The Revolution in Egypt of 2011 began on January 25 when thousands of people rushed into Tahrir Square in the Egypt’s capital (El-Bendary, 2013). The day came to be known as the Day of rage. This event gave rise to the countrywide demonstrations, marches, resistance, and strikes. Millions of Egyptians from different social and religious backgrounds expressed their anger towards the then President Hosni Mubarak and his regime. During the revolution, hundreds of people were killed or injured in their struggle for justice, human rights, and socio-economic changes. Many controversies still exist pertaining different aspects of those events; the situation was conducive to such a process.
Many factors, such as demographics, foreign policy, justice of the government, corrupted officials, played their roles in igniting this uprising. Most people participated in the demonstrations in order to show their discontent and put forward the demands, which were expressed in a laconic slogan – “Bread, freedom, and social justice.” However, at that time, people were driven mostly by their hatred of the President rather than a common vision of how these demands could translate into the policy and practice. This paper analyses and compares the current situation in Egypt with that of the pre-revolution country, and suggests that the economic state has gotten worse, political arena is more confined than it used to be, and social justice remains in the same constraining conditions.
Before the outbreak of the Egyptian Revolution, the situation in the country’s economy had been deteriorated by numerous problems, including the food, energy, and financial crises. Egypt faced reduction of the foreign investments and revenues from the Suez Canal, as well as declined tourism, which all lead to a significant decrease of the real GDP “from 7.2 percent in 2008 to 5.4 percent in 2010” (as cited in Abdel-Baki, 2012). In addition, the economy suffered from inflation that rose to almost 24 percent in 2008 and had remained high until nowadays (Abdel-Baki, 2012).
Many difficulties that put the country’s stability at risk and decreased the living standards of citizens are attributed to the growing population and urbanization. Despite being the world’s second biggest importer of wheat, the uncontrollable increase in prices for food had a negative effect on the quality of life of people from the low-income households to such a degree that many economic experts relate the cause of the Revolution to the food problems. In addition, over the last decade, the Egyptian society has been facing a problem of child labor, and, what is more important, a fast increase in the number of homeless children, which raised to tens of thousands. The situation was worsened due to the so-called resource curse, which resulted from the policies of the previous regime that had been stealing the country’s resources (Abdel-Baki, 2012). All these problems together created the feelings of social division and hatred towards the corrupted government and their business companions, who made fortunes while the poor were getting even poorer (Abdel-Baki, 2012).
After the revolution, the initial expectations for immediate democratic changes were replaced by a skeptical pessimism, which was the result of the absence of any substantial consequences of the four years’ struggle. Any country that undergoes some sort of unrest is likely to suffer from instability; most likely, any transient process would be associated with the deep economic, social, and political insecurity. However, it is difficult to determine how long this state would last, and many people blame the consecutive governments for the failure to deliver any positive changes.
The current economic situation in Egypt seems to be worsening, rather than stabilizing, especially regarding one of the basic demands of the revolutionists – bread. After the uprising, the food riots continued throughout the country as the inflation grew rapidly making it harder for people to afford the basic necessities. In addition, today, there is an acute shortage of petrol, which has an impact not only on the car owners but also on a great part of the working class, who use the public transportation. The crisis has affected all the social classes (Tadros, 2012).
More specifically, the food problem had been getting worse and, under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, it arguably reached its peak. The new Egyptian president made significant changes to the bread subsidies. While these moves proved successful in decreasing the country’s unsustainable expenditure, its outcome resulted in the bread handout regime for the poorest people in Egypt. El-Sisi has introduced a ration card system, according to which, the families are now limited to five loaves each. Additionally, the problems appeared in the subsidy waste, estimated at LE31.6 ($4.41) billion, due to numerous fraudsters and smugglers (Goyder, 2014).
While the reasons for worsening of the county’s economic situation are complex, the lack of security and stability plays a significant role in it. The major downside of the revolutionary process was the decrease in tourism due to cases of attacks and even kidnappings of the tourists. Such events resulted in seeing Egypt as an unsafe destination. The revenues from the tourism sector dropped by 48% in 2013, as compared to the previous year (Goyder, 2014). However, the rebellions are not the single reason for insecurity. It is rather the lack of effort from the government to make the streets safer. For instance, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a statutory authority that took the power after Mubarak, decided to bring order before the elections, it managed to make the streets secure in a few weeks only (Tadros, 2012).
