By Sami Ahmed
Seven years ago a wave of revolutions swept the Middle East. Starting in Tunisia, mass demonstrations spread across North Africa, eventually reaching Egypt. The demands of the Egyptians were simple: get rid of corruption, increase human rights, improve the economy, implement a working democracy, and end the 30 year reign of president Hosni Mubarak. Collectively these uprisings, now known as the “Arab Spring”, have yielded mixed results. So, in retrospect, should Egypt’s Arab Spring be considered a failure or a success?
Egypt is a country located in the far North East tip of Africa, it is home to the largest river in the world, the Nile and borders both the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Although the majority of Egypt’s land is in Africa, Egypt controls a significant portion of land in the Asia, the Sinai peninsula. Egypt is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian, giving it the second largest Christian population in the Arab world after Lebanon. Amongst Arabs, Egypt is viewed as the center of “Arab” culture. Egypt is the largest Arab country with a population of 91 million and much of North Africa speaks a dialect of Egyptian Arabic–an offshoot of the Classical Arabic spoken in The Arabian Gulf.
In 2010 Egyptians took to the streets in protest against President Hosni Mubarak, and a year later he stepped down. In the next elections, Egyptians voted in Islamist Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood party with 51% of the vote. Mohammed Morsi attempted to rewrite the constitution to give him more executive powers. Protests against Mohammed Morsi ensued after he was elected and the Egyptian Army threatened to depose him if the protests were not quelled. The President failed to end the protests and Morsi was deposed, in the subsequent election, the Army chief who deposed Morsi, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, won with a 96% voting margin. Voter turnout however was below 50%.
Egypt’s economy is a melting pot of different industries, the largest being tourism (26%, 2002) and heavy industry (24%, 2002). Egypt’s overall economic growth has suffered profoundly from the revolution, as GDP growth fell from 7 percent in the mid-2000’s to 3 percent post revolution.
Egypt’s currency, the Egyptian Pound has suffered equally devastating changes. The Egyptian Pound to USD exchange rate has decreased by over two thirds in the 7 years since the revolution (0.17 to 0.05). One key factor behind Egypt’s economic decline has been the lack of tourism, which employed 1/10 Egyptians pre-revolution. Tourism collapsed from 26% in 2002 to a record low of 7.2%, and is still decreasing rapidly. The decline of Egypt’s economy has made the government cut many crucial social programs, including the government’s crucial bread, sugar and gasoline subsidies. These cuts have prompted demonstrations by millions of lower-class Egyptians who are struggling amidst an economy where food prices go up but wages remain stagnant. Egypt’s economy is expected to recover, however increasing terrorism against Christians in Egypt’s major cities and an insurgency in the Sinai peninsula may further destabilize the region and in turn discourage foreign investment.
Human Rights & The Transition to a Democracy
Under former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egyptians enjoyed very few human rights. Media was strictly controlled by the state and dissenting journalists and presenters were frequently jailed. The citizenry of Egypt lived in fear of their government as many were detained or worse, “disappeared” without charges or a fair trial. Sadly, the revolution has not changed the human rights “situation”. The most recent developments have been the crackdown on political parties which pose a threat to the current government in the upcoming 2020 elections. One such party the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political party popular in Egypt which has had numerous high ranking officials jailed. Another development is a leaked video of the execution of two civilians by Egyptian Soldiers in the Sinai region.
Egypt’s democracy has been stalled largely by the Armed forces, (propped up by 1.2 billion dollars in annual aid from the U.S) which in Egypt, are semi-independent from the government. Egypt’s Armed forces have been in power since 1952 when they overthrew King Farouk, a British Sponsored Monarch. Since then the Armed Forces have essentially been able to choose which leaders they want to represent them, by ousting anyone who threatens their power. If Egypt is to continue it’s path towards democracy, it will be at the mercy of the Armed Forces.
Will Egypt get better?
In my opinion, yes, the situation will get better. Egypt’s economy is slowly recovering from its crash. The Tourist Industry, while still collapsing, has found new travelers from Asia, Eastern Europe and Russia. The currency, while extremely devalued, is stable and is more likely to procure foreign investment. The Austerity Measures–while crippling for Egypt’s lower classes–might encourage less food importation (Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer) and stimulate domestic growth of wheat and other crops that could be easily produced inside the country.
Editor’s note: If you would like to read more about political changes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya between 2010 and 2012, an informal book about the events described by Western news organizations as the “Arab Spring” is Tom Chesshyre’s “A Tourist in the Arab Spring”, published in 2013, by Bradt Travel Guides Ltd. You may not agree with Chesshyre’s point of view, but he traveled and spoke with both soldiers and ordinary citizens in those three nations during that volatile time period.