Egypt erupts as dictator cleared of killings

Flagging spirits: Egyptians gather to protest against Mubarak’s acquittal © PA

Protests broke out after Egypt’s former leader, Hosni Mubarak, was acquitted of killing protesters. Has it made any progress since the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ or simply gone full circle?

It all began on the ‘day of rage’, January 25, 2011. On that day ordinary Egyptians began the mass demonstrations that in less than three weeks ousted their corrupt military dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of thousands of protesters eventually occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square, despite the police tear gas and water cannon. Though 846 of them lost their lives, they liberated Egypt from 30 years of tyranny.

Or so they hoped. Fast forward to 2014, and the heady optimism of that time for a new democratic Egypt looks sadly misplaced. The military are again in charge of the country and suppressing political freedom; a court has just acquitted Mubarak and his cronies of killing protesters in 2011. Around 2,000 angry relatives and activists took over Tahrir Square in protest and are once more at loggerheads with the authorities.

When did Egypt’s democratic revolution go off track? With some irony, commentators say it began when a strict Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood,came to power through free elections in 2012. The Brotherhood did little to tackle Egypt’s social and economic problems, and it attacked women’s rights and persecuted minorities such as the Christians. Then it alienated the public by trying to change the constitution to make itself above the law. After further mass protests, the army removed it from power in a coup in 2013.

Egypt’s President is now Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, another military strongman. He has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and killed over a thousand of its members. At least 22,000 dissidents have been imprisoned since the coup, though NGOs say the real figure could be twice as high.

Commentators say that Egyptians are weary of the years of unrest and will tolerate military rule in exchange for relative peace. Others say the military’s grip is now so strong that the people have no choice but to accept its rule.

The revolution reversed

Three years on, there is another military ruler and the old one has evaded justice. For some, this shows that Egypt’s revolution can only be viewed as a failure. After the disastrous experiment with democracy, Egyptians have decided that some degree of security is better than chaos. The country is no better off than it was before 2011.

Yet others say, despite the disappointments, some progress has been made. Al-Sisi has trimmed the government’s budget deficit and launched a huge $4bn infrastructure project to double the capacity of the Suez Canal. He says the country will eventually be a democracy again. The events of 2011 will have taught him that the people have the power to remove him if they choose. Egypt is still a more hopeful country thanks to the Tahrir Square Revolution.

You Decide

  1. Will Egypt have gained anything from the 2011 revolution or was it a total failure?
  2. ‘Egypt’s case teaches that peace and security are more important than democracy’. Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In pairs, make a timeline of the events mentioned in this article. Which do you think is the most significant and why?
  2. Egypt’s revolution was part of the ‘Arab Spring’, which also affected Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, among others. Research one of these countries and make a presentation comparing its experience to Egypt’s.

Some People Say...

“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.’Theodore Roosevelt”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care about Egypt?
In 2011 commentators thought that the Arab world was moving towards democracy — a movement known as the ‘Arab Spring’. There were popular rebellions across the region from Tunisia to Yemen. Yet the Arab Spring has been disappointing, as only Tunisia’s revolution has remained democratic. It is sad that Egypt’s 82m people have endured such hardship with little visible progress.
What did Western governments make of events in Egypt?
The US had long supported Mubarak, whom it trusted to suppress Islamist radicals in the region, but once the popular revolt grew, it abandoned him. However, the West was very wary of the Muslim Brotherhood in power and its anti-Western views, despite its electoral success, and was not sad to see its removal.

Word Watch

Protesters
On the ‘day of rage’ and the following weeks, mobs attacked police stations across the country and in a number of instances the police opened fire. However, given the chaos of the situation, it is difficult to know whether the order to fire came from Mubarak and his security chiefs.
Brotherhood
Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has chapters all over the world. Many states view it with suspicion and classify it as a terrorist organisation. The group’s motto is ‘God is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of God is our wish’.
Christians
Egypt has around 8m Christian Copts, an ethnic and religious minority. The Copts faced considerable persecution under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, and still feel unsafe under President al-Sisi.
Suez Canal
This canal is over 100 miles long connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and means ships do not have to circumnavigate Africa on their way to or from India and South-east Asia. It is a huge source of income for Egypt’s government.