Egypt Explained

Are you confused about what’s been happening in Egypt these past few days, months—or even years?

Not to worry. Channel One’s got your back! Read our in-a-nutshell version of Egypt’s recent history and bring yourself up to speed on the latest developments in the nation’s resolute pursuit of democracy.

A Landscape Ripe for Revolt

In 2011, the Egyptian people were frustrated with the political and economic conditions of their country.

Hosni Mubarak had been in power for twenty-nine years. Despite promising to lift the state of emergency that had been declared in 1981 when President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, Mubarak maintained emergency law throughout his presidency—forcing the Egyptian people to endure police brutality, the suspension of constitutional rights, and the enforcement of heavy censorship for nearly three decades.

At the same time, Egyptian citizens were grappling with high inflation, low wages, rampant unemployment and widespread poverty.


The Birth of a Revolution 

On January 25, 2011, the people of Egypt decided that they had had enough. Inspired by the success of the Tunisian Revolution, they took to the streets to conduct protests of their own.

For two and a half weeks, the international community watched as the citizens of Egypt occupied Tahrir Square and participated in mass demonstrations in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

Riot police used batons, rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to control crowds. The government shut down the Internet and suspended cell phone service to prevent protesters from organizing on Twitter and Facebook. Mubarak’s supporters clashed with the revolutionaries. Eventually, a curfew was established and the military was sent in to restore order.

But the people of Egypt did not let any of those obstacles stop them. They continued their demonstrations.

And their persistence paid off.

18 days and 846 civilian deaths later—on February 11, 2011—Mubarak stepped down.

A Turbulent Transition

The governing body of the Egyptian military took control of the country following Mubarak’s departure. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) promised the people of Egypt a safe transition and fair elections within half a year.

Unfortunately, the road to democracy ended up being far longer and bumpier than that.

SCAF remained in power for sixteen tumultuous months, during which every regard for human rights went out the window.

The emergency law remained in place until January 2012. Even then, it was only partially repealed. Consequently, nearly 12,000 civilians were tried before military tribunals under SCAF—far more than the number of civilians who faced military trials during Mubarak’s 29-year-regime. According to Human Rights Watch, defendants were denied access to lawyers of their choice and judges were not as independent and impartial as they should have been during these unfair proceedings.

SCAF also implemented a severe crackdown on peaceful demonstrations spurred by the slow pace of reform. Civilians were beaten, tortured and killed at the hands of military officials. In one particularly egregious display of violence, soldiers ran over protestors with military vehicles and fired live ammunition into crowds of unarmed citizens.

A Historic Election

On June 24, 2012, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood made history when he was declared the winner of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election. That day, Morsi became the first Islamist head of an Arab state and the first of Egypt’s five presidents to be from outside the military.

So democracy brought SCAF’s violent reign of terror to a screeching halt. Except, not really.

You see, Morsi’s victory was complicated by a strategically-timed power play.

Two weeks before the military was scheduled to transfer power to the newly-elected President, SCAF changed the interim constitution to grant itself powers traditionally reserved for Egypt’s president—including the abilities to propose new laws and declare war.

Pretty scandalous, huh? You bet! The move ignited huge protests in Tahrir Square—the biggest since those that unseated Mubarak.

Thus, the dawn of democracy in Egypt was accompanied by the escalation of an ominous power struggle and the ignition of a new round of fierce protests.


A Military Coup

Naturally, Morsi refused to give up without a fight. Once installed, he moved quickly to secure more power for himself by firing several leading officers of the army in August 2012.

And he did not stop there. In November of that year, he declared that his orders would be beyond the scrutiny of the country’s judges until a new constitution was adopted.

Morsi’s bold power grab was met with outrage: members of Egypt’s judiciary went on strike, some of Morsi’s own advisers quit their positions in his administration and the people of Egypt erupted in protest.

Matters only grew more heated the following month, when Morsi approved a controversial constitution that some viewed as too Islamist.

Suddenly, the people of Egypt found themselves standing in a very familiar place. They were dissatisfied with their country’s political situation and faced with hard economic times.

Can you say déjà vu? Yeah, and you can probably predict what happened next, too—Revolution Part Two.

Between April and June 2013, activists collected over 22 million signatures on a petition calling for Morsi’s resignation. By June 30, 2013—on the first anniversary of Morsi’s election—millions of Egyptians flooded with streets of Cairo. Tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded the presidential palace in the suburbs. And they all demanded that Morsi step down.

On July 1, 2013, the Egyptian Military Chief gave Morsi a 48-hour ultimatum: if the President did not meet the demands of the protesters within two days, then the military would intervene.

Morsi refused to comply.

And sure enough, two days later, the Egyptian Armed Forces released a statement announcing the end of Morsi’s presidency.

What Now?

Another chaotic transition.

Violent clashes have been occurring between protesters demanding Morsi’s reinstatement and military and police forces struggling to maintain order.

According to Egypt’s foreign ministry, Morsi is being detained for his own safety at an undisclosed location.

As for the future, Interim President Adly Mansour has announced his intentions to amend the constitution and hold new parliamentary and presidential elections by early 2014.

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