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Egyptians bring down dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, 2011
Beginning in 1981, Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for over twenty-nine years. Though he ran for
presidential reelection several times, elections were marked by widespread
fraud, and opposing politicians were legally prohibited from running against
Mubarak until 2005. Virtually all key officials in government were from
Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP). Mubarak constructed a vast security
apparatus to control public dissent; in the 1990s, citizens would only whisper
his name for fear of reprisal. For his entire tenure as president, Egypt was in
a legalized "state of emergency," which legalized censorship, expanded police
powers, and curtailed constitutional rights. The regime severely limited
freedom of the press, and the state-run media were no more than a propaganda
machine. Rumors abounded that Mubarak would eventually be replaced by his son
Gamal, transforming Egypt's supposedly electoral government into a de facto
Egyptian activists began to push the boundaries of the state's tolerance for dissent in the 2000s.
In 2004, a group of activists opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine
and the United States war in Iraq formed a new campaign called the Kefaya
(Enough) Movement, which targeted Mubarak and his family, and sought to prevent
succession of the presidency to Gamal. Then, textile workers frustrated by
Mubarak's neoliberal policies launched a wave of strikes in 2006 and 2007,
beginning in Mahalla and spreading across the country. From this point forward,
public displays of dissent were not unusual, as they once were. Though there
were often ten times as many police as protesters, workers and activists felt
more confident taking to the streets to voice their concerns. The majority of
the population, however, remained fearful of the regime.
A group of activist
youth formed the April 6 Movement in spring 2008, to support an industrial
protest in Mahalla. After the Mahalla protest ended, April 6 continued to
organize, using new tools such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with
potential allies and members. The group received training from members of the
Serbian group Otpor!, which organized the nonviolent resistance to and eventual
removal of Slobodan Milosevic. Despite arrests and harassment of April 6
leaders, the group remained active in its efforts to encourage resistance to
January 25 was Egypt's "National Police Day," a celebration of the country's
police. As January 25, 2011, approached, April 6 decided to use this day to
their advantage and hold a march in which they would chant creative,
anti-police, anti-Mubarak messages. In advance of the date, the group
distributed thousands of flyers advertising their rally, and also promoted the
event on Facebook. On January 18, April 6 member Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video
on YouTube in which she urged people to protest on the 25th, and not to be
afraid. The video went viral, gaining over 80,000 hits in less than a week.
January 25 protests were also organized and supported by Google executive Wael
Ghonim, who used his Facebook group, We Are All Khaled Said, to reach tens of
thousands more Egyptians. Many other groups, including the National Association
for Change, Kefaya, and opposition political parties, also endorsed the
for the day of protest were aided by the recent revolution in Tunisia, where
popular nonviolent protests forced long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
to step down on January 14. This stunning victory by Tunisians gave Egyptians
the feeling that change might also be possible in their country. By January 25,
close to 100,000 people indicated on Facebook that they would attend the day of
protest. Mubarak's government promised to strictly suppress any demonstrations,
on the grounds that activists had not obtained the required permits.
On Tuesday, January
25, tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Cairo, eventually
congregating in Tahrir ("Liberation") Square, where they chanted and waved
flags. Some protesters burned portraits of Mubarak. Police attempted to disperse
protesters with tear gas and water cannons. When this failed, police decided to
simply contain the masses, rather than attempt to disperse it. Clashes between
protesters and police took place on a number of side streets. Though some
protesters threw rocks, the majority of the participants were nonviolent.
Police actions were more aggressive, though they limited themselves to
non-lethal means such as batons, gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. In
addition to the protests in Cairo, demonstrations occurred in Alexandria, Suez,
and other Egyptian cities.
large rallies, the April 6, Ghonim, and other organizers framed the protests as
an outcry against torture, unemployment, and corruption, and not as a demand
for Mubarak to leave. Many participants in the protests wanted Mubarak to go,
however, and the official messaging from organizers quickly changed to reflect
that. By the end of Tuesday, organizers were calling for Mubarak to step down,
and vowing not to stop agitating until he did.