Moreover, in general, the food situation had not got better after the events of 2011, and even worsened due to new taxes on the basic products; most of all, this fact affected the low-income population. In terms of the overall economic situation, the problem is that the country is facing a deep economic crisis today, the main reason of which is the decay of tourism. Quite recently, tourism was one of the main sources of income for the country and individuals; now, it practically does not exist. It is going to take a long time to recover the industry. The Egyptian pound has been in freefall since December; thus, the new taxes on the basic goods are expected in the nearest future.
The absence of equality and prospects in the country in terms of economic and social prosperity is making the young people, a considerable part of the Egyptian society, consider an option of emigrating to other countries where they would seek for the better conditions of living and achieving their potential. This issue is especially urgent considering that there is no shortage of promising talents among the Egyptian youth. This fact is evident by the world’s highest rates of the business growth in the Middle East, which is largely a result of the innovative young generation. Another evidence of a high untapped potential of young Egyptians and others social groups is that the average household of the Arab American families earns about $4,500, which is higher than the average rate in the US (Shaker, 2014).
However, in Egypt, the situation is completely different; it does not let Egyptians achieve such level of success in their native country. The legacy of Mubarak’s regime still takes a toll on the life of the country by sustaining high barriers to the market entry and development of entrepreneurship. Such conditions restrict the highly educated and creative young people, in particular, and all Egyptians, in general, from achieving their potential and helping in reviving the economy of the country in the way necessary to attain social justice. The more comprehensive economic strategies would be challenging but they would empower all people of Egypt to benefit from the equal economic prospects, as well as help in creating reliable jobs and, eventually, in fulfilling the unifying demand for “bread, freedom, and social justice” (Shaker, 2014).
The current course of economic policy in Egypt is still unclear. The World Bank has denounced the system of economy in Egypt by claiming, “The dominance of a few large, old, and politically connected firms is strangling the growth of a robust and competitive private sector” (Goyder, 2014). Legislators have to deal with the serious challenge of meeting the high expectations of people who took part in the revolution. They have to make tough reforms; the task is complicated in the context of constant political struggles, changes of governments, and debates over the role of religion (Lipton, 2013). Currently, the experts dispute about the possible course of further events in the Egyptian economy and suggest some solutions for dealing with it. Lipton (2013) argues that it may take one of the three directions. The first is a continuation of the tendency towards economic chaos, which is very likely in the context of the political struggles that do not let the situation to stabilize, not even to mention the ability of some reforms. The second possibility is that the situation may be stabilized by a “reassertion of vested business interests, which would offer a respite from eroding economic conditions” (Lipton, 2013). However, most likely, this course would result in the economic stagnation. The third option is creating a new economy, which can be possible only if the governments stop any economic disruptions and start doing reforms that would open the opportunities for the people. Unfortunately, it is obvious enough that the first two options are undesirable while the third one is unattainable in current Egypt.
The political life of the country relates to the freedom part of the revolution slogan. The slogan had neither Islamist nor military allegiance. However, after the revolution, these groups taken over the country. Ironically, those people that made the revolution had never come to power. First, the country was governed by the ineffectual and violent SCAF, which followed Mubarak’s overthrowing. Afterward, the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood brought a long period of economic crises and political disunion (El-Bendary, 2013).
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The next presidential elections brought to power Mohamed Morsi; they were done with the help of a ballot box. However, despite being the first free possibility for people to choose the president in their most possible democratic way, these elections came to be a disaster for those who took part and supported the revolution. There were two candidates that the protesters sympathized, and the polls indicated that they had many votes. The problem was that they divided the voters into two parts. For this reason, the two candidates that remained in the second round were Morsi and the ex-minister of Mubarak. Egyptians faced a choice between returning to the previous autocratic regime and the member of the Islamic Brotherhood. Most protesters that took part in the revolution unenthusiastically chose the second option while the others refused to vote, at all. Either way, for both of those groups, the situation seemed hopeless (El-Bendary, 2013). Therefore, as Tadros (2012) states, the two competing sources of legitimacy were established: the parliament and the street. As the result, the power of one predatory alliance of corrupted businesspeople and Mubarak’s regime was substituted by another one, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.
