyptians rose in one massive revolution in 1919 asking for both independence and a constitution. The much‑anticipated independence, however, fell far short of revolutionary expectations, for in 1922 the British handed Egypt a truncated independence that allowed British troops to stay on Egyptian soil, and deprived Egypt from the right to shape its own foreign policy. More seriously, the British interfered in the constitution-writing process, tilting the 1923 Constitution toward the palace, giving the crown powers that enabled it to dominate parliament.
Those of us who were not tortured, imprisoned or exiled found ourselves marching straight to a dark abyss
The period between 1923 and 1952 is often called the golden age of liberal Egypt, but it was neither golden nor liberal. The British continued to maintain their grip over Egypt. The monarch continued to use a constitutional licence allowing him to dissolve parliament at will. Throughout the second quarter of the 20th century, Egyptian political parties failed to develop strategies to defeat either the colonial occupier or local tyranny. The moment was ripe for Egyptians to take to the streets, for the appearance of mass politics.
The political stalemate was broken in 1952, when Gamal Abdel Nasser and his junta staged a coup. They abolished the monarchy, suspended parliamentary politics, persecuted all major political players of the ancien régime, rounded up thousands of communists and sent them to remote prisons, and arrested tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members whom they subjected to indescribable torture. Those of us who were not tortured, imprisoned or exiled found ourselves marching in unison behind our leader, straight to a dark abyss.
Following the June 1967 war, Egyptians rose once more and protested against the lenient sentences that those responsible for this catastrophic defeat had received. A couple of years later, Egyptian universities burst at the seams with demonstrations against a seemingly indecisive policy toward our erstwhile foreign enemy, Israel. In 1977, we took to the streets again in massive numbers against the government’s economic austerity measures. Nine years later, our brethren in the Central Security Forces rose in one massive uprising against the draconian conditions of their conscription. Fourteen years later, in 2000, we took to the streets in large numbers protesting against the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam.
Thus we are back full-circle to the immediate causes of the revolution of 25 January 2011.
On that day, I went to Tahrir Square to join what I thought would be yet another small demonstration, doomed to be crushed by overwhelming police force. The minute I stepped in, however, I realised that this time the situation was different. Our numbers were huge. The slogans were new. There was the same beat as familiar slogans, but now I heard strange, unrecognisable words. Soon, I figured out what people were shouting: ‘Al-sha‘b.’ Stop. ‘Yurid.’ Stop. ‘Isqat al-Nizam.’ Stop. ‘The people.’ ‘Demand.’ ‘The downfall of the regime.’ Goosebumps spread all over my body. I then found myself joining tens of thousands of fellow citizens at the top of my voice.
For the following 18 days, I went to Tahrir nearly every day, returning home only to sleep and get provisions for my friends who preferred to camp in the square. Mubarak’s step-down was only a matter of time, we firmly believed: the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse; we are finally making our voice heard; we are shaping our country’s future. And soon a new slogan spread like wildfire throughout the huge midan and was repeated by hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life: ‘Irfa‘ rasak fo’. Inta Masri.’ ‘Lift up your head. You’re Egyptian’.
Three and a half years later, this confident, hopeful mood is no more. Instead of the open, democratic country that seemed, for a short while, to be ours at last, Egypt is now in the grip of a military dictatorship that has arrested our friends, imprisoned our comrades and quashed our dreams. Kangaroo trials have passed death sentences on hundreds of Islamists in sessions lasting less than an hour. And on 14 August 2013, security forces committed what Human Rights Watch described as one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators on a single day in recent history, a massacre in Raba’a Square in Cairo that was more lethal than Tiananmen Square and which probably amounts to a crime against humanity.
How did the 18 days in Tahrir that saw so many Egyptians embracing these lofty ideals lead to 12 hours in Raba’a Square that witnessed a massacre in which more than 800 people were killed? How did we start in such hope in 2011 and end up with this bloodbath in 2013? How did the Arab spring morph into an Arab nightmare, out of which we seem not able to awaken?
