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Essay: To what extent has the failure of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 altered the world view of Egyptians?

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Introduction

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 was a social movement inspired by the unsatisfactory and oppressive 30 year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak. The revolutionary movements in the Middle East which, took place in the notable neighboring countries of Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria are collectively known as the Arab Spring. Egypt’s movement was primarily headed by youths who did not agree with the traditional policies of Mubarak’s regime. Authorities commanded by Mubarak banned protests and freedom of expression, imprisoned opponents to guarantee victory, outlawed competing parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and practiced torture, forced disappearances and widespread media bias. These acts have historically established Egypt as a gross violator of human rights. The 18 day Egyptian revolt, beginning January 25, 2011, was executed using social media, protests, and violence that led to the country’s first ever democratically held election but no radical change that Egyptians envisioned. While the revolutionaries were passionate and hopeful for a better future, within revolutionary groups there was widespread disorganization and confusion, coupled with lofty goals. Revolutionary leaders did not have enough backing and a strong platform to forthrightly relay their demands, leading to the vacuum left by Mubarak, part of the National Democratic Party, to be filled by the Egyptian military and Muslim Brotherhood. A series of power struggles led to unideal circumstances, economic desperation, and lack of opportunity following the revolution. The revolution is considered to be a failure with a similar outcome of the majority of countries included in the Arab Spring. The following essay aims to answer and evaluate historic long term causes which has established Egypt’s governments as oppressive, factors which allowed for the longevity of Mubarak’s regime, past revolutionary movements in Egyptian history, key movements and individuals during the revolution of 2010, and the aftermath of the revolution and its influence on present day Egyptian society and politics.

II. Long term causes

In order to truly understand the revolution, it important to examine the long term causes and build up to the political and social climate in pre-revolution Egypt. The country has a history of foreign influence on its internal affairs mainly by the British Empire which was only ended after 70 years due to the budding of nationalism pride with the coup d’etat of 1952.

The corrupt rule of the founder of the absolute monarch of the Albanian-Ottoman dynasty Mohammed Ali began in 1805; his feudal class was comprised of his extended family who was given large allotments of land and exempt his family and foreign businesses from taxes and given privileges, known as Capitulations, allowing the wealthy to dominate the emerging commercial class and banking system. His successors, Ibrahim, Ismail, and Tewfik were in power when the British intervened in order to keep Tewfik in power against a notable nationalist threat.

In 1882, Egyptian soldiers under the leadership of General Ahmed al Urabi rebelled against the Egyptian monarchy in response to the influence of British diplomats, officials, and advisers making the decisions in every department of Egyptian government with full control. Under British rule, the Egyptian Army was disbanded, British officers were instated, isolationist policies were disestablished to favor British trade companies, and the burden to pay the cost of occupation and increasing debts to the British and French. Urabi’s challenge resulted in a draw at Kafr el Dawwar and later a victory for the British in September 1882 in Tel el Kebir. Since the British had successfully invaded, Egypt served the British as a protectorate of the United Kingdom and proved valuable during World War II for its proximity to the Suez Canal. The British invasion was enabled and supported by ruler Egyptian Khedive Tewfiq because it crushed the brewing nationalist movement while allowing Britain to secure a waterway to India and British. Through history, Egypt struggled with both foreign intervention and corrupt rulers. The first notable attempt for national reconstruction occurred during the Arabi revolution and the revolution of 1919. However, the system was unable to be reformed into a meritocracy since widespread nepotism and corruption continued under the king’s rule. The revolution of 1919 was pivotal in Egyptian political development and was a show of the obvious dissatisfaction and widespread discontent with British ongoing motives to convert Egyptian to a Middle Eastern colonial state. The British continued to dominate Egyptian affairs and support the throne while economic difficulties, defeat in the Palestine War in 1948, and dissatisfaction of the army increased.

The dissatisfaction gave rise to a nationalistic movement and desire for King Farouk, who was backed by the British. The secret society of Free Officers planned a coup d’etat also known as “The Blessed Revolution” on July 23, 1952 that led to King Farouk’s abdication and the rise of Arab socialism. The leaders outlined six principles that were important to reform: elimination of imperialism, ending of feudalism, ending of monopoly and complete capitalism, establishment of social justice, increased investment into national army, and establishment of democratic system. Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Free Officers improved economic stability in the form of a national bank (Bank Misr), the Egyptian General Agricultural Syndicate, and eventually a stronger middle class.

