January 25 marks the two year anniversary of the Egyptian Protests that eventually toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. To really wrap your head around the significance of that fact, consider the following: from 1953, the year Egypt gained independence from Great Britain, until 2011, there had been only 3 presidents: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak*. Mubarak held office from 1981 until 2011 when he was forced to resign because of the protests.
In terms of international relations, consider this: Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel. Given Egypt’s strategic location, and secular leadership, Washington had traditionally found in Mubarak a useful ally against what they viewed as creeping influence of Islamism in the region. As reported by the NY Times on February 12th, after the disposal of Mubarak, the tension within the administration was apparent. Traditionalists said Mubarak was essential to Egypt’s democracy (Frank G. Wisner, convoy to Cairo), and that transition would take time (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). President Obama himself demanded that change take place, but in phone calls to Mubarak, he reportedly did not demand that the president step down.
So, if Mubarak did not topple from the will of international pressure, or from incremental change, how did the Egyptian protests start? How were they organized? And what is their legacy 2 years later?
In December of 2010, youth protests began in Tunisia that eventually led to the resignation of long time president President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The Tunisian protesters served not just as inspiration to the protesters in Egypt, but as active allies – sharing their experiences and advice to the nascent Egyptian protests via social media network sites like Facebook, and Twitter.
The youth organizers behind Tahrir Square were already set to protest on January 25th to commemorate the day the British cracked down on a police revolt. But using Facebook, and catchy street marketing, the organizers were able to turn their small annual protest into something much larger – with tens of thousands of protesters congregating in Tahrir Square on January 25th.
Two years later, Mubarak is gone, and President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood political party have been chosen to lead Egypt. A sure sign of normalcy is that tourists are returning to Egypt, as reported on Africa.com.
Still, not all is calm in Egypt. While President Morsi was initially associated with the Tahrir Square protests, some are now wondering whether he has betrayed the values upon which the Egyptian protests were built. In particular, his actions of drafting a new constitution that calls for a higher profile of Islam in governance, and presidential powers that are excused from judicial review have been called into question. Today, on the second anniversary there are reports of some 100 protesters hurt in clashes with the police.
While the future of Egypt hangs in the balance, the impact of the Tahrir Square protests two year ago is undeniable. Whether it is protesting President Morsi’s actions, or calling for a speedy trial of Mubarak, the Egyptian people have found their voice. What are your thoughts on the Egyptian protests?
*This number does not count acting presidents or General Muhammad Naguib.