Revolution in Egypt is a series of street demonstrations and protests in Cairo, Alexandria, and some other cities (including in the capitals of foreign states near the Egyptian embassies). It led to the resignation of the government and then-President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power since 1981 (Bassiouni 64). As a result of the revolution, an interim military government first came to power, and then the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won the presidential elections in 2012. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the main reasons, features, and consequences of this revolution.
In addition to the president’s resignation, the protesters demanded the end of the state of emergency, the fight against unemployment, and an increase in the minimum wage. They were also asked for some solutions to the problems of housing shortages, rising food prices, freedom of speech, and an improvement in living standards. According to various experts and journalists, the main reasons for the unrest in Egypt are, first of all, the permanent 30-year stay of one clan in power. As a result, there is an impossibility for the opposition clans to realize their ambitions, unemployment, lack of social protection mechanisms for the poor, and some structural and demographic factors.
Protests in Egypt were spurred on by the revolution in Tunisia, causing a domino effect. Like Tunisia, at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, there were cases of public self-immolations. For example, on January 17, a student set himself on fire in front of Cairo’s parliament building (Snow and Soule 108). Like in Tunisia, the events in Egypt were covered in detail by world news agencies and received various names. Among them, there were “Twitter,” “Youth,” “Mustard,” “Pyramid,” and “Date” Revolution (a name that was already used for the Tunisian revolution).
On January 19, the former head of the IAEA of Egyptian origin, Mohammed al-Baradei, in an interview with Austrian journalists, linked Egypt’s situation with Tunisia. He said that President Mubarak could be overthrown because “the people are waiting for change.” However, the change of power in Egypt was conceived even earlier. Back in February 2010, Baradei, after leaving the post of head of the IAEA, announced the creation of an opposition movement and declared his desire to become President of Egypt. In December 2010 (that is, long before the Tunisian events), Baradei called on the Egyptians to take actions of civil disobedience. On January 27, Mohammed al-Baradei flew from Vienna to Cairo to participate in a demonstration on January 28, urging Mubarak to leave his post. He stated that he was ready to be the head of the country if “the street asks” (El-Nawawy and Khamis 115) However, upon arrival, he was placed under house arrest. Nevertheless, on January 30, Baradei already spoke at a rally in Cairo’s main square as the leader of the united opposition (including the Islamists).
To maintain control over the country, the authorities arrested opposition leaders (both liberals and Islamists). To prevent coordination of actions and escalate the situation in the blogs, the Internet was turned off, as well as (temporarily) mobile communications. A curfew has been declared in major cities, and an army has been imposed. It established control over strategic objects; however, it remained neutral and did not intervene in events.
After clashes with the police, the protesters’ targets were police cars and stations, administration buildings, the ruling party’s offices, television centers, and ministerial facilities. These included, for example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Demonstrators usually confined themselves to arson with Molotov cocktails; sometimes, they encountered fierce resistance from the guards, who also used live ammunition.
On February 2, a new force unexpectedly entered the scene: Mubarak’s supporters. Some of them began to fire at the oppositionists. In addition to the demonstrators, Mubarak’s supporters also attacked journalists; some traveled on horseback and camels. Observers noted that the army did not prevent Mubarak supporters from attacking the demonstrators. Since January 31, there has been an increase in world oil prices under futures contracts. Analysts attributed this to fears that the ongoing unrest could eventually cover the entire Arab world (Sharp 38). Due to the events in Egypt, the passage of the oil caravan through the Suez Canal was canceled.
Moody’s international agency downgraded Egypt’s debt ratings; the rating outlook was also changed: instead of “stable,” it became “negative.” According to the agency, there is a high likelihood of a weakening of the Egyptian government’s fiscal policy due to efforts to overcome public discontent. On February 2, 2011, Moody downgrades the ratings of five leading banks in the country, including the National Bank, Commercial International Bank, and Bank of Alexandria. Economic growth rates by November 2011 decreased from 7-8% to less than 1%. The country’s foreign exchange reserves fell by 40%. From 25 to 27 November 2011, Egypt’s stock indices fell 11% (Khalil 183). Economists talked about the imminent collapse of the Egyptian pound.
The Ministry of Security, at the request of the demonstrators, was liquidated, and there was no one to deal with the thousands of dangerous criminals who fled from places of detention during the unrest. According to the Egyptian press, the crime rate in the country has increased by 200%. There were cases of kidnapping of children of wealthy citizens intending to demand ransom further. For example, the kidnapping of Anwar Sadat’s grand-niece, who was released after paying a ransom of 600,000 euros (Mostafa 55). The revolution contributed to the emergence of conflict in the Sinai Peninsula with Islamist militants. In the USA, on April 21, 2011, a book about the revolution in Egypt, “Tweets from Tahrir” was published by OR Books. It collected messages from Twitter of the most active activists from Tahrir Square from January 25 to February 11.
It is necessary to mention several more factors, without which the Egyptian revolution might not have happened. First, some of the claims of the rebels against the Mubarak regime were still wholly justified. Indeed, decades of the state of emergency created a complete lack of control of the security forces, which led to the massive use of torture against the disaffected. It is worth remembering the spread of the Internet, which created unprecedentedly powerful means of self-organization for the educated Egyptian youth. It is also important to mention the Arab satellite channels and their talented TV journalists, who broadcast emotionally vivid images of popular performances to all Arab world parts. In addition, the Egyptian events would hardly have become possible if the revolution in Tunisia had not been so swift and bloodless. Indeed, it created the feeling that a change of power in an Arab country could be achieved quickly and bloodlessly.
The Egyptian revolution would not have been possible without particular objective prerequisites, but it was still not inevitable. After all, starting in February 2011, world food prices began to decline. The “youth bulge” in Egypt was set to rapidly decline in the coming years, easing the labor market’s pressure every year. A well-thought-out economic reforms program made it possible to count on Egypt’s reaching the pace of the “economic miracle” (about 10% per year). Taken together, this was supposed to eradicate the social “explosive material” accumulated by January 2011 in the next few years.
Bassiouni, Cherif. Chronicles of the Egyptian Revolution and its Aftermath: 2011-2016. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
El-Nawawy, Mohammed, and Sahar Khamis. Egyptian Revolution 2.0: Political Blogging, Civic Engagement, and Citizen Journalism. Springer. 2016.
Khalil, Ashraf. Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation. St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2012.
Mostafa, Dalia. Women, Culture, and the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Routledge, 2018.
Sharp, Gene. From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. Albert Einstein Institution, 2003.
Snow, David, and Sarah Anne Soule. A Primer on Social Movements. W. W. Norton, 2010.