Tahrir Square always drew a crowd but on that day, Tahrir held more people than ever, spilling many onto the surrounding streets, creating traffic — creating history. Their chants were louder than the fireworks; “Egypt is free!” they cried as the colors flickered across their faces. “Hold your heads high, you’re Egyptian!” Many bent over to kiss the ground of the plaza that had become a symbol of the revolution, of freedom, of the surrender of Hosni Mubarak who had been the country’s dictator for almost 30 years.
But about five years after the Arab Spring, no trace of this scene remains.
The Arab Spring began in 2010 with anti-government protests in Tunis, it sparked protests in many surrounding countries that were inspired by the success of the Tunisian revolution. Frustrated with the corrupt dictatorship of Mubarak, the Egyptian people began protesting against the government in January of 2011. They occupied Tahrir Square for eighteen days until Mubarak stepped down. Protests continued as elections began to determine a new president.
In January of 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood won the election as Mohammad Morsi emerged as the winner of the presidency and Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison. Later that year, in the face of a weakening economy, Morsi gave himself unchecked power and a new Islamist constitution was introduced — Islam is a religion promoting peace and unity and Islamicism is a political ideology that believes in applying Islamic doctrine to law. It is important to note that not all Muslims are Islamists. The controversial constitution, along with Morsi’s overbearing authority, incited violent protests in 2013 and the eventual overthrow of Morsi in July of that year. After hundreds were killed in pro-Morsi rallies, the US suspended a large part of the 1.3 billion dollars of aid to Egypt. In response, the government of Egypt declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and introduced a new constitution in 2014 that banned political parties based on religion. In May of 2014, the former army chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, won the presidential election with more than 90% of the votes.
Sisi’s administration began by targeting the Islamists, which was welcomed by many who were uncomfortable with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s far reach into the government. The crackdown on Islamists, that has been called Egypt’s “war on terror”, has morphed into a full blown ban on dissent. However, the “war on terror” has been anything but effective. In fact, according to Daily News Egypt, the total number of people killed in the proliferating terrorist attacks, as of 2014, has risen to 700 people and in 2015 there have been over 331 terrorist attacks. Ironically, Sisi’s “war on terror” has only lead to an increase in terror, proving its inefficiency. The crackdown on dissent has also lead Egypt to have the highest number of journalists behind bars as anyone who speaks out against the government is subject to the harsh consequences.
Many are calling this time in Egypt’s history a reversal of the historic moment in Tahrir Square that will be etched into Egyptian history forever. They’re calling it a counter-revolution. After about five years, they find themselves facing some of the same things they had fought so strongly to destroy: suppression of freedom of speech, police brutality, torture, political repression, and oppression of women and other minorities. In retrospect, it almost seems as if the revolution accomplished nothing. Across the Middle East, it appears that the Arab Spring worked more in favor of dictatorship than of freedom and dignity. In Egypt, and the Middle East in general, the Arab Spring (along with past revolutions) that lead to thousands of deaths and mass instability resulted in authoritarian rule once again because it provided short-term stability but will inevitably lead to unrest. Ultimately, Middle Eastern politics has become a series of unrest and revolutions that send a message to the people of the region that violence is the only way to be heard.
Rather than repeat history blindly, to move forward after almost five years of discontent, the Egyptian people should look to what made their revolution so successful in the first place: their tenacity, their passion and their ability to work together regardless of societal barriers to force Mubarak to step down. After Mubarak, many people were surprised that the Muslim Brotherhood gained office, but in actuality, it was not much of a shock. After Mubarak stepped down, many different groups began debating over the office. The Muslim Brotherhood was the only united group at the time, which lead them to win the election. The Egyptian people should look to the power of this unity. When they choose to move forward, if they need to take the values that they brought with them to Tahrir Square almost five years ago. Only then will they be able to truly say, “Egypt is free!”
Image: Los Angeles Times