Protests and grassroots political activism
Beginning in December of 2010 in Tunisia, protests and grassroots political activism spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring resulted in regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. However, the Arab Spring evolved and impacted each nation differently. In Egypt, the Arab Spring began officially on January 25, 2011. Known as the January 25 Revolution, the Arab Spring in Egypt initially resulted in the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak had been in power for almost 30 years when he resigned in 2011 and was widely considered to be a â€œdictator,â€ (Fantz, 2016: p. 1). As promising as it seemed to transition away from Mubarakâ€™s autocratic regime, the Arab Spring destabilized the nation and resulted in few meaningful changes to Egyptian society, politics, or the media.
Uprisings in Cairoâ€™s Tahrir Square and in other major cities like Alexandria had first been met with harsh crackdowns by the central government. In fact, the government tried to ban public access to the Internet just two days after the protests began. Mobile service providers also agreed to bar access to services that would enable citizens to organize protests (â€œThe January 25 Revolution,â€ n.d.). First, Mubarak tried to appease the protesters with some weak concessions but ultimately had to capitulate after massive protests on February 2011.
After Mubarak resigned, Egyptian voters initially elected the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi swiftly dismantled institutions that limited his powers as Prime Minister, dissolving the House of Representatives and changing the military’s leadership too (â€œArab uprising: Country by country â€“ Egypt,â€ n.d.). The final straw came in November 2012, when only six months after his election Morsi â€œissued a decree granting himself far-reaching powersâ€ (â€œArab uprising: Country by country â€“ Egypt,â€ n.d.: p. 1). An extension of the original Arab Spring protests that resulted in Mubarakâ€™s resignation, Egyptian citizens took to the streets. Millions of protesters demanded Morsiâ€™s resignation, and the military responded by forcibly deposing the Muslim Brotherhoodâ€™s leader.
In 2014, another election ushered in a new leader in Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. El Sisi won by a landslide but then protests erupted again after the judiciary found Mubarak not guilty of corruption (Fantz, 2016). As a result of the Arab Spring, Egyptians have been â€œwhiplashed from one political extreme to another, from the oppressive government of the Muslim Brotherhood to the military regime that now rules,â€ (Fantz, 2016: p. 1). Therefore, the Arab Spring has not necessarily resulted in a revitalized Egyptian political culture or civic society.
In addition to the political instability, the results of the Arab Spring on Egyptian society have included high unemployment rates and financial instability (Fantz, 2016). The tourism industry naturally took a beating from the instability. Labor protests were also part of the Egyptian Arab Spring, but failed to result in meaningful transformations (â€œThe January 25 Revolution,â€ n.d.). Unlike other nations that underwent an Arab Spring, in Egypt it was â€œurbane and cosmopolitan young people in the major citiesâ€ who organized the uprisings (Anderson, 2011: p. 2). Different demographics demanded different political responses to regime change. Although the aftermath of the Arab Spring has been far from inspiring, the period prior was characterized by an even greater sense of hopelessness and despair (Hamid, 2015). The Arab Spring might not have resulted in significant changes to economic, social, or political culture in Egypt, but it did inspire grassroots politics and the utilization of social media. Given that Egypt had negligible fifth estate presence and a lack of free press, social media was critical in helping spread information. Much attention has been given to the role of social media in helping to foment the Arab Spring, which has also been framed as â€œthe globalization of the norms of civic engagement,â€ (Anderson, 2011: p. 2). It is likely, though, that the Arab Spring would have taken root even without the use of social media and without any universal norms of democracy.
The Arab Spring did have a strong impact on Egyptian media, both social and traditional media. Traditional media in Egypt mainly consisted of the state media, but Egypt had been known for having a fairly robust and influential press (â€œEgypt Profile: Mediaâ€ 2016). The state media does demonstrate overt bias towards still-sitting president al-Sisi, and the government does suppress media outlets that are run by opposition parties (â€œEgypt Profile: Mediaâ€ 2016). In the wake of the Arab Spring, the government has been even more aware of the power of media in controlling public opinion and suppressing dissent. Journalists have been targeted, but the government has been especially harsh on the Muslim Brotherhoodâ€”the party of former president Morsi. Since the Arab Spring, the Egyptian government under al-Sisi has also been friendlier to Saudi Arabia, which it views as a potential ally not just for economic reasons but also to prevent the scourge of terrorism (Fantz, 2016).
Social media helped to promote the ideologies that undergirded the Arab Soring. Although the government has since attempted to suppress further revolt and revolution, social media remains a bastion of hope for Egyptians. Social media helped more women become involved in Egyptian politics, a realm in which females typically lack agency. The aftermath of the Arab Spring on Egyptian society generally remains to be seen, especially given the current situation in which the economy remains in recession and the government is still comprised of an authoritarian regime that does not support a free press.
Amnesty International (n.d.). The Arab Spring: Five years on. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/01/arab-spring-five-years-on/
Anderson, L. (2011). Demystifying the Arab Spring. Foreign Affairs 90(3): 2-7.
â€œThe Arab Spring in Egypt,â€ (n.d.). Harvard Divinity School. https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/faq/arab-spring-egypt
â€œArab uprising: Country by country â€“ Egypt,â€ (n.d.). BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-12482291
Egypt Profile: Media (2016). BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13313373
Fantz, A. (2016). Egyptâ€™s long, bloody road from Arab Spring hope to chaos. CNN. 27 April, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/27/middleeast/egypt-how-we-got-here/index.html
Hamid, S. (2015). Islamism, the Arab Spring, and the failure of Americaâ€™s do-nothing policy in the middle east. The Atlantic. 9 Oct, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/middle-east-egypt-us-policy/409537/
â€œThe January 25 Revolution,â€ (n.d.). Cornell University Library. http://guides.library.cornell.edu/c.php?g=31688&p=200748
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