Sunday, March 13, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Egypt

The protests in Egypt kicked off on January 25, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
Egypt has received a lot of American press about it's protests. Also, it's protests have had the strongest result of the protests. Egypt's protests have actually resulted in revolution making it, along with Tunisia, one of only two countries so far to have achieved its major goals.

Basic History
Egypt's official name is the Arab Republic of Egypt. Geographically, it is located mainly in north Africa, but it has a Sinai Peninsula that connects it with southwest Asia. Important bordering countries include: Libya and Israel. The capital is Cairo. The population is estimated at 79.1 millions people. The language is Arabic.

Egypt's most recent leader (before the revolution) was President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak (surname Mubarak). He assume the presidency in 1981 after the assassination of Mohammed Anwar el-Sadat.  Egypt's government is run by a committee of military leaders (called a military junta), and for a long time, there was no Vice President of Egypt. By convention, the president controls foreign-affairs and defense-related issues of the state, while the prime minister manages the day-to-day affairs including the economy. The Prime Minister was Ahmed Nazif. The current Prime Minister is Essam Sharaf.

In terms of  independence, Egypt had a relatively long road from its first nationalist groupings in 1879 to the UK acknowledging the country's independence in 1922. At first, Egypt was run by a popular Prime Minister, Saad Zaghlul. But that only lasted until the 1950s, when the country elected a president. When he died in 1970, Anwar Sadat succeeded him. When he was assassinated in 1981, his Vice President, Hosni Mubarak, succeeded him. Mubarak chose not to pick at Vice President.

Egypt has been under Emergency Law since 1967, which allowed for extra security forces, a constant police presence, and unchecked power of the security forces to enforce laws of the leader.

The Protests
The main causes cited as the reasons for the protests include: police brutality, state of emergency laws, food price inflation, low minimum wages, and lack of free speech.

Egypt's history of protests against Mubarak goes back to 2003 with the formation of the Egyptian Movement for Change, which opposed Mubarak and wanted democratic reforms and changes to civil liberties. It peaked in 2005 with the presidential elections. There was unrest within the group because of internal dissent and frustration with its inability to affect real change. But the support for the group came from across the political spectrum, which probably went a long way in letting the Egyptian people know they could find common ground if they had a common enemy: Hosni Mubarak.

The protests in 2011 kicked off on January 25, 2011. Egypt's protests stood out as mainly peaceful, gaining it's strength from instances of civil disobedience in the form of ignoring curfews, bans on protesting, and common norms of separating people of different genders and economic classes. The only time the protests turned violent is when the anti-Mubarak protesters had to defend themselves against pro-Mubarak thugs who were overwhelmingly violent against Egyptian citizens and foreign journalists, aid workers, and human rights workers.

After what happened in Tunisia, there were several attempts at self-immolation in Egypt in front of the Egyptian Parliament. Even though Egypt was seen as full of people with little aspirations and little hope for toppling a government with the backing of a powerful military, these events convinced people that Egypt would be the next place to have an uprising.

On January 25th, which is National Police Day, the first major protests began. They were mostly led by young organizers. The most recognized opposition leaders, as well as international allies, were at first supportive of the current regime as it stood so far as to encourage reforms to take place within the current system of government. Some opposition groups did support the initial protest and were behind it 100%. The government's security forces made plans to deal with the protests strictly because they were illegal and expressly forbidden.

Thousands gathered in Cairo and all over the country to protest Hosni Mubarak. The protests were mostly peaceful, but there were still civilian and police casualties. On the following Friday, January 29th, there was a Day of Rage. This was the first of many that would occur throughout the Middle East. Protesters gathered together after their Friday prayers.

After four days of protests, Hosni Mubarak appeared on television and pledged to form a new government. I'm guess the increasing military and police presence probably convinced the protesters that he didn't really mean it. Also at this time, he appointed Omar Suleiman to fill the long-vacant position of Vice President. And he changed his Prime Minister to Ahmed Shafik from Ahmed Nazif.

The protesters spent the night out in the street in Tahrir Square in Cairo together, some vowing not to go home until Mubarak was no longer in charge. Also at this time, the first reports emerged of the military refusing to fire live ammunition on protesters. This was a hallmark difference of the protests in Egypt versus other countries mentioned thus far (chronologically).

Mubarak appeared on television again at the beginning of February to announce he would not run for re-election in September of 2011. He said there would be political reforms and he would stay in office to see those reforms through. The protesters basically called "bullshit" and began to call for his immediate ouster. At this time, there also began to be clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters.

The clashes between pro-and anti-Mubarak protesters quickly escalated, with the army serving to try and keep them separated. Still, there were hundreds of casualties during this time in early February. Also, foreign journalists were being attacked, and live footage of these attacks were seen on American networks such as the attack against CNN's Anderson Cooper.

On February 10th, Mubarak again addressed his people to dispel rumors of a military coup, but also to transfer some of his powers to his Vice President, Omar Suleiman. The protesters were under the impression Mubarak was about to resign and they would then setup a new government. His remarks were met with frustration and anger and after that, the protests increased in size and vigor.

Something that stood to out to me during this time was the way the Egyptian people came together. On Fridays, the Christians protected the Muslims during their prayers. And on Sundays, the Muslims protected the Christians during their Mass. The people in Tahrir Square setup roadblocks, sanitation crews, and they had well organized supplies, donations, and materials. They showed that they were able to govern themselves and they were not only able to survive under a President serving for life who intended to have his son replace him one day.

The day after Mubarak handed control to Suleiman, Suleiman announced that the Parliament of Egypt would be dissolved and in its place would be the  Armed Forces Supreme Council, of which he was a member. The constitution would be suspended for six months, during which time the council would develop a new constitution and prepare for free and fair elections. The Egyptian people love their Army and see it as instrumental to the success of their revolution. Many were satisfied with this solution, as long as the promised reforms were enacted.

The army promised not to run a candidate in the elections. There were still protests going on in Egypt to protest various problems with the revolution transition. A big example of this is they saw the Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik, as a Mubarak guy and therefore not likely to help the process of the revolution along. There were major protests scheduled against him on March 4th, but he resigned on March 3rd.

The Egyptians have been working not just on the formation of their new government, but seeking out punishment for the biggest grievances of the former government. On March 6th, protesters acquired evidence of voter tampering from the latest presidential election.

The revolution was considered relatively peaceful until the interference of pro-Mubarak protesters. The death told is estimated at just under 400 people. The injury estimate is in the thousands. The things that stand out about the Egyptian protests include: the strong role of women and the call for the reforms to be both democratic and secular.

Also, America's response stood out to me. This was the first revolution that garnered enough attention to require publicly released responses by American government officials. It took them a while to get the response correct, but Egypt was the genesis of changing opinions of American officials on how to deal with the regime changes of these dictator whom we've supported for so long.
More information can be found at,, and The New York Times Online.


Ron Holland said...

In discussing the Middle East, we might benefit from Anthony Wile’s discussion on The Daily Bell concerning how pricing oil in dollars and thus supporting the dollar as the world’s reserve currency might have as much to do with America’s many invasions of the region as well as our support of corrupt authoritarian regimes at Mid-East Conflict Not Exactly About Oil at
Also Ron’s article on the dangers to the region of copying the failing American regulatory democracy model titled A Middle East Warning: American-Style Democracy Isn’t the Answer is also a worthwhile read as he recommends the Swiss model of government as an alternative at

CeCe said...

Thanks for the comment, I'll definitely check out those links. It's something to consider that America's involvement in the unrest in these countries comes from somewhere else other than our oil addiction.

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