During its time after the 1952 revolution, Egypt experienced social and religious strife, armed conflicts, and in 1958 merged with Syria to create the United Arab Republic. The British protectorate was terminated on March 15, 1922 and allowed Egyptian leaders to make independent decisions for the sovereign country. However, the declaration allowed for the transition of all power with the exception of four reserved points regarding foreign relations, communications, the military, and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

IV. Revolution

The revolutions incited by the Arab Spring that swept over North Africa and the Middle East started in December 2010 with the intentions of achieving the common motto of ‘Justin, Freedom and Dignity.’ On the surface, the events which led to the resignation of Mubarak seem clear cut, but a variety of factors were involved such as the role of foreign countries like the United States pressuring Mubarak to give up power, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and activists during the 18 days, and influence of social networking sites. Within Egypt there were three main factions of political revolutionary movements: the Revolutionary Socialists, April 6 Youth, and Kifaya movement.

The April 6 Youth origins are traced back to June 2010 when Khaled Said was dragged out of a cafe and violently beaten to death in police custody, which inspired the protestors part of the Facebook group “Kulina Khaled Said” translating to “We are all Khaled Said.” Much of the revolution’s initial success started with the April 6 Youth Movement which was established in Egypt in the Spring of 2008 from the the labor protests in Mahalla. It encouraged workers in an industrial town, El-Mahalla El-Kubra, to wear black and stay home on the day of the strike. The Facebook group in January 2009 had 70,000 members and provided a platform for Egyptians to express their problems and debate. The movement was banned by an Egyptian court on April 28, 2014 which was deemed a violation of the freedom of expression by the United Nations but, the ban has not been repealed yet. The April 6 movement was mainly comprised of youth active on social media causing the revolution to be associated with technology but, collectively it is unfair to coin it a ‘social media revolution.’

The Revolutionary Socialists’ ideology aligned with ideas of Leon Trotsky, a Marxist who advocated for mass democracy and working class self-emancipation. This allowed the group to have a strong established identity but it consequently limited its appeal to Egyptians.

The Kifaya movement had older beginnings, starting in 2004 during the Second Intifada, a period of heightened Israeli-Palestinian violence and it played an important role in Egypt’s anti-war movement during the invasion of Iraq led by the United States. The movement attracted a broad range of supporters with differing political and religious ideologies. It also had a distinct and strong emphasis on human rights, personal freedoms, and civil rights in Egypt.

The Egyptian revolution official began on January 25, 2011, ironically on “Police Day” which commemorates the killing of 50 police officers by British forces. Over the course of 18 days, an upwards of 2 million protestors mobilized. Included in their agenda was to express their dissatisfaction with the police brutality under General Habib al-Adli, who was the Minister of the Interior for 14 years. Violent practice against civilians was routine, including sexual and violent assault, surveillance of social activists, rigging of elections, and stark support for the interests of the regime.

Historically, the Egyptian government has influenced state sponsored media outlets causing biased media. In the 2010, international news outlets such as the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) and Al Jazeera heavily covered the movement and in many ways, stopped the government from committing extreme atrocities. This allows Mubarak’s regime to not be able to suppress the revolution and protests in a swift and violent manner. The influence of foreign news outlets and uncensored social media outlets caused the Egyptian government to even eliminate the nation’s internet access on the night of January 28, 2011. While Mubarak attempted to censor news outlines he also used mass text messages to reach as many Egyptians as possible and promote his image. His efforts did not match the success of the the phenomena coined the “Egyptian contagion” which were Egyptian news media sites, run by mostly youth that publicly opposed the regime using unorthodox means of communication. Egypt’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector was introduced to the public in January 2002 which gave internet access to Egyptians at a very low cost. Its introduction allows for a platform of blogging, social media sharing, and Youtube, leading to digital activism which was an aspect of the revolution. The ICT was shut down during the protest because of its role to connect people together and encourage protesters. Beginning in 2011, Alaa Abdel Fattah, one of the first Egyptian bloggers, was detained and jailed multiple times and journalist Abd al’Karim Nabil Suleiman was jailed for online writings. By April 2008, the dawn of digital activism in Egypt took off and many Facebook groups with thousands of followers were shut down for vague reasons such as “safety concerns”. The decision to cut off the ICT by the Communications and Information Technology Minister Atef Helmy spurred even more Egyptians to flock to the Tahrir Square. And in January 25 to 28, the regime cut of all communications in preparation for the ‘Day of Anger’.

