On February 11, 2011, the chant of the people echoed throughout Tahrir Square. The screams of “Ash-shaʻb yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām,” translated as “the people will topple the regime,” had inundated the despot. But the regime has proven more difficult to expunge. Today, the Arab Spring in Egypt has failed. Since the 2011 protests, the poverty rate in Egypt has risen from 25% to 33%. The state has fomented religious persecution in the name of antiterrorism and is discouraging private media.
The Arab Spring
In 2011, a series of uprisings known as the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East. In Tunisia, when authorities confiscated the cart of a street vendor named Mohammad Bouazizi, a video circulated of Bouazizi self-immolating in protest. According to authorities, Bouazizi lacked the proper paperwork. A female officer allegedly slapped him. Bouazizi’s plight was emblematic of a youth problem across the Arab world.
In Tunisia, the poverty rate was 14.7% and most of that number consisted of youths, many of whom had an education. After a visit from Ben Ali, the president of Tunisia, in which Ali feigned concern for Bouazizi’s grievances, the street vendor died. The death of Mohammad Bouazizi sparked a revolution across the Arab World. In Egypt, the situation was worse. Approximately 20% of Egyptians lived below the poverty line and another 20% lived near the poverty line.
In 2010, an Egyptian man named Khaled Said videotaped two policemen allegedly consuming the spoils of a drug bust. The policemen later found and mutilated him. His death sparked even more indignation toward repression in Egypt. He became a symbol of brutal government repression under Hosni Mubarak.
In his youth, Mubarak rose up the ranks of the military until he eventually became commander of the Egyptian Air Force in 1972. Subsequently, he became vice president of Egypt. During this time, Islamic extremists murdered President Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak witnessed his assassination. Sadat’s death made an indelible impression on Mubarak. It made him desire the preservation of power at all costs. He became president in 1981 and immediately issued an emergency law.
Mubarak would give the Egyptian police and the military sweeping powers to crack down on any perceived threats, including opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mubarak’s economic policies also encouraged major disparities between the rich and the poor in Egypt. Because of the government’s reliance on foreign aid, the IMF and the World Bank urged the Mubarak regime to adopt neoliberal principles based on privatization, subsidy cuts and deregulation. These policies encouraged severe inequality, which ignited massive protests consisting of hundreds of thousands.
On February 11, 2011, the recently appointed vice president of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, announced that Mubarak would willfully resign from his position as president. Many thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square. Today, however, a military strong man has once again wrested power from the people.
From Morsi to Sisi
By 2013, most people had become vehemently opposed to Mubarak’s replacement, Mohammad Morsi, for his 2012 constitutional declaration, which placed him and his edicts above judicial review. Thus, the military led a popularly supported coup against the first democratically elected Egyptian president; the man who would replace him was named Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi.
Sisi would brutally crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal activists, accusing them of terrorism and libel. These actions have led to increasing numbers of political prisoners. In 2019, Egyptian businessmen Muhammad Ali accused the government of siphoning its resources for vanity projects and luxury lifestyles, including building palaces on state funds. Regardless of the validity of these accusations, government resources are not reaching the poorest in society, with a poverty rate of 33%.
Although uprisings have been prevalent long before the advent of social media, social media is undoubtedly a potent weapon to expedite revolution. For men like Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali, the unfettered voice of social media was insurmountable. Now, in the case of President Sisi, it is only a matter of time before the opposition becomes insurmountable. Whether this is reason to believe the regime will fall with him is another question. For now, various NGOs such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) are exposing the repression of civil society in Egypt. Such work could have immeasurable effects.
– Blake Dysinger