In 2014, people elected Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the former supporter of the revolution, who immediately announced his intention to deliver all, for what the revolutionaries craved: economic stability, freedom, and social justice (Al-Naggar, 2014). However, he did not come up with a specific program that would outline how he was going to achieve that. This fact puts into question the credibility of his promises, which so far are restricted only to a declaration of setting a maximum wage in the public sector (Al-Naggar, 2014)
There are tendencies of restricting the citizens’ political and social freedoms. In fact, a lot of people supported the harsh emergency law in 2012, expecting that it would help bring order and “clean up the country” (Tadros, 2012). The consecutive governments had not gone far from the Mubarak’s regime in suppressing the basic freedoms of people. The well-known State Security Investigations (SSI) agency might have been suspended after the revolution, but it reappeared under the new name, the National Security, continuing its previous activity as the secret political police. While people had to struggle with the SSI under the ruling of Mubarak, now they have to deal with the new military-related intelligence agency, about which no one knows anything (Tadros, 2012).
Despite that fact that little has changed in the political arena in the years following the Egyptian revolution and the consecutive government has barely managed to relieve the discontent that started in 2011, many people support the current president. One of the examples is the overwhelming rate of 98.1% of Egyptians who voted Yes for the new constitution in the referendum of 2014 (Beinin, 2014). The new law signals that more power would be given to the military; it is even larger than during the reign of Mubarak. The current President and army commander Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is ridiculously popular among the Egyptians. One of the explanations of this fact is that people are tired of many years of disorder in the country. They seek for the reestablishment of stability. However, this desire to regain security seems to make them forget the Armed Forces, which have tortured Egypt for a year following the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime. It involved violence against the unarmed demonstrates, imprisonments without trial, and tortures. Moreover, the infamous virginity tests of the young women who were captured during demonstrations have been justified by al-Sisi. It is worth to mention, that the government still has not managed to bring justice and hold accountable those people responsible for the deaths of hundreds of martyrs of the uprising (Beinin, 2014).
There are few reasons for why the political course of Al-Sisi is effective for him. Turning back to the food problem, the administration of Al-Sisi has understood that, as long as it is able to deliver bread to people, the revolutionary calls for freedom and social justice will fade into insignificance. According to the government’s discourse, the President is forced to make tough decisions that may worsen the conditions of the poor but will not cause any popular backlash. In addition, Al-Sisi successfully utilized the patriotic public mood in order to raise funds for his most expensive project of the renovation of the Suez Canal, which would cost $220bn over 15 years (Goyder, 2014).
In addition, the current Egyptian president has stimulated new enthusiasm into the military establishment. Although having gained wide popularity, he had established his rule by utilizing unseen level of force, resorting to public mass detentions and death penalties, and the dismissal of freedoms that were present even under the dictator’s regime. The main factors that are advantageous to Al-Sisi are the ability of his administration to put forward the economic policies without fearing to cause massive protests, and his ability to control the military unlike his predecessors, the Muslim Brotherhood (Goyder, 2014).
The most fundamental success of the 2011 rebellion is that the Egyptian society, after nearly 60 years of being unable to participate in the political life of the country publically, discovered their potential to bring some changes. They were able to remove the two undesirable presidents by street actions in the period of two years only (Beinin, 2014). Everyone knows that the changes do not come immediately, and it would be hard, but not impossible, to finish what was started in 2011. Revolutions need a lot of time to unfold. Some setbacks and restorations of the old regimes are the usual practices. It is clear now that the new government in Egypt would be as incompetent in addressing the needs of its people as were Mubarak, the SCAF, and the Muslim Brotherhood headed by Morsi (Beinin, 2014). The upcoming rebellion may be only a matter of time.