The next day,
citizens held smaller marches and rallies in Cairo and elsewhere. Police again
responded with organized efforts, leading to more clashes. Every time police
forced a group of protesters to disperse, protesters regrouped shortly and
resumed their chants for Mubarak to step down.
statements, Mubarak's regime claimed that the protests were organized by the
Muslim Brotherhood, which in fact was not involved at all. Police violence
against mostly peaceful demonstrators attracted the attention of the
international community, including United States Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, who encouraged Mubarak to allow peaceful protest.
On Thursday, January
27, small demonstrations continued, but most citizens stayed home. The youth
organizers of the campaign announced that Friday would be an escalation, a "Day
of Rage" against the regime. Both the government and the resistance used
Thursday to prepare. Spurred by the unexpected size and resilience of the
demonstration, the Muslim Brotherhood announced it would be joining the
coalition of organizers. In addition, Dr. Mohammed El-Baradei, former head of
the International Atomic Energy Agency and a critic of Mubarak, returned to the
country to provide a face to the protests. This was a strategic maneuver by the
youth leadership coalition, which believed that El-Baradei would help combat
the international perception of the protests as somewhat disorganized and
spontaneous. For his part, El-Baradei emphasized that the youth were the
leaders of the revolution.
The night before the
"Day of Rage," the Egyptian government ordered all Internet Service Providers
in the country to cut off Internet service. The ISPs complied, and Internet
traffic in Egypt immediately dropped to close to nothing. This was the first
time in history that a government had cut off all Internet access to its
people. In doing so, Mubarak's regime believed it would hinder the organization
of the protesters. The regime also hindered cell phone access, although it
could not cut it off entirely.
The following day,
after midday prayer services, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians streamed into
the streets across Egypt. In Cairo, people followed directions printed and
distributed by youth organizers, which instructed individuals to gather their
neighbors and start marching toward the center city and Tahrir Squre. Materials
distributed by April 6 and other organizers also stressed the importance of
remaining nonviolent and maintaining a positive attitude. Police attempted to
obstruct demonstrators in all parts of the city, using live ammunition in some
cases. One major confrontation occurred at the Kasr al-Nil Bridge, where police
armed with gas, water cannons and truncheons sought to beat back a swelling
crowd of demonstrators. For the most part, demonstrators did not engage in
hand-to-hand combat with the police, choosing instead to surpass them
nonviolently by the strength of their numbers.
announced a 6 pm curfew, but almost nobody paid attention to it. When it became
clear that protesters were not intimidated into leaving the streets, the regime
withdrew the police forces from Cairo. Demonstrators burned abandoned police
vans, and also lit fire to the National Democratic Party headquarters. Many
Egyptians spoke of a "fear barrier" that had been broken by the day of conflict
with the police, in which the numbers and bravery of the protesters prevailed.
vanished from Cairo, the national army entered the city. Aware that the army
would be an important arbiter of power, demonstrators cheered to welcome the
soldiers, gave them hugs, and chanted slogans like "The People and the Army are
One Fist." The army announced its intention to protect the people of Egypt, and
emphasized that it would not fire on civilians.
Later that night,
Mubarak appeared on state-run television and announced that he would dismiss
his cabinet. This statement did not appease the demonstrators. Several hundred
remained in Tahrir Square overnight, and vowed to stay until Mubarak stepped
On January 29,
police did not return to the capital. Approximately 50,000 people gathered in
Tahrir Square again to demand that Mubarak resign. Organizers of the protests
encouraged people not to chant slogans supporting any particular party, but to
project a message of unity and courage. Official statements by organizers
emphasized the diverse nature of the demonstrators, who crossed lines of class,
gender, and religion. In Tahrir Square, people took turns sweeping and cleaning
up garbage, to prove that the Egyptian people could take care of themselves
without the iron hand of the police. People quickly convened "citizens'
patrols" in Cairo's neighborhoods to prevent looting or violence.