Far from being a Facebook phenomenon, a foreign conspiracy, or an insurrection staged by a handful of street urchins – as members of the current Egyptian regime in their phantasmagorical delusions insist – the Egyptian revolution has a long and venerable pedigree. We, the people, have been in a state of constant rebellion for the past 200 years, and 25 January 2011 was but the latest phase of a long struggle to force the tyrannical state to serve its citizens, instead of us serving it.
Why has it proven so difficult for Egyptians to end our status as subjects in our own country and to force our state to treat us as citizens?
Five reasons stood, and still stand, in the way of democracy in Egypt and indeed in the whole of the Arab world.
First, despite their deafening rhetoric, Western powers have not spared an effort to thwart our struggle for democracy. As noted above, the British not only crushed our first constitutional movement in 1881-82, but also handicapped our second attempt when they intervened in the writing of the 1923 Constitution to tip the balance in favour of their pliant client king and against the nascent parliament. Britain’s moment in the Middle East came to an end, of course, and the US has taken over as the global superpower. Washington, DC has not missed an opportunity to support Egyptian dictators over the Egyptian people, just as it has in neighbouring countries.
Second, the century-long Arab-Israeli conflict has sapped our energy and diverted precious resources. But more insidiously, our own despots have used it cynically to postpone democratic reforms indefinitely. The slogan ‘No call to top the call for battle’ has been deployed domestically to silence all calls for democracy and reform. Moreover, our struggle with Israel necessitated the expansion of the military. When this military failed in its mission at the borders, it diverted its energies to the domestic sphere, transforming itself into a mighty economic and political player that rightly saw democracy as inimical to its interest.
Third, the scourge of petro-dollars has meant that the oil-rich and despotic regimes of the Gulf could interfere in Egypt and support anti-democratic forces. The success of the counter-revolution following 30 June 2013 could not be understood without taking into account the billions of dollars that both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates paid the new Egyptian regime. This heavy support from the Gulf states to the counter-revolutionary regime stems from their realisation that the Egyptian revolution could have a domino effect in the region. If allowed to succeed, it could shake the despotic foundations of these Gulf states.
we in Egypt, Libya and Syria found that we had opened the Pandora’s box of political Islam
Fourth, the tragedy of Egypt’s current revolution also lies in our inability to look back to our modern history and choose a moment that we would like to resurrect or emulate. There is no ‘reset button’ that we can press to jumpstart our history; no one specific dark moment that we can simply wish away; no isolated anomalous period that we would like to suppress; no imagined golden age in which we can claim we shaped our destiny and to which we want to return. In this, Egypt is not unique. The history of postcolonial states has seen few victories of democracy and justice.
Finally, and to make things even more difficult, in attempting to tame the domestic Leviathan, we in Egypt, Libya and Syria found that we had unleashed the forces of political Islam. For our revolution posed not only the question of what ought to be the role of the army in society but also what role religion should play in politics. This matter opened up existential questions with which Egyptians and Arabs have been struggling for more than a century.
It is also true that the new regime has taken repressive measures against the Egyptian people, moving to push us back into history’s antechamber. Despite these deep problems, I remain confident that the future is ours and that our revolution will prevail. This might not happen next month, next year, or even in the next decade. Given how deep are the roots of, and reasons for, this revolution, it would be naïve to expect its victory overnight with one decisive, knockout blow. Despite the challenges, I am convinced that we are now witnessing the beginning of the end of the tyrannical Egyptian state.
My optimism derives from two simple but profound facts. The first is that the Egyptian people have asserted our presence in our own country. We have a will; we have a voice; and we have agency. In 2011, like in 1919, we made history and brought radical change. Never before in our long history, extending back to the pharaohs, did we manage to topple a leader from power. In the January revolution, the Egyptian people did just that. We asserted our right and determination to shape our own destiny.
