Egyptian revolution

Ten years after the revolution: Egypt's oppressive reality

Freedom, justice, human dignity. These were the main concerns that the Egyptians took to the streets on January 25, 2011, at their first protest rally. For weeks from that day on, they took to the streets to protest the political and social conditions they were exposed to during the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

The longer the protests lasted, the more brutal the security authorities were against the people. But they could not stop the Egyptians demonstrating all over the country. On February 11, 2011, President Mubarak finally resigned. The Egyptians hoped for better times: the apparatus of repression would be dissolved, the country would move towards freedom and the rule of law.

The military and police tried to violently suppress the protests (January 2011)

But it turned out differently. A military coup against President Mohammed Morsi followed in 2013, and Abel Fattah al-Sisi has been ruling the country with a hard hand since 2014. "Egypt experienced a terrible backlash in all areas," said Egyptian activist Hossam El-Hamalawy in an interview with DW. "This is especially true for the rights of freedom. The counter-revolution has pushed the country into a state that is more depressing than it was before the revolution of 2011. The uprising has developed terribly and has led to a massive regression."

Dramatic human rights situation

Because it is dramatically bad for human and civil rights. The prison conditions in the country were poor, the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) said recently. In addition, AI repeatedly documents torture and executions. Many convicts had to put up with "unfair trials". Recently there was a "feverish wave of executions," according to Amnesty.

Human Rights Watch also condemned "the tough grip of the authoritarian government" in its annual report for 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic further worsened the already terrible conditions of detention.

The strong state. Graffiti in Cairo, sprayed in January 2011

The European Parliament is also alarmed. In December last year, it criticized the "deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt" and called for a "thorough and comprehensive review of the Union's relations with Cairo".

The United Nations also share this view. The Arab Spring in Egypt was short-lived, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Agnes Callamard, told the AFP news agency: "The regime has learned dire lessons from it." Any striving for freedom is nipped in the bud.

The Egyptian regime denies such allegations. In response to a request from the AFP press agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the government attaches great importance to freedom of expression. "There are no political prisoners and the arrests only relate to acts that violate criminal law," the ministry said. But the documentation from the various human rights organizations shows a different development.

"A constant need for revenge"

According to the activist Hossam el-Hamalawy, the 2011 revolution left deep marks on the members of the regime. "The country's ruling elite feel a constant need for revenge. For three years it seemed as if the pillars of their rule, their wealth and their interests were threatened, with a large part of the elite feared they would end up in prison," said El-Hamalay . "Since then, the ruling political class has lived in a state of paranoia and fears a repeat of the events of January 2011."

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi: The human rights situation has deteriorated dramatically under him

Magdi Shendi, journalist and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Mashhad, which describes itself as independent, attributes this course to some cases of violence and terror after the revolution.

This would have led the government agency to rely on a strict security regime. Egypt suffered from terrorism and its consequences, Shendi said. Many Egyptians would have welcomed the fact that the state had also defended order with violence. "There is a willingness to review the current guidelines and reform detention practice. This does not apply to criminals and terrorists, however."

But whoever is considered a terrorist in Egypt is what defines the regime under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since taking office, his critics or activists have repeatedly been imprisoned on charges of supporting terrorism.

the divide between rich and poor

The country continues to be troubled by the gap between rich and poor. It is a recurring topic in social networks and also in sociological and economic studies. The middle class is being undermined by the unequal distribution of wealth, so the accusation that has been heard over and over again. Instead, money and wealth were concentrated in the hands of a small elite.

Demolition of slums in Cairo: The government wants to move the residents to new social housing

Journalist Shendi sees some progress in development, however. "There are now pensions from social security, there are projects that focus on solidarity and dignity, and there are also infrastructure measures in some regions." But the Egyptians did not value such developments too highly. "A revolution raises huge expectations. It raises hopes, in the face of which all advances seem insignificant."

It is difficult to determine what social progress the country has actually made from official sources. The Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli recently published figures on the development of the poverty rate in Egypt for the first time in 20 years. According to this, almost 30 percent of Egyptians lived below the poverty line in the period 2019/2020. In the two previous years, this number was 32.5 percent. However, the state Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics provides other figures. According to her, the poverty rate was just under 28 percent five years ago, but then rose again by a good two percentage points.

Al-Sisi has undertaken huge prestige projects, some of which are based on a large propaganda effect, said activist Hossam El-Hamalawy. "He and a group of business people and generals can benefit from this. But these are bogus projects that have no impact on the lives of citizens."

Adapted from Arabic by Kersten Knipp.