regime amplified any slight incident involving violence or disorder in order to
portray the crowds as dangerous and chaotic. On Saturday evening, Mubarak swore
in the Head of Intelligence, Omar Suleiman, as his new vice president. Suleiman
made gestures toward the organizers of the resistance, but the organizers said
that they would not negotiate with the government until Mubarak was no longer
By this point, the
events in Egypt had captured the attention of people across the world. The Al
Jazeera news network provided 24-hour coverage of the protests in Arabic and
English, despite intimidation of its reporters by the regime. International
allies organized solidarity rallies in many countries, including the United
States. American activists called on President Barack Obama to cut off its
financial assistance to Egypt. Further aid came from the American company
Google, which developed "speak2tweet" technology that allowed activists to post
to Twitter over their phones, without Internet access.
On January 31 and
February 1, activists further developed the encampment in Tahrir Square,
building a tent city in the center, and barricades around the perimeter of the
square. Over two million people filled the square on February 1 to continue to
pressure the regime. The square acquired a potent symbolic value—people had the
feeling that, as long as there were demonstrators in the square, the revolution
television attempted to convince people to return to their "safe, stable
lives," and emphasized the stories of people who were inconvenienced or losing
business due to the protests. In addition, Mubarak gave another defiant speech
on February 1 in which he refused to step down, but promised not to run for
re-election and vowed to enact constitutional reforms. Most of the protesters
were not convinced by his promises.
The next morning,
February 2, pro-Mubarak groups streamed into the city, pledging allegiance to
their president and condemning the anti-Mubarak protesters. There is some
evidence that many of these counter-protesters were in fact the police forces
in plainclothes--pro-democracy demonstrators claimed to find police ID cards on
the "pro-Mubarak civilians." What started as a ‘war of voices'
escalated throughout the day into violent skirmishes. Street battles between
uncoordinated vigilante groups were fought with stones, sticks, and gasoline
bombs. Pro-Mubarak forces dropped bricks, furniture, and other items from
buildings onto opponent protesters below. They also targeted foreign
journalists, and beat many with fists and sticks. In the afternoon, pro-Mubarak
supporters armed with whips attempted to charge into Tahrir Square on camels
and horses, but were largely pushed back by opposition forces
military largely stood by without intervening in the skirmishes. Army officials
did confront the Tahrir protesters, asking the demonstrators to return home.
Protesters wouldn't move an inch. In the meantime, Internet service was
returning to the country. Also, the nationwide curfew, which the public had
been defying and the military not enforcing, was reportedly reduced.
The next day,
February 3, as thousands maintained the occupation of Tahrir Square, street
battles continued. Pro-democracy protesters stood their ground. A nearby metro
station was turned into a makeshift holding cell; it was proved that some of
the pro-government supporters were in fact state police in plain clothes. After
standing by for so long, the army finally began situating themselves between
opposition groups throughout the city, preventing some clashes.
anti-Mubarak protesters entered Tahrir Square, protecting it from pro-Mubarak
agitators. In the afternoon the Square was shook with heavy gunfire. Several
people were killed and more injured; many were treated by volunteer doctors in
Tahrir Square's makeshift hospital.
On Friday, February
4, hundreds of thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters convened in Tahrir Square
for what was called the ‘Day of Departure,' renewing the call for the immediate
resignation of President Mubarak. Protesters waved flags, sang the national
anthem, cheered, prayers, and displayed banners and signs. With the curfew
lifted, more were expected to gather at the Square for prayer. Solidarity ‘Day
of Departure' demonstrations were held in New York and Damascus.
The military was by
now actively mediating between pro and anti-Mubarak protesters. The pro-Mubarak
protesters themselves set up and managed security checkpoints and set up
several layers of barricades to protect the Square, using secret codes to
communicate and form additional human barricades if necessary. Christians and
others not participating in Friday prayer also formed human barricades around
those praying to protect them.