We have opened the black box of politics. Politics is no longer what government officials, security agents or army officers decide among themselves. It is no longer what university students demonstrate about, what workers in their factories struggle with, or young men in mosques whisper over. Politics is now the stuff of coffee‑shop gossip, of housewives’ chats, of metro conversations, even of pillow talk. People now see the political in the daily and the quotidian. The genie is out of the bottle and no amount of repression can force it back in.
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is professor of history at the American University in Cairo. His latest book is Mehmed Ali: From Ottoman Governor to Ruler of Egypt (2009).
The Egyptian revolution of 2011, locally known as the January 25 Revolution (Egyptian Arabic: ثورة 25 يناير; Thawret 25 yanāyir), began on 25 January 2011 and took place across all of Egypt. The date was set by various youth groups to coincide with the annual Egyptian "police day" as a statement against increasing police brutality during the last few years of Mubarak's presidency. It consisted of demonstrations, marches, occupations of plazas, non-violent civil resistance, acts of civil disobedience and strikes. Millions of protesters from a range of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of Egyptian PresidentHosni Mubarak. The revolution started by calls for protests from online youth groups. Initially these included liberal, anti-capitalist, nationalist, and feminist elements, but they finally included Islamist elements as well. Violent clashes between security forces and protesters resulted in at least 846 people killed and over 6,000 injured. Protesters retaliated by burning over 90 police stations across the country. The protests took place in Cairo, Alexandria, and in all major cities across the nation.
The Egyptian protesters' grievances focused on legal and political issues, including police brutality, state-of-emergency laws, lack of free elections and freedom of speech, corruption, and economic issues including high unemployment, food-price inflation and low wages. The protesters' primary demands were the end of the Mubarak regime and emergency law, freedom, justice, a responsive non-military government and a voice in managing Egypt's resources. Strikes by labour unions added to the pressure on government officials.
During the uprising, the capital Cairo was described as "a war zone" and the port city of Suez saw frequent violent clashes. Protesters defied a government-imposed curfew, which was impossible to enforce by the police and military. Egypt's Central Security Forces, loyal to Mubarak, were gradually replaced by military troops. In the chaos, there was some looting by gangs which was instigated (according to opposition sources) by plainclothes police officers. In response, watch groups were organized by civilians to protect neighbourhoods.
International reaction has varied, with most Western nations condoning peaceful protests but concerned about the stability of Egypt and the region. The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions have influenced demonstrations in other Arab countries, including Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria and Libya.
Mubarak dissolved his government, appointing former head of the Egyptian General Intelligence DirectorateOmar Suleiman vice-president in an attempt to quell dissent. Mubarak asked aviation minister and former chief of Egypt's air force Ahmed Shafik (who ran for presidency later) to form a new government. Mohamed ElBaradei became a major opposition figure, with all major opposition groups supporting his role as negotiator for a transitional unity government. In response to mounting pressure, Mubarak, in another attempt to contain the crisis, announced he did not intend to seek re-election in September.
On 11 February 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak would resign as president, turning power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The military junta, headed by effective head of state Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, announced on 13 February that the constitution would be suspended, both houses of parliament dissolved and the military would rule for six months (until elections could be held). The previous cabinet, including Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, would serve as a caretaker government until a new one was formed. Shafik, seen by the masses as another Mubarak figure, resigned on 3 March, a day before major protests to force him to step down were planned, and was replaced by former transport minister Essam Sharaf. On 24 May 2011, Mubarak was ordered to stand trial on charges of premeditated murder of peaceful protesters and, if convicted, could have faced the death penalty. On 2 June 2012, Mubarak was found guilty of complicity in the murder of protesters and sentenced to life imprisonment, but the sentence was overturned on appeal and a retrial ordered. A number of protesters, upset that others tried with Mubarak (including his two sons) were acquitted, took to the streets. Mubarak was eventually cleared of all charges on 29 November 2014, although Egypt's prosecutor general announced he would appeal the verdict.
