So it’s now four years on the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, which started on 25 January 2011 with hordes of young men and women taking to the streets and calling for “bread, freedom, and social justice” and ended on 11 February with the stepping down of long-time President Hosni Mubarak. Between these two dates the Islamist Muslim Brothers (MB) made a strong showing that swelled the ranks of the revolutionists and turned the uprising violent. Egypt saw the burning of police stations and public buildings and facilities, the breakdown of law and spread of crime, and the start of a severe economic crunch. The police had already left the field to the military on 28 January when it was obvious they could no longer handle the unrest. By the time the uprising was over 1075 Egyptians had lost their lives in the turmoil.
Islamists in, Islamist out
What followed was that Egypt went through calamitous times that saw a rapid rise to power by the MB who then put an end to all democracy. Law and order came to a near total breakdown and the economy collapsed. The MB made a glaring attempt to wipe away Egypt’s identity and sovereignty in favour of an Islamic State that would soon enough be part of a pan-world Islamic caliphate. Egyptians revolted. On 30 June 2013 some 33 million of them took to the streets in nationwide mass protest against the Islamist President Muhammad Mursi and his MB regime. The military stepped in to avert civil war and gave Mr Mursi a 48-hour ultimatum to resolve the crisis. But the President belligerently rejected the ultimatum and, on 3 July 2013, the then chief of Egypt’s Armed Forces Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi sat down with representatives of all the sectors of the Egyptian society and they all drew a roadmap for a democratic transition in Egypt.
One day later, on 4 July 2013, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court Adly Mansour was sworn in as Interim President; in January 2014 Egyptians approved a new Constitution that [was/is] widely seen as the best in its history; and in June 2014 the moderate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was elected President by a landslide.
Getting back to normal
President Sisi has since then been tackling two major problems facing Egypt: restoring security and stability, and kickstarting the economy. None can be solved overnight.
Stability is a precondition for economic revival to take place, but requires mammoth efforts to achieve in light of the Islamist threats Egypt is facing from inside and outside the country. Ridding themselves of the Islamists came at a hefty price which Egyptians anticipated, were willing to pay, and are indeed paying in lives and livelihoods day in day out. One MB leading, Safwat Higazy had sworn that Egyptians would see terror “they never imagined existed”; another leader, Muhammad al-Beltagui warned that the Islamist militancy in the Sinai Peninsula would only end “once Mursi was back as president of Egypt”.
Despite President Sisi’s massive popularity and dynamic drive to get the wheels back rolling in Egypt, groups of secular activists have opposed him on grounds that his military background can easily turn him into an autocrat. But mainstream Egyptians, sick and tired of protest and turmoil and yearning to get back to ‘normal’ life, widely support Sisi. This in spite of their having to sustain his decision to put at end to a portion of the State subsidies that had oiled their lives over some six decades. Five months into his presidency a Baseera poll showed that 66 per cent of Egyptians ‘fully approved’ of President Sisi’s performance. The man-in-the-street in Egypt thus sees the activists’ opposition as at best a disruptive force and at worst coming from self-serving individuals who, intentionally or non-intentionally, carry out foreign agendas that wish to drag Egypt back into the Islamist fold.
Last Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising which has come to be termed in Egypt the ‘25 January Revolution’. It was expected that the day would see violence by the Islamists who had called for protest. The 6 April Youth Movement, a secular activist group outlawed last April, also called for demonstrations. Official celebrations had been planned to mark the occasion, but were cancelled in mourning of the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Friday 23 January.
The Islamists lived up to their word. They had threatened violence and violence they waged in several spots over Egypt. Security was tight in all the major sites, but this did not prevent fierce clashes in districts where Islamists held sway.
In what has become signature deeds the Islamists planted bombs at public targets, attacked the police, burned facilities and property, and assaulted the public.
Most bombs were primitive and were discovered before any damage was done. One bomb detonated killing the two persons who were planting it in Beheira, west of the Delta. This time the Islamists did not bother to pretend that they target only the police and military as they had formerly claimed. In front of the church of the Holy Virgin in the Fayoum neighbourhood of al-Shatt nine bombs were found in the span of two days. They were deactivated by the experts and no damage was done, but the Islamist threat was all-too-obvious.
In Giza, the Islamists torched the municipality headquarters of the Haram district. But the most violent protest was held in the Cairo northern districts of Mattariya and Ain Shams which are Islamist hotbeds. The Islamists clashed with the police and climbed on rooftops from where they rained gunfire and Molotov cocktails at those in the street, civilians and policemen. They hurled stones at lampposts, torched a public bus, two taxi cabs, a restaurant, and a police armoured vehicle, all the time shouting slogans hostile to the police and the military. The police fired teargas to disperse the protestors. Twelve men lost their lives in Mattariya and Ain Shams, among them a policemen and a Coptic boy aged 11.
Demonstrations by seculars were limited and short-lived, mainly in Downtown Cairo, with the protestors demanding retribution for the victims of the 2011 uprising and shouting slogans against President Sisi and “military rule”. They also called for an investigation into the death the day before of the female journalist Shaimaa’ al-Sabbagh who was shot as she took part in a march by the Popular Alliance Party to lay flowers in Tahrir Square for the dead of the 2011 uprising. The party says it was the police that killed her. The case is now with the prosecution.
The day’s death toll amounted to 23 men, among them three policemen and the 11-year-old boy Mina Maher. Some 100 were injured. The police made close to 500 arrests.
Altogether, the average Egyptian who lived or worked outside the Islamist pockets saw a calm day and only knew from the media that there was unrest in specific spots.
“90 million want to eat”
In a televised address to mark Police Day and the fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring—both occasions occur on 25 January—President Sisi said it would take patience to achieve all “the revolution’s goals”.
Opponents claim that freedoms won in the uprising have been rolled back, especially with the new protest law. But the government has repeatedly dismissed the criticisms, saying the law does not ban demonstrations but rather regulates them.
Egypt, the President said, is facing exceptional circumstances because of its battle against terrorism, and some violations are inevitable. The war the country is leading against Islamic extremism and terrorism, he said, will take time but will benefit the region and the whole world.
“Ninety million want to eat, drink, live and be reassured for their future,” he told a packed room. “I am not saying protest is rejected, never. But I am saying that protest has been given such space…now 90 million want to eat.” Tourism, he said, was one of Egypt’s top foreign revenue sources and has collapsed after years of turmoil, costing the country billions of dollars.
“Who will make up for that? Be careful when you are demanding rights, be careful! Don’t take us down with you. Don’t take us down with you,” he said.
28 January 2015