The 25 January 2011 Revolution was a momentous event for Egypt and beyond. As the most populous Arab country and a major Western ally, the Egyptian revolution has received the lion’s share of attention amongst the ‘Arab spring’ countries. Whilst most accounts of the revolution, including this archive, begin with the protests of 25 January 2011, many have argued that the revolution originated many years before this, with the emergence of oppositional movements and the waves of workers' strikes after 2000. Moreover, there have been disagreements over the end date of the revolution, with some regarding it as limited to the 18 days of the Tahrir Square sit-in, culminating with the stepping down of former president Hosni Mubarak, whilst others consider the revolution to be a process, rather than an event, which is ongoing, as reflected in the slogan, ‘the revolution continues’ (in Arabic, ‘al-thawra mustamira’). Not only have scholars and commentators debated the timeline of the revolution, but they have also argued whether it can even be defined as a ‘revolution’. Some of these contestations are reflected in the items of Egyptian popular culture collected in this archive.
Whilst recognizing that the meaning of the revolution is contested, nonetheless, this article provides an overview of the main phases of the revolution, beginning with 25 January 2011 until the election of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as president, which firmly cemented the victory of the counter-revolution.
The 18 days of the Tahrir Square Sit-in
On 25 January 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Arish and other major cities. Inspired by the Tunisian people, who had risen up against their own repressive regime a few weeks earlier, they bravely faced up to the violence of the Egyptian police and demanded an end to the institutional and systematic brutality of the security apparatus and the resignation of the Minister of the Interior (Home Secretary). Indeed, the 25 January date was chosen as a day of protests as it was a national holiday in celebration of the police.
The protests swiftly gained momentum and transformed into a fully-fledged popular uprising, demanding the downfall of the dictatorship of the late Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt since 1981. Mubarak oversaw the violation of human rights and repression of political activists and opposition groups, as well as growing social and economic inequalities and rampant corruption. He was planning the succession of his son Gamal to the presidency, threatening more of the same for ordinary Egyptians.
Men and women of all ages and social classes participated in what has been called a ‘leaderless revolution’. The iconic Tahrir (‘Liberation’) Square in downtown Cairo became a symbol of resistance for the whole nation. The protesters chanted “The people want the fall of the regime”, whilst demanding ‘Bread, freedom, social justice and dignity.’ After 18 days of protests and the occupation of public squares and streets, Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011 and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over.
The Rule of the SCAF
The protests did not end in February 2011. Having found their voice, Egyptians continued to raise their demands through public demonstrations, rallies and sit-ins. During the period of SCAF rule (February 2011-June 2012), protesters called for justice for those killed by security forces, known as the martyrs of the revolution, for a cleansing of former regime individuals from government and for an end to military rule. Hundreds were killed in clashes with security forces and thousands were arrested, with record numbers being tried before military courts. Noteworthy incidents of violence were the massacre of 28 mainly Coptic Christian protesters by the army in October 2011, outside the Radio and Television Building at Maspero; the many days of clashes between security forces and protesters in Mohammed Mahmoud Street; and the massacre of more than 70 Ahly football club fans in Port Said Stadium, as security forces looked on, in February 2012.
The Rule of the Muslim Brotherhood
In June 2012, the late Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was voted into power as Egypt’s first freely elected president. However, opposition to Morsi quickly emerged as Egyptians saw him as yet another dictator, who was betraying the goals of the revolution. A key turning point was Morsi’s controversial constitutional declaration in November 2012, in which he seized all executive powers in order to force through a referendum on a new constitution. Following this, clashes between opponents and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood outside the Presidential Palace resulted in several deaths on both sides. The constitution was passed through a popular vote in December 2012, albeit with a less than 40 percent turnout.
The Military Coup and the Transitional Government
On 30 June 2013, there were massive protests against Morsi, prompting the military (led by General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi) to intervene to remove him from power on 3 July. The constitution was suspended and an interim president, Judge Adly Mansour, was appointed. Following this, the country entered into a period of extreme polarization and violence. Supporters of Morsi occupied the Raba‘ Al-‘Adawiya and Nahda Squares in Cairo, calling for the reinstatement of the deposed president. On 14 August, the protest camps were brutally cleared by the security forces, resulting in the deaths of around 1000 individuals. Soon afterwards, the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization. In retaliation, there were many cases of violent attacks on Coptic Christians, considered by Morsi’s supporters to be cheer leaders for the military.
Rather than denounce the violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, many Egyptians regarded the military, and particularly the charismatic military leader General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, to be the saviour of Egypt. ‘Sisi-mania’ seemed to sweep the country. In January 2014, Egyptians approved a new constitution that was meant to pave the way for a democratic transition.
The Rule of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi
In June 2014, General El-Sisi was elected as Egypt’s new president. In the years that followed, the military and police worked to erase the achievements of the 2011 revolution, subjecting Egyptians to unprecedented levels of repression and violence in the name of ensuring Egypt’s security and stability. Not only Muslim Brotherhood supporters but individuals from across the political spectrum were targeted. No expression of dissent was tolerated, leading many activists and figures associated with the 25 January Revolution to flee the country or face harassment by the authorities.
- To cite: Pratt, Nicola (2020) An Historical Overview of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and its Aftermath, in Politics, Popular Culture and the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, https://egyptrevolution2011.ac.uk/exhibits/show/overview/overview
Abou-El-Fadl, Reem, ed. (2015) Revolutionary Egypt: Connecting Domestic and International Struggles. London: Routledge.
Bayat, Asef (2017) Revolution without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Hafez, Sherine (2019) Women of the Midan: The Untold Stories of Egypt’s Revolutionaries, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Kandil, Hazem (2014) Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt's Road to Revolt, London: Verso Books.
Sowers, Jeannie Lynn and Chris Toensing, eds. (2012) The Journey to Tahrir: Revolution, Protest, and Social Change in Egypt, London: Verso Books.
Highlights from the Archive
Novels and Memoirs