After the revolution against Mubarak and a period of rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt through a series of popular elections, with Egyptians electing Islamist Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in June 2012. However, Morsi's government encountered fierce opposition after his attempt to pass an Islamist constitution that followed extreme Islamist views. Morsi attempted also to change laws granting himself unparalleled powers like no other president in Egyptian history. It sparked general outrage from secularists and members of the military, and mass protests broke out against his rule on 28 June 2013. On 3 July 2013, Morsi was deposed by a coup d'état led by the minister of defense, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as millions of Egyptians took to the streets in support of early elections.El-Sisi went on to become Egypt's president by popular election in 2014.
In Egypt and other parts of the Arab world, the protests and governmental changes are also known as the 25 January Revolution (ثورة 25 ينايرThawrat 25 Yanāyir), Freedom Revolution (ثورة حريةThawrat Horeya) or Rage Revolution (ثورة الغضبThawrat al-Ġaḍab), and (less frequently) the Youth Revolution (ثورة الشبابThawrat al-Shabāb), Lotus Revolution (ثورة اللوتس) or White Revolution (الثورة البيضاءal-Thawrah al-bayḍāʾ).
Hosni Mubarak became President of Egypt after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDS) maintained one-party rule under a continual state of emergency. His government received support from the West and aid from the United States by its suppression of Islamic militants and peace with Israel. Mubarak was often compared to an Egyptian pharaoh by the media and some critics, due to his authoritarian rule. He was in the 30th year of his reign when the Revolution of 2011 began.
Inheritance of power
Main article: Gamal Mubarak
Gamal Mubarak, Mubarak's younger son, was expected to succeed his father as the next president of Egypt in 2000. Gamal began receiving attention from the Egyptian media, since there were apparently no other heirs to the presidency.Bashar al-Assad's rise to power in Syria in June 2000, hours after Hafez al-Assad's death, sparked debate in the Egyptian press about the prospects for a similar scenario in Cairo.
During the years after Mubarak's 2005 re-election, several left- and right-wing (primarily unofficial) political groups expressed opposition to the inheritance of power, demanded reforms and asked for a multi-candidate election. In 2006, with opposition increasing, Daily News Egypt reported an online campaign initiative (the National Initiative against Power Inheritance) demanding that Gamal reduce his power. The campaign said, "President Mubarak and his son constantly denied even the possibility of [succession]. However, in reality they did the opposite, including amending the constitution to make sure that Gamal will be the only unchallenged candidate."
During the decade, public perception grew that Gamal would succeed his father. He wielded increasing power as NDP deputy secretary general and chair of the party's policy committee. Analysts described Mubarak's last decade in power as "the age of Gamal Mubarak". With his father's health declining and no appointed vice-president, Gamal was considered Egypt's de facto president by some. Although Gamal and Hosni Mubarak denied an inheritance of power, Gamal could be elected; with Hosni Mubarak's presidential term set to expire in 2010, speculation existed that Gamal would run as the NDP candidate in 2011. However, after the January–February 2011 protest Gamal Mubarak said that he would not run for president in the 2011 elections.
Main article: Emergency law in Egypt
Emergency law (Law No. 162 of 1958) was enacted in the country after the 1967 Six-Day War. Although it was suspended for 18 months during the early 1980s, it has otherwise continuously been in effect since Anwar Sadat's 1981 assassination. Emergency law extended police powers, suspended constitutional rights, legalised censorship and abolished habeas corpus. It limits non-governmental political activity, including demonstrations, unapproved political organizations and unregistered financial donations. The Mubarak government has cited the threat of terrorism in extending emergency law, claiming that opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood could gain power in Egypt if the government did not forgo parliamentary elections and suppress the group through emergency law. This has led to the imprisonment of activists without trial, illegal, undocumented and hidden detention facilities and the rejection of university, mosque and newspaper staff based on their political affiliation. A December 2010 parliamentary election was preceded by a media crackdown, arrests, candidate bans (particularly Muslim Brotherhood candidates) and allegations of fraud due to the near-unanimous victory by the NDP in parliament. Human-rights organizations estimate that in 2010, between 5,000 and 10,000 people were in long-term detention without charge or trial.