Social media encouraged activism, mobilized millions and effectively circumvented state controlled media outlets. Facebook, independent blogs, and Twitter were important outlets in spreading information about protests, garnering support for the cause and sharing “crimes against humanity” by the government, angering Egyptians. The beginnings of the revolution can be traced back to the early 2000s via social media. The blogosphere was introduced into Egypt around 2004 and 2005 and provided a new forms for exchanges between secular leftists and Islamic extremists. The exponential growth of blogging is attributed to gross “crimes against humanity” by the Egyptian government by abusing and torturing prisoners and violence against civilians. A prime example of social media’s effectiveness is the post of Wael Abbas on his blog Alwy al-mari (“Egyptian Awareness”) posted on Youtube a recorded video of a man being physically and sexually abused by police officers in Cairo. It was picked up by newspapers and a human rights agency which encouraged the victim to testify. The case ended with a conviction of the officers, which was unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. Following the incident, Abbas and bloggers with similar agendas started to receive more anonymous videos of violence and abuse taken with cell phones. Soon, the blogs were increasingly cited by opposition newspapers and controversial stories which could not be written by traditional journalists were sent to bloggers. Later the newspaper would print the story, citing the blog as its source. Secondly, during the Kifayah demonstration in May 2005 when police paid thugs to attack and harrass protests, bloggers were present and in real time, posted the videos to the internet. These posts were picked up by international news outlets such as al-Jazeera. The effectiveness of blogs is that it provides a pathway to connect real events, injustices, and stories to the the world immediately and conveniently.

VII. Aftermath

Reports following the revolution showed the building of a new Egypt: protesters cleaning streets, painting sidewalks, removing debris and remnants from violence, and the military promising a peaceful transition to democracy. Egyptians who took part in the uprising were surprised by the results and were eager to found their own parties based on democracy, idealism, equality, and justice. With Mubarak gone, it opened a space that had to be filled leading the the formation of parties such as the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth, Freedom Movement, Dignity Party, Democratic Front Party, and National Association for Change. These groups gathered a following from street politics that pressurized President Morsi’s administration that did not amend the Constitution immediately in November 2012. While Mubarak was effectively removed from office, the groups had idealized goals and hopes for the future of the country but did not have pragmatic means or enough organization to effectively execute these visions. For example, on March 19, 2010, the military wanted to amend the constitution instead of drafting a new one. The military was in favor of amendments because it would allow stability to return to the country much quicker than a new constitution but, 77% voted for amendments rather than a drastic change.

The country’s unhappiness led to the Tamarod youth movement that removed Morsi from power. From this point on, protesters realized that a new overarching power struggle between the Brotherhood and the military has been founded, leaving civilians in an unideal position. As the power transferred to the military, it used violence to subdue protests and the country was falling into a subdued state. A new interim president Adly Mansour was appointed and the right to demonstrate was revoked in November 2013. Through this struggle, the Revolutionary Front was established that relied on street politics and called on the transfer of power to the people.

Many new political parties advocating for youth ideals sprouted up with the first being the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth comprised of activists who organized many protests but dissolved on July 7, 2012 with the election of President Morsi. Another type of political party formed with majority youth bases but did not succeed to their lack of history and did not have deep roots like the Muslim Brotherhood party. This lack of establishment and pragmatism was also paired with disorganization, led these parties to only appeal to younger generations. Some less idealistic youth joined “new parties of the older generation” that proved to be more successful than youth parties but did not match the Brotherhood and Salafists. These parties had clashes between younger idealists and traditional thinkers that caused many youth the withdraw from the political scheme. This challenge with balancing street politics and formal politics continues to be a problem for many groups. The Constitution Party was part of the second try of many groups to form a strong bond between all youth and appeal to a larger base. The party was advertised as social liberal and democratic and was much more powerful to contend with larger parties. The Strong Egypt Party was founded in November 2012 and included many ex-members of the Brotherhood and was moderate Islamic party that guarantees personal liberties and opposed interference from the military. Lastly, the Popular Current movement was established that built form a grassroots efforts and largely remained just a movement, not a party. The major challenges with the movements and parties discussed above include internal struggles, lack of donations and resources, and structural weaknesses. While the youth offered a more liberal alternative to the main contending parties, they were not able to consolidate their ideals to one main party.

This vacuum allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to take hold in Egyptian politics. The resignation of Mubarak on February 11, 2011 marked a huge success for the country and an immediate reflection of their success and power was given to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Three days later on February 14, the military drafts a 6 months plan which lays out plans for a new constitution and elections. Protestors are enraged and and demand a quicker transition to a democracy which causes violence and torture by the military against the people. Finally on May 23, 2012, the first democratically held election in Egypt takes place with candidates Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood pitted against Ahmed Shafik, the ex-prime minister under Mubarak.

After a series of exchanges in power, Morsi was elected to power and he proves to be a controversial leader with the ambitions that caused skepticism. In November 2012, he passed a law that granted him unlimited powers and with no judicial oversight or regulation and forces the top Egyptian generals to retire. The Islamists also dominated the drafting of the new constitution that angered their opponents who were hoping for a democratic, free country. The loss of confidence by the public led to more protests and the 2013 Egyptian coup d’etat when Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed Morsi and suspended the Egyptian constitution.The anti-government protests in June 2013, removed Morsi from power and and el-Sisi, took power in a democratic landslide victory, winning 97% of the votes.