The current Egyptian opposition faces many threats to diminishing social justice in the country, such as the formation of the Islamic state, which has the highest population in the Arab world and can lead to people’s losing a lot of their freedoms, for example, the loss of women’s rights. All the consecutive governments that took the reins in Egypt after the revolution claimed that they could not achieve any progress in social justice due to the lack of economic fundament to do that. Social justice presupposes equal prospects for all people, which include a standard of living, healthcare system, access to education, accommodation, and jobs. However, it also means the implementation of the economic, political, and social development, as well as policies that decrease the gap between the classes, which now exist in such areas as salaries, subsidies, and taxes. Regarding social justice in the international economic relations, a country has to be productive and effective in the extraction and processing of its natural resources, as well as in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
In order to achieve social justice, there is a need for the tax reform. Under Mubarak, the country’s tax system presupposed the exemption of taxes for people, whose annual income was LE9,000 ($1200); a 10% tax for people who earned from LE9,000 to LE20,000 ($2600); a 15% tax on LE20,000 ($2600) to LE40,000 ($5200), and 20% for those who earned more than LE40,000 a year (Al-Naggar, 2014). According to this system, individual companies and financial firms had to pay a 20% tax while, before 2005, there was a division, under which, the maximum tax rate for individual companies was 32% and 42% for the financial entities (Al-Naggar, 2014). The system also did not bear any taxes on profits on the stock exchange, as well as interests on the deposits and treasury bills. Additionally, there were no taxes on profits from the poultry, bee, livestock, and fishery industries. This system did not make sense, especially as these industries set the much higher price rates for their goods than the world rates. This selective policy demonstrated the impact of the capitalists on the taxation system under Mubarak’s regime (Al-Naggar, 2014).
After the revolution, this system remained the same. The first suggestion to make some changes in it and attain some extent of social justice was made by Samir Radwan, the then minister of finances. He made a decision to bare 10% taxes on the capital income on the stock market, but the initiative failed due to blackmailing from those who were interested in leaving the things as they were. The suggestion, which would have established the tax justice to some degree, was canceled and did not become the law. In order to justify the decision not to tax the capital income, the excuse of discouraging investors was used. It was a fabrication made in favor of the people who had the vested interests inside the country (Al-Naggar, 2014).
Social justice, among all, requires some reforms in spending on the healthcare and education. These aspects are crucial for attaining social justice because they provide public services for free or, at least, at reduced prices for the poor people. After the Revolution, several minor changes in spending on education were implemented. They showed some improvement in the situation in the teaching industry. However, the government did not introduce any core reforms. In 2012, spending on education was LE51.8 ($6.7) billion, which constituted around 3,3% percent of the annual GDP while, in 2011 and 2010, it was 3.5%, and, in 2009, it was 3.8% (Al-Naggar, 2014). Although, in 2014, public spending on education increased to almost 4%, it remains significantly lower than in other countries, including the Arab states (Al-Naggar, 2014). It is also much lower than what Morsi claimed to spend on education while running for president when he promised to increase it to 5.2% (Al-Naggar, 2014).
In the post-Revolution period, the other initiatives in the education sector aimed at increasing the salaries of the education workers and allocating resources for payments to thousands of the hired employees. These new people had to reduce the lack of teachers, janitors, school guards and occupy vacancies in administration at various academic institutions. The government increased the budget for the salaries in the education sector, but there was a largely unjust distribution of this money among the state employees in the education. In addition, the quality of education, labs, and other education facilities, as well as the number of students remained at unacceptably low levels (Al-Naggar, 2014).
Small public spending on education during the Mubarak’s regime was caused by the government’s attempts to benefit the private sector that had took over the business of the Egyptian education sector. Such actions had devastating consequences for it. Instead of considering education an essential part of people’s development that could increase knowledge and academic scientific capacity of the country in all spheres, as well as attain social enlightenment and the ability to produce educated specialists, the system became corrupted and ineffective.
One significant step forward to improving the public spending on education as a part of social justice appeared in the new constitution, which claims that 4% of GNP should be allocated to the pre-college education and 2% to the higher education. Therefore, in total, the education would receive 6% of the GNP instead of below 4%, which was spent during the previous presidents (Al-Naggar, 2014). It is a significant step forward in the education system, which would potentially allow not only providing better salaries to the workers in this sphere but also purchasing better equipment, building new facilities, and improving educational process, in general. In addition, the constitution included a point, which would make a compulsory education until secondary school, and guaranteed the free education at all levels. The suggestion of the wage reform in other sectors merely focused the increasing minimum wages. However, there is a big difference between the initiatives and real adoption of reforms in the whole system.