Further information: Law enforcement in Egypt
According to a U.S. Embassy report, police brutality has been widespread in Egypt. In the five years before the revolution, the Mubarak regime denied the existence of torture or abuse by police. However, claims by domestic and international groups provided cellphone videos or first-hand accounts of hundreds of cases of police brutality. According to the 2009 Human Rights Report from the U.S. State Department, "Domestic and international human rights groups reported that the Ministry of Interior (MOI) State Security Investigative Service (SSIS), police, and other government entities continued to employ torture to extract information or force confessions. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights documented 30 cases of torture during the year 2009. In numerous trials defendants alleged that police tortured them during questioning. During the year activists and observers circulated some amateur cellphone videos documenting the alleged abuse of citizens by security officials. For example, on 8 February, a blogger posted a video of two police officers, identified by their first names and last initials, sodomizing a bound naked man named Ahmed Abdel Fattah Ali with a bottle. On 12 August, the same blogger posted two videos of alleged police torture of a man in a Port Said police station by the head of investigations, Mohammed Abu Ghazala. There was no indication that the government investigated either case."
The deployment of Baltageya (Arabic: بلطجية)—plainclothes police—by the NDP has been a hallmark of the Mubarak government. The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights has documented 567 cases of torture, including 167 deaths, by police from 1993 to 2007. Excessive force was often used by law-enforcement agencies against popular uprisings. On 6 June 2010 Khaled Mohamed Saeed died under disputed circumstances in the Sidi Gaber area of Alexandria, with witnesses testifying that he was beaten to death by police - an event which galvanized Egyptians around the issue of police brutality. A Facebook page, "We are all Khaled Said", helped attract nationwide attention to the case.Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, led a 2010 rally in Alexandria against police abuse, and visited Saeed's family to offer condolences.
During the January–February 2011 protests, police brutality was common. Jack Shenker, a reporter for The Guardian, was arrested during the Cairo protests on 26 January. He witnessed fellow Egyptian protesters being tortured, assaulted, and taken to undisclosed locations by police officers. Shenker and other detainees were released after covert intervention by Ayman Nour, the father of a fellow detainee.
Corruption, coercion not to vote and manipulation of election results occurred during many elections over Mubarak's 30-year rule. Until 2005, Mubarak was the only presidential candidate (with a yes-or-no vote). Mubarak won five consecutive presidential elections with a sweeping majority. Although opposition groups and international election-monitoring agencies charged that the elections were rigged, those agencies were not allowed to monitor elections. The only opposition presidential candidate in recent Egyptian history, Ayman Nour, was imprisoned before the 2005 elections. According to a 2007 UN survey, voter turnout was extremely low (about 25 percent) because of a lack of trust in the political system.
Demographic and economic challenges
Unemployment and reliance on subsidized goods
Further information: Demographics of Egypt, Demographic trap, and Youth bulge
The population of Egypt grew from 30,083,419 in 1966 to roughly 79,000,000 by 2008. The vast majority of Egyptians live near the banks of the Nile, in an area of about 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq mi) where the only arable land is found. In late 2010, about 40 percent of Egypt's population lived on the equivalent of roughly USD$2 per day, with a large portion relying on subsidized goods.
According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics and other proponents of demographic structural approach (cliodynamics), a basic problem in Egypt is unemployment driven by a demographic youth bulge; with the number of new people entering the workforce at about four percent a year, unemployment in Egypt is almost 10 times as high for college graduates as for those who finished elementary school (particularly educated urban youth—the people who were in the streets during the revolution).
Economy and poor living conditions
Further information: Economy of Egypt
Egypt's economy was highly centralised during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, becoming more market-driven under Anwar Sadat and Mubarak. From 2004 to 2008 the Mubarak government pursued economic reform to attract foreign investment and increase GDP, later postponing further reforms because of the Great Recession. The international economic downturn slowed Egypt's GDP growth to 4.5 percent in 2009. In 2010, analysts said that the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif would need to resume economic reform to attract foreign investment, increase growth and improve economic conditions. Despite recent high national economic growth, living conditions for the average Egyptian remained relatively poor (albeit better than other African nations with no significant social upheavals).