February 5, key leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party resigned
including President Mubarak's son Gamal Mubarak and the party secretary-general
Safwat el-Sharif. Banks opened for the first time since protest began. Again
the army pleaded with protesters to go home, only to be met with the chant,
‘we're not leaving, he is!'
The next day,
Egypt's vice president met with a group of leading opposition groups for the
first time, offering new concessions regarding freedom of press, the release of
detained protesters, and the possible lifting of the Emergency Laws. Opposition
groups saw the meeting as a premature step since their central demand had yet
to be met: the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.
On Monday, February
7, a symbolic funeral procession was held in Tahrir Square for Ahmed Mahmoud,
the first reported journalist casualty of the protests. Later, Wael Ghonim, a
Google executive and activist arrested by state authorities was released. His
moving appearance on TV after his release revived protesters spirits and
reenergized the campaign for thousands; Ghonim would soon play a leading role
in Tahrir Square.
By Tuesday, February
8, Tahrir Square was swelling with protesters, which now resembled a tent camp.
The largest march of the protest shook Cairo, with parallel demonstrations in
Ismaïlia, Asyut, El-Mahalla El-Kubra, and Alexandria. Flags were displayed as a
sign of unity. A Cairo bakery near Tahrir displayed cupcakes with the Egyptian
flag. The demonstrators grew in numbers. In addition to the civilian blockades
and checkpoints, ‘celebratory greeting crews' organized to welcome newcomers to
the Square. That night, as with the several before, protesters made music and
sang anti-Mubarak songs.
The next day workers
went on strike to join the protests. Private labor unions as well as workers of
state-owned companies called for better wages and benefits, for them,
longstanding demands that were now put forward. Some also called for the end of
Mubarak. Massive strikes spread throughout the country, halting economic life.
Other forms of resistance were allowed to come forth. Thousands of farmers from
the southern province Assiut blocked highways with flaming palm trees to
protest bread shortages. Hundreds of homeless Egyptians set fire to a
government office in Port Said in anger over lack of housing.
That night in the
Tahrir Square, a vigil was held to honor the up to 302 people killed in the
couple weeks of protest.
The next day,
February 10, the Egyptian government showed signs of change. The Prime Minister
formed a committee to inspect the ‘illegitimate practices' resulting from the
recent events. The criminal court endorsed the decision to ban three former
ministers from leaving the country. The security chief of Wadi al-Jadid was
fired and the police captain who ordered the shooting of protesters was
Rumors circulated that
Mubarak would make an announcement to the public. The streets were flooded with
protesters. In the afternoon, 1,000 doctors in white coats entered the Square
to huge applause; about 3,000 lawyers joined soon after. The city was buzzing
with preliminary excitement. Protesters were sure the time had come. Mubarak
appeared on TV to deliver his speech. He reiterated his promise not run in the
next election, indicating he planned to remain in power until that time.
Protesters were enraged. They took the shoes off their feet and waved them at
Mubarak's image. That night, about 1,000 marched onto the state television
headquarters, which was guarded by the military. The crowd pleaded with the
military to ‘save Egypt' claiming, ‘we won't leave, they will leave.'
Egypt awoke the next
morning to massive demonstrations. It was Friday, February 11. Masses of
protesters rallied in front of the state television building in Cairo, the
presidential palace in Heliopolis, and of course, Liberation Square. Early in
the evening, after a day of intense protest, the vice-president got on air and
announced that Hosni Mubarak had resigned as president and handed over
political power to the army. Tahrir exploded with joy; Egyptians waved flags,
sang, chanted, and honked car horns.
Reports are varied,
but hundreds lost their lives in the protests leading to Mubarak's ousting and
thousands more were injured. Street battles between opposing protesters at
times was brutal and deadly. While the military played largely a mediator role,
state repression was not entirely absent. Police brutality, sexual and gendered
violence, use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition were all
reported. While attention should justly be given to the internal dynamics,
conflict, and oppressions among the protesters themselves, they displayed
impressive solidarity amidst social class, age, and religious diversity. Their
determination to hold the square ultimately helped them reach the goal of