While the revolution did not settle the political turmoil in Egypt and its initial goals to bring about social equality and revamp the economy were unfulfilled. In regards to Egypt’s economy, the tourism industry that contributes to over 11% of Egypt’s economy came to a halt. Youth were protesting for jobs and the lack of employment, the unemployment rate rose from 13% pre-revolution, up to 15% after the revolution. This was similar to the domestic issues faced by countries affected by the Arab Spring including, the Syrian Civil War, Iraqi insurgency, Libyan Civil War, and Yemen Crisis. Following the revolution, many signs such as burned buildings and debris remain in the city. Also, many ancient Egyptian artifacts were looted from the museum of Cairo during the revolution that cannot be recovered.

Conversely, there were also positive effects such as the first democratically held elections for the lower house of parliament, a new constitution was written, and Mubarak was faced trials for killing innocent people and was sentenced to life in prison. Currently in Egypt, there continues to be frustration due to social classes, clashes between progressives and traditionalists and dissatisfaction about the lack of change, especially for those involved in the effort. The lack of progress stems from Sisi’s government that resembles Mubarak’s regime in regards to human rights and the freedom of expression. According to a report by CNN, “The Nadim Center, a local rights group, documented 474 deaths in police custody and 700 cases of torture in 2015 alone.” Many journalists, Islamists, secular activists are jailed and police are being blamed for torture, forced disappearances and shootings even in streets. All these factors question the motivations and policies of Sisi’s government and the product of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and Coup of 2011. In May, 2017, el-Sisi enacted a law that opposes foreign aid, the law indirectly targets human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations. Also during this time, el-Sisi blocked 21 websites including the English, online version of Al Jazeera, the Huffington Post, and Mada Masr, an independent news organization. El-Sisi has also allowed the use of torture with impunity, according to Human Rights Watch. According to the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), an independent human rights group, 30 people have died from torture while being held in police stations between August 2013 and December 2015. In August 2016, the Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms released a report on prison conditions in Egypt under Sisi’s rule. There were 1,344 incidents of torture and intentional medical neglect in detention facilities and prisons between 2015 and 2016. Also in August 2017, Egyptians lawmaker and parliament member Ismail Nasreddine has began a movement to extend el-Sisi’s term past four years.When he was elected in 2014, he promised economic stability and growth and repressed members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The economic aspect of Sisi’s government is more positive with an implemented a value-added tax, reduced energy subsidies, and the liberation of the Egyptian pound. His government looks to removing investment barriers and increasing local and foreign investment. Since his election, the economy has been improving with the GDP reaching 4.3 percent in 2015/2016 from only two percent in 2010/11 to 2013/14.

VIII. Conclusion

While the outcome of the revolution was not ideal for Egyptians and Sisi carries many oppressive traits of a regime, the revolution continues to be unprecedented in Egypt. “Many Egyptians felt a renewed sense of purpose and engagement that went far beyond the squares that were shown on international television and that so inspired the world.” H.A. Hellyer says in A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt. As a country, people were able to band together for one cause, overlooking race, social class and religion and as Heller describes it, a collective sense of mission emerged.

According to Brendan Meighan, an economic researcher at the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, Egypt’s real estate and energy sector is on the rebound. Similarly, the World Bank is actively helping Egypt decrease its unemployment rate and allow for increased investment in the country’s infrastructure to develop cities and rebuild destruction. From March 26 to 28, 2018, Egyptians will vote for a new president but, the result is already known. Critics of Sisi believe that Mousa Moustapha, the head of a small political party running against Sisi is actually a dummy candidate in order to give the impression of a democratic election. Many report that his party has endorsed Sisi. Challengers to the presidency such as Sami Annan, former chief of staff of the military was arrested and charged with incitement against the armed forces and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq disappeared in Cairo’s airport and withdrew his candidacy. Most recently, Khaled Ali, a leftist lawyer who ran in 2012 announced that it would be impossible for him to run a proper campaign. Sisi uses traditional dictatorial means to control the country such as, media censorship, dividing the opposition, imprisoning opponents, forcing disappearances, and prohibiting the influence of Western and Egyptian NGOs. Activists call for a boycott of the election with the imprisonment of three leading candidates and and the withdrawals of four. Some supporters credit Sisi with keeping the country together using martial law while other countries which underwent a revolution descended into chaos. The United States protested Sisi’s harsh policies and ties with North Korea by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August 2017 deciding to cut or freeze $271 million in aid. Egypt continues to be oppressive without a decisive end but social change today occurs with women traveling to study abroad while unmarried, women divorcing, and increased acceptance of a diversity of sexuality. Most currently, in response to the country’s “farcical” presidential election, fourteen international and Egyptian rights groups have condemned the elections and accused Sisi’s government of having “trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections”, the European Parliament criticized the use of the death penalty, and the Strong Egypt Party urgest public unity against the detention of presidential candidate Aboul Fotouh.

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