Further information: Crime in Egypt
Political corruption in the Mubarak administration's Interior Ministry rose dramatically, due to increased control of the system necessary to sustain his presidency. The rise to power of powerful businessmen in the NDP, the government and the House of Representatives led to public anger during the Ahmed Nazif government. Ahmed Ezzmonopolised the steel industry, with more than 60 percent of market share. Aladdin Elaasar, an Egyptian biographer and American professor, estimated that the Mubarak family was worth from $50 to $70 billion.
The wealth of former NDP secretary Ezz was estimated at 18 billion Egyptian pounds; the wealth of former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghraby was estimated at more than 11 billion Egyptian pounds; that of former tourism minister Zuhair Garrana is estimated at 13 billion Egyptian pounds; former minister of trade and industry Rashid Mohamed Rashid is estimated to be worth 12 billion Egyptian pounds, and former interior minister Habib al-Adly was estimated to be worth eight billion Egyptian pounds. The perception among Egyptians was that the only people benefiting from the nation's wealth were businessmen with ties to the National Democratic Party: "Wealth fuels political power and political power buys wealth."
During the 2010 elections, opposition groups complained about government harassment and fraud. Opposition and citizen activists called for changes to a number of legal and constitutional provisions affecting elections. In 2010, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) gave Egypt a score of 3.1 based on perceptions by business people and analysts of the degree of corruption (with 10 being clean, and 0 totally corrupt).
To prepare for the possible overthrow of Mubarak, opposition groups studied Gene Sharp's work on nonviolent action and worked with leaders of Otpor!, the student-led Serbianorganisation. Copies of Sharp's list of 198 non-violent "weapons", translated into Arabic and not always attributed to him, were circulated in Tahrir Square during its occupation.
Main article: Tunisian revolution
Following the ousting of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after mass protests, many analysts (including former European Commission PresidentRomano Prodi) saw Egypt as the next country where such a revolution might occur. According to The Washington Post, "The Jasmine Revolution [...] should serve as a stark warning to Arab leaders – beginning with Egypt's 83-year-old Hosni Mubarak – that their refusal to allow more economic and political opportunity is dangerous and untenable." Others believed that Egypt was not ready for revolution, citing little aspiration by the Egyptian people, low educational levels and a strong government with military support. The BBC said, "The simple fact is that most Egyptians do not see any way that they can change their country or their lives through political action, be it voting, activism, or going out on the streets to demonstrate."
After the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia on 17 December, a man set himself afire on 18 January in front of the Egyptian parliament and five more attempts followed. On 17 January, Abdou Abdel Monaam, a baker, also set himself on fire to protest a law that prevented restaurant owners from buying subsidized bread, leading him to buy bread at the regular price - which is five times higher than the subsidized. Mohammed Farouq Mohammed, who is a lawyer, also set himself afire in front of the parliament to protest his ex-wife, who did not allow him to see his daughters. In Alexandria, an unemployed man by the name of Ahmed Hashem Sayed was also a victim of self-immolation.
National Police Day protests
Opposition groups planned a day of revolt for 25 January, coinciding with National Police Day, to protest police brutality in front of the Ministry of Interior. Protesters also demanded the resignation of the Minister of Interior, an end to State corruption, the end of emergency law and presidential term limits for the president.
Many political movements, opposition parties and public figures supported the day of revolt, including Youth for Justice and Freedom, the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution, the Popular Democratic Movement for Change, the Revolutionary Socialists and the National Association for Change. The April 6 Youth Movement was a major supporter of the protest, distributing 20,000 leaflets saying "I will protest on 25 January for my rights". The Ghad El-Thawra Party, Karama, Wafd and Democratic Front supported the protests. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, confirmed on 23 January that it would participate. Public figures, including novelist Alaa Al Aswany, writer Belal Fadl and actors Amr Waked and Khaled Aboul Naga, announced that they would participate. The leftistNational Progressive Unionist Party (the Tagammu) said that it would not participate, and the Coptic Church urged Christians not to participate in the protests.
