Today, 11th February marks the 10th anniversary of the ousting of Hosni Mubarak. What led to the stepping down of one of the most powerful dictators in history were mass uprisings across Egypt in nearly all its major cities: Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, and Suez. Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo, is special because it is the place which became the centre for the resistance.
A decade down the road, we reminisce the eighteen days in Tahrir.
A Simplified Version of a Complicated Tale:
Mubarak ceded power to the military after ruling with an iron first for thirty years. The “Friday of Anger” marked the start of the end of his reign. the protests turned bloody leaving over 800 dead, thousands injured, and more detained and tortured by the state security police.
The happiness which followed the first free elections in 2012 was short-lived. The President, Muhammad Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood, was overthrown within a year by then defence minister, Sisi.
The public turned out in numbers to protest against the coup. The dictatorship had other plans. State security forces violently and mercilessly cracked down on protestors.
The Rabaa and al-Nahda squares went down in history as sites for what was called the “worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history” by the Human Rights Watch. The junta left a bloodbath behind in its wake as it steered on to consolidate power. Over 900 were left dead in a day, and over 60,000 were taken as political prisoners.
The military did away with the constitution and installed an interim government, following which Sisi was elected President in 2014, and has been in power since.
The Untold Story of the Egyptian Revolution
What you read earlier, is for the books. For historians, for the academia, and for the politicians.
As the calls for revolution reverberated in Tahrir, and the world streamed videos which gave people goosebumps, an untold story remains. It is the story of the walls, the streets, and the roads that witnessed the revolution.
This is the story worth listening to. It is the one created by the people, for the people, one which cost them in blood. It is the colour outside the lines of observation, courage, and talent.
It is the story told by the art of the revolution, by the art in the streets of Egypt.
It is unfair to talk of art and of the Egyptian Revolution without mentioning Khalid Said. A blogger, entrepreneur and a musician, he became an icon of the uprising. Not because he participated in it, but because his death was one of many reasons that highlighted the need for it.
The public knew him after he was taken away from a cyber cafe. He had posted a video exposing drug use and abuse among policemen. Killed in custody, an image of Khaled went online showing a distorted face, with a broken nose, and a dislocated jaw with gaps between his teeth.
Initially, the community was taken aback by shock. The shock later translated to protests, demanding the downfall of a dictatorship regime, in which citizens are tortured and abused under the grip of a police state.
It was not the first or the last murder by the state. But perhaps the most significant death in terms of fueling discontentment during the protests. One of the key demands was to punish the culprits: the policemen who beat him to death as well as the Interior minister to step down.
A Brief Timeline:
January 17, 2011
A man set himself alight outside the parliament building in Cairo to protest government repression.
The example was set by Mohammed Bouazizi’s suicide protest in Tunisia.
Several more Egyptians followed suit, taking to similar methods of protest, in apparent emulation.
January 25, 2011: The Day of Revolt
Thousands gathered in Cairo and several other cities to demonstrate.
Anti-Mubarak and anti-regime slogans were chanted out loud in the face of the police, water cannons and tear gas. Although the protests were mostly non-violent, there were some reports of civilian and police casualties.
January 26, 2011
Civil unrest spilt over into Suez and other areas throughout the country. Many activists were arrested.
January 27, 2011
The clashes continued. Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a prominent critic of the regime joined the protests in Cairo.
The same evening, the government shut down internet traffic and telephone services countrywide.
January 28, 2011: The Friday of Anger
Anti-government protests in intensified as demonstrators clashed with the police following Friday prayers.
The regime once again shut down ISP’s, in an attempt to disrupt internet and telephone services, trying to limit the extent of demonstrations.
A curfew was imposed. Mubarak ordered the deployment of army units to control the unrest, withdrawing the police from the streets.
The national headquarters of the National Democratic Party, which has been ruling from 1978–2011 was set on fire.
Violence continued, severe clashes between pro-Mubarak forces and protestors broke out at night.
No fatalities have been reported in Cairo, however, a dozen were left dead in Suez and over 1000 were reportedly injured nationwide.
Mubarak then announced the dismissal of his government via state television and pledged to form a new government.
January 29, 2011
For the first time in his nearly three decades of reign, Mubarak appointed a vice president: one of his closest advisers, Omar Suleiman, the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service.
Thousands of protesters continued to camp out in Tahrir Square. Clashes became sporadic. The military presence in the city increased. A curfew imposition followed. However, it was widely ignored. Protesters kept flowing into Tahrir Square continued throughout the night.
Prisons were opened and burned down, and 700 inmates escaped en masse. At large, it was believed to be an attempt to terrorise protesters. Egyptians armed with guns, sticks, and blades formed vigilante groups to defend their neighbourhoods. Banks, junctions and important buildings previously guarded by the police and state security were left abandoned.
The military chose to exercise overall restraint and reportedly refused to orders to fire live ammunition.
There were no reports of major casualties.
January 31, 2011
Israeli media reported that the 2nd, 7th and 9th Divisions of the Egyptian Army had been ordered into Cairo to help restore order.
February 1, 2011
In a speech aired on state television, Mubarak announced that he would not stand for reelection at the end of his term in September 2011.
February 2, 2011: The day of Camels and Horses
The violence intensified. Anti-government protesters clashed with crowds of Mubarak supporters in Tahrir Square.
Supporters of the dictator rode camels and horses into Tahrir, reportedly wielding sticks.
It was widely believed that the groups of regime supporters are plainclothes security officers, and members of the NDP, waging a coordinated effort to use violence to disperse the protests.
Mubarak made another address to the nation. He offered several concessions, pledging political reforms and repeated that said he would not run in the elections planned for September. He made clear his plans to remain in office to oversee a peaceful transition.
Small-but-violent clashes began that night between pro, and anti-Mubarak, demonstrators.
Violence toward journalists and reporters escalated.
Themen with the camel and horse riders later claimed that they were “good men”, and claimed to opposed the protests because they wanted tourists to come back to keep their jobs and feed their animals.
The horse and camel riders deny that they were paid by anyone, though they said that they were told about the protests from a ruling party MP.
Three hundred people were reported dead by the Human Rights Watch the following day, since 25 January.
Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, and creator of the page We are all Khaled Said was reported missing and the company asked the public to help find him.
February 6, 2011
The Egyptian government holds talks with members of the opposition. The banned Muslim Brotherhood participates.
An interfaith service was held with Egyptian Christians and Muslims in Tahrir Square.
Negotiations by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman and opposition representatives began.
The military assumed greater security responsibilities, maintaining order and guarding The Egyptian Museum of Antiquity.
Suleiman offered reforms, and many in the junta accused foreign nations of interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs.
February 10, 2011
The widespread supposition of the dictator preparing to resign by the media was met with a defiant televised address by Mubarak.
He said that he intended to remain the Head of State till the end of his term in September, but would delegate some powers to Vice President Suleiman.
Mubarak went on to speculate a military coup.
His statements were met with anger, frustration and disappointment, and an escalated number and intensity of protests.
February 11, 2011: The Friday of Departure
The public refused to accept Mubarak’s concessions and protests continued.
Mubarak quietly left Cairo for Sharm al-Shaykh, a resort town on the Sinai Peninsula where he had a residence.
A few hours later, Suleiman appeared on state television and announced that Mubarak had stepped down as president.
After the Revolution
Egypt’s story has perhaps gotten more complicated, and the regime more brutal.
There have been consequences. There has been serious aftermath. Some of it made it to the walls of Cairo, the rest wasn’t as pleasant.
But as long as we have art, we have hope, hope, that justice will be done to the revolution. Hope, that things will change for the better.