One more part of achieving true social justice presupposes fundamental reformation of the pension system. For example, it needs changing the minimum retirement rates, which were increased to LE470 ($60) not long age (Al-Naggar, 2014). However, the deeper changes are needed in order increase the social security rates in order to avoid the failure of the insurance system and make sure that the pensioners receive enough money for maintain a high standard of living (Al-Naggar, 2014).
The calls for justice are still present in the Egyptian society. The slogan of the Egyptian Revolution is still relevant for the public disputes. However, today, these words are not expressed as fiercely as in 2011, but rather silently. Nonetheless, there are still many people who would never give up on the ideals that they supported during the protests and demonstration. Many people claim that the Revolution is not over, and the slogan still possesses its power to unite the Egyptian society in pursuing the common goal. Moreover, such slogan is needed for the people of Egypt as badly as never as they suffer from social injustice and oppression that continues to diminish the dignity of the whole nation.
Social justice is being redisplayed in the way that suits the government. The people, who are undesirable for those in power, are labeled the saboteurs. The women’s position is even worse, as many females who protests for their rights are imprisoned and forced to pass through the virginity tests, which are, in fact, an outrageous form of sexual assault (Tadros, 2012). In addition, there are serious tensions in the society; in some areas, especially in many poor areas, a fierce conflict between the Christians and Islamists exist. As for the young people, who comprise more than 30% of the Egyptian population, they are being radicalized more than before the Revolution (El-Oarra, 2015). In fact, after the Revolution, the marginalization of the younger generation in social, political, social, and economic life of the country gained momentum. At the same time, the mainstream media hypocritically renders them as the brave youth who instigated the revolution (Tadros, 2012). The discrimination of these social groups is vivid in their representation in the new parliament. The share of women, young people, and members of different minority groups is as low as it was in the time of the Mubarak’s regime.
Nowadays, the fundamental freedoms in Egypt are oppressed by a tyrannizing military democracy. The government has illegitimately imprisoned many journalists and dumped the freedom of speech. There is an increase in the number of innocent civilians in the prisons of Egypt, who can be considered nothing but the political prisoners; many of them were incarcerated without due process. When, while honoring the fourth anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, people gathered at Tahrir Square, many of them were captured by the police forces. Nowadays, the government makes everything possible not to let any form of public demonstrations to take place and restrict the freedom of expression in numerous ways (El-Oarra, 2015).
Therefore, social justice is a pressing issue in Egypt in the post-Revolution period. At the same time, this issue motivates many people who still struggle in the name of the revolution’s ideals. The objectives of it have not been fulfilled, and the calls for “bread, freedom and justice” continue to reverberate throughout the country. Freedom is the title of the latest social media campaign that was recently launched; it aims at reminding of the support of the revolutionists’ cause. Therefore, even though the initial goals have not been attained, the significance of the Revolution in Egypt is in its mobilizing power that inspires people to fight for their rights against the newly established militarized democracy, abuse, class stratification, and police brutality (El-Qarra, 2015)
The Revolution in Egypt of 2011 involved thousands of people in massive demonstrations, marches, resistance, and strikes; it resulted in hundreds of deaths of unarmed protesters. The main purpose of the revolutionists was to overthrow the President Hosni Mubarak and his regime. The causes behind these events were the demographical problems and social injustice, as well as corruption among the officials and their business affiliates, who drained the countries recourses and built fortunes at the expense of the poor. People poured into the streets in order to express their discontent and declare their demands for “bread, freedom, and social justice.” However, even though the coup was a success, the declared demands were not fulfilled by any of the consecutive governments. Instead, the Egyptians witnessed the stiffening of their rights and freedoms of expression and deterioration of the economic situation. The unrest in the country had a devastating effect on many sectors of the economy, such as one of the most lucrative tourist industry. In the political arena, Egypt has seen the tendency to militarization, which further led to limitations of the people’s ability to express their views publically. Social injustice has affected many spheres of Egyptian life by widening the income gap. One of the social groups that suffered the most was the Egyptian youth, who although having been at the center of the revolutionary movement, was deprived of the possibility to realize the political freedom.
However, despite numerous problems and misfortunes after the events of 2011, it is most likely that the opposition movements will continue to grow in Egypt even if they change and manifest in different ways. The democratic reforms are crucial for Egypt in order to attain the genuine social and economic development. Today, the most important objective for the Egyptians is to reform their economic, social, and political systems as quickly as possible and for the long period.