Twenty-six-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz was instrumental in sparking the protests. In a video blog posted a week before National Police Day, she urged the Egyptian people to join her on 25 January in Tahrir Square to bring down the Mubarak regime. Mahfouz's use of video blogging and social media went viral and urged people not to be afraid. The Facebook group for the event attracted 80,000 people.
Main article: Timeline of the 2011–present Egyptian civil unrest
Farouk to Mubarak
Most causes of the 2011 Egyptian revolution against Mubarak also existed in 1952, when the Free Officers ousted King Farouk: inherited power, corruption, under-development, unemployment, unfair distribution of wealth and the presence of Israel. A new cause of the Arab Spring is the increase in population, which increased unemployment. The first sign along the road to Mubarak was the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel. Gamal Abdel Nasser's defeat brought Anwar Sadat to power after Nasser's death in 1970. Sadat undid Nasser's social reforms and dependence on the Soviet Union, predicting its collapse nearly two decades before it occurred.
Sadat neglected the modernization of Egypt, and his cronyism cost the country infrastructure industries which could generate new jobs. He was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak after Sadat's 1981 death. With no academic or governmental experience, Mubarak implemented emergency rule throughout his 30 years in office, not appointing a vice president until he was pressured to resign. Communications media such as the internet, cell phones and satellite TV channels augmented mosques and Friday prayers, traditional means of mass communications. The mosques brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and the Brotherhood has pressured all governments from 1928 through 2011 (as it also does in neighboring countries).
Main article: Timeline of the Egyptian revolution of 2011
25 January 2011 ("Day of Revolt"): Protests erupted throughout Egypt, with tens of thousands gathering in Cairo and thousands more in other Egyptian cities. The protests targeted the Mubarak government; while mostly non-violent, there were some reports of civilian and police casualties.
26 January 2011: Civil unrest in Suez and other areas throughout the country. Police arrested many activists.
27 January 2011: The government shuts down four major ISPs at approximately 5:20 p.m. EST. disrupting Internet traffic and telephone services
28 January 2011: The "Friday of Anger" protests began, with hundreds of thousands demonstrating in Cairo and other Egyptian cities after Friday prayers. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei arrived in Cairo amid reports of looting. Prisons were opened and burned down, allegedly on orders from Interior Minister Habib El Adly. Prison inmates escaped en masse, in what was believed to be an attempt to terrorise protesters. Police were withdrawn from the streets, and the military was deployed. International fears of violence grew, but no major casualties were reported. Mubarak made his first address to the nation, pledging to form a new government. Later that night clashes broke out in Tahrir Square between revolutionaries and pro-Mubarak demonstrators, leading to casualties. No fatalities have been reported in Cairo, however, 11 people were killed in Suez and another 170 were injured.1,030 people were reported injured nationwide.
29 January 2011: The military presence in Cairo increased. A curfew was imposed, which was widely ignored as the flow of protesters into Tahrir Square continued through the night. The military reportedly refused to follow orders to fire live ammunition, exercising overall restraint; there were no reports of major casualties. On 31 January, Israeli media reported that the 9th, 2nd, and 7th Divisions of the Egyptian Army had been ordered into Cairo to help restore order.
1 February 2011: Mubarak made another televised address, offering several concessions. He pledged political reforms and said he would not run in the elections planned for September, but would remain in office to oversee a peaceful transition. Small-but-violent clashes began that night between pro- and anti-Mubarak groups.
