'Bread, freedom and social justice': a wasted revolution
Illustration credit: Samantha Humphreys (samantha_draws_stories)

After only 18 days of protests, on the 11th of February 2011, it was a mere 30 seconds that ended three decades of Mubarak’s presidency. 

Announcing Mubarak’s resignation, Omar Suleiman former vice-president of Egypt read, ‘President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to give up the office of the president of the republic and instructed the supreme council of the armed forces to manage the affairs of the country.’

‘In the eyes of those who believe in the revolution he will always be a criminal killer and the godfather of corruption.’

Moments later, a deafening roar swept Cairo. If you are old enough to remember the footage from that time, it was euphoric. Protestors fell to their knees, cried, prayed and chanted. Hundreds of thousands of people were packed into Tahrir Square, the centre of demonstrations, waving flags, chanting victory and embracing soldiers. 

Mahineour El Massry, human rights lawyer, commented on Mubarak’s release from prison in 2017, ‘In the eyes of those who believe in the revolution he will always be a criminal killer and the godfather of corruption.’ As Egypt’s longest serving president, Mubarak’s three decade presidency was riddled with unprecedented government corruption, widespread poverty and extreme human rights abuses.

Upon his ascension to the presidency in 1981, he immediately enacted Emergency Law and it was not removed at any point during the 30 year period. This gave him sweeping powers over the security forces and restricted freedom of the press, expression and assembly, enabling him to bypass the normal judicial system and the safeguards it ensured. This often meant that tens of thousands of people were held without charge and trial, often in appalling conditions. 

During Mubarak’s rule, there was also widespread deprivation with 41% of the Egyptian population living in poverty, according to the human development report in 2010. Meanwhile, the Guardian has reported that the Mubarak family fortune was estimated to be US $70 billion in February of 2011

When looking at the results, there were more spoiled ballots than votes for Musa.

Little did these protestors know, nearly 10 years on, very little has changed. There was once hope that the most populous Arab country of over 100 million people could usher in a new era of democracy and prosperity but it was dashed by the same lack of freedoms that started with Nasser decades ago in 1956. During his 14 years as President of Egypt, he failed to oversee any free or fair elections and crushed any opposition to his rule. Using censorship and state propaganda to discredit critics, he established the aggressive police state that can be seen operating in modern Egypt today. 

In today’s Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, the country continues to experience its worst human rights crisis in many decades. Authorities have jailed tens of thousands of peaceful critics, including over 4,000 persons arrested in the wake of peaceful protests in September 2019. Security forces routinely commit human rights abuses, including torture, disappearances and executions, with little or no impunity. 

El-Sisi’s presidency has also been characterised by poverty and suffering for the majority of Egyptians. In April of last year, the World Bank said that ‘some 60 percent of Egypt’s population is either poor or vulnerable.’ Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera, ‘There are lots of things for people to be angry about in Egypt these days.’

However, any attempt to elect new governance is orchestrated to fail. In the 2018 election, the opposition to El-Sisi claimed that the government deterred other potential rivals through a system of intimidation. One of the two other candidates, Musa Mustafa Musa, unashamedly admitted that his candidacy was essentially in support of Sisi. When looking at the results, there were more spoiled ballots than votes for Musa.

Today, Egypt is one of the world’s worst offenders against press freedom.

Amidst all this, no one is allowed to bring attention to it. Today, Egypt is one of the world’s worst offenders against press freedom. Ranked as one of the top jailers of journalists worldwide in 2019 by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the government frequently imprisons journalists and blocks them from reporting. Over 20 journalists are now in jail, critical or independent news outlets are specifically targeted by the government for closure and over 500 websites, including journalistic sites, are blocked. 

In fact, this was codified into law in August 2018 when Sisi ratified a restrictive media law, known as the Supreme Council for Media Regulations Law. It limited the capacity of media institutions and imposed complicated requirements for entities to be recognised by the state. The law also prevented media outlets from publishing or broadcasting content that violated the constitution, public morals and public order, among other criteria.

For instance, Editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, an Egyptian independent news outlet was detained last month where she was conducting an interview with Laila Soueif, the mother of imprisoned activist Alaa Abd El Fattah. Her phone was confiscated and she was refused communication with her lawyer during her time in Maadi police station. 

After nearly a decade, the slogan of the 2011 revolution, ‘bread, freedom and social justice’, seems distant.

Erosion of press freedom in the country has had significant destabilising implications. In modern Egypt, there is no way to investigate legitimate concerns over corruption, poor governance or other political problems. Depriving people of information also makes it difficult to provide remedies to these concerns.  

After nearly a decade, the slogan of the 2011 revolution, ‘bread, freedom and social justice’, seems distant. Recent polling conducted by James Zogby indicates that Egyptians are incredibly unhappy with their situation and the army is no longer as trusted as it once was. Given this, with the 10th anniversary coming up next year, it is likely there will be lamentations of what could have been. 

To many, change now seems unlikely. Speaking to Timothy Kaldas, analyst for Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy who is based in Cairo, he said ‘it’s always possible, it’s just extremely challenging.’ In a climate of extreme repression, ‘how do you coordinate for a large mass of people to show up to the same place at the same time?’.

With a broken electoral system, little or no press freedom and endemic poverty, will Egypt ever see concrete change in their country? Or will Egypt remain gripped by the authoritarianism that it has been ruled by for much of its history?