2 February 2011 (Camel Incident): Violence escalated as waves of Mubarak supporters met anti-government protesters; some Mubarak supporters rode camels and horses into Tahrir Square, reportedly wielding sticks. The attack caused 3 deaths and 600 injuries as a result of the violence. Mubarak repeated his refusal to resign in interviews with several news agencies. Violence toward journalists and reporters escalated, amid speculation that it was encouraged by Mubarak to bring the protests to an end. The camel and horse riders later claimed that they were "good men", and they opposed the protests because they wanted tourists to come back to keep their jobs and feed their animals. The horse and camel riders deny that they were paid by anyone, though they said that they were told about the protests from a ruling party MP. Three hundred people were reported dead by the Human Rights Watch the following day, since January 25. Wael Ghonim, Google executive and creator of the page We are all Khaled Said, was reported missing and the company asked the public to help find him.
6 February 2011: An interfaith service was held with Egyptian Christians and Muslims in Tahrir Square. Negotiations by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman and opposition representatives began during continuing protests throughout the country. The Egyptian army assumed greater security responsibilities, maintaining order and guarding The Egyptian Museum of Antiquity. Suleiman offered reforms, while others in Mubarak's regime accused foreign nations (including the U.S.) of interfering in Egypt's affairs.
10 February 2011: Mubarak addressed the Egyptian people amid speculation of a military coup. Instead of resigning (which was widely expected), he said he would delegate some powers to Vice President Suleiman while remaining Egypt's head of state. Mubarak's statement was met with anger, frustration and disappointment, and in a number of cities there was an escalation in the number and intensity of demonstrations.
11 February 2011 ("Friday of Departure"): Large protests continued in many cities, as Egyptians refused to accept Mubarak's concessions. At 6:00 pm Suleiman announced Mubarak's resignation, entrusting the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces with the leadership of the country. Nationwide celebrations immediately followed.
Main article: Aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian revolution
Under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces
See also: Timeline of the 2011 Egyptian revolution under Supreme Council of the Armed Forces
13 February 2011: The Supreme Council dissolved Egypt's parliament and suspended the constitution in response to demands by demonstrators. The council declared that it would wield power for six months, or until elections could be held. Calls were made for the council to provide details and more-specific timetables and deadlines. Major protests subsided, but did not end. In a gesture to a new beginning, protesters cleaned up and renovated Tahrir Square (the epicenter of the demonstrations); however, many pledged to continue protesting until all demands had been met.
17 February: The army said that it would not field a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. Four important figures in the former regime were arrested that day: former interior minister Habib el-Adly, former minister of housing Ahmed Maghrabi, former tourism minister H.E. Zuheir Garana and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz.
2 March: The constitutional referendum was tentatively scheduled for 19 March 2011.
3 March: A day before large protests against him were planned, Ahmed Shafik stepped down as prime minister and was replaced by Essam Sharaf.
5 March: Several State Security Intelligence (SSI) buildings across Egypt were raided by protesters, including the headquarters for the Alexandria Governorate and the national headquarters in Nasr City, Cairo. Protesters said that they raided the buildings to secure documents they believed to proved crimes by the SSI against the people of Egypt during Mubarak's rule.
6 March: From the Nasr City headquarters, protesters acquired evidence of mass surveillance and vote-rigging, noting rooms full of videotapes, piles of shredded and burned documents and cells in which activists recounted their experiences of detention and torture.
19 March: The constitutional referendum passed with 77.27 percent of the vote.
22 March: Portions of the Interior Ministry building caught fire during police demonstrations outside.
23 March: The Egyptian Cabinet ordered a law criminalising protests and strikes which hamper work at private or public establishments. Under the new law, anyone organising such protests will be subject to imprisonment or a fine of EGP500,000 (about USD$100,000).
1 April ("Save the Revolution Day"): About 4,000 demonstrators filled Tahrir Square for the largest protest in weeks, demanding that the ruling military council more quickly dismantle lingering aspects of the old regime; protestors also demanded trials for Hosni Mubarak, Gamal Mubarak, Ahmad Fathi Sorour, Safwat El-Sherif and Zakaria Azmi.
8 April ("Cleansing Friday")