Anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution Overshadowed by War on Terror

A few days ahead of the anniversary of the January 25, 2011 Revolution, all the well known, so-called “revolutionary youth groups” have yet to announce any major events marking the occasion. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, has repeated its regular, largely ignored, call to protest over the past nineteen months. While the Brotherhood has promised a “wave” of revolutionary protests marking the anniversary, the youth groups that claimed responsibility for the January 25 Revolution have been deterred. The prevailing feeling among many that this is not the time for protests in light of the ongoing “war against terror,” a harsh protest law that has left many of their colleagues serving up to five years in prison, and media attacks against the revolution itself have all played a role in keeping them off the streets.

As the promise of protest continues to dim, Egypt has witnessed a sharp increase in terror attacks ahead of the January 25 anniversary. On Saturday and Sunday alone, interior ministry officials said they foiled at least a dozen bomb attacks on railways throughout Egypt. On January 17, suspected terrorists blew up a gas pipeline close to the town of Dahshour, Giza, security officials said, causing a huge fire that lasted for hours and led to the evacuation of many residents. On the same day, an electricity blackout hit the entire Red Sea city of Hurghada for at least twelve hours after suspected terrorists blew up two major power towers supplying the city. Police in Alexandria, a city known as a Brotherhood stronghold, said they dismantled five bombs placed in front of police stations, a bank and a train station on Saturday and Sunday. Several attacks and bombs were also blown up or foiled in Northern Sinai. Attacks against power grids, gas pipelines, and transportation means have been a trademark for militant groups, in what appears to be an attempt to wreak havoc and convey a message to Egyptians and the outside world that the current regime led by Sisi is unable to bring the situation under control or improve the economy.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, in an official celebration held on Tuesday marking Police Day, described the attacks as “desperate moves,” blaming them on the Brotherhood and other terrorist organizations. He said he was certain that the police and army would defeat terror and confirmed that the number of foiled attempts exceeded by far those that actually took place on the ground. Ibrahim, in the celebration attended by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, also stressed what now seems to be the official understanding of the January 25 Revolution: that it started as a truly genuine protest by frustrated young Egyptians against Mubarak’s corrupt rule, but was later “stolen” by the Brotherhood and supporters of other militant Islamic groups.

Four years on and the reality has changed radically compared to the expectations that followed the January 25 Revolution, and the slogans that millions of Egyptians chanted in Tahrir Square over eighteen days, “The people want the downfall of the regime,” and “Bread, freedom and social justice.” Egyptians have witnessed political upheaval, the loss of thousands of lives, many failed expectations, and a deteriorating security and economy. Many of the private television channels and newspapers, mainly owned by tycoons close to the Mubarak regime, have interpreted the June 30, 2013 uprising as a chance for retribution against, not only political Islamic groups, but against the January 25 Revolution itself. They charge that the January 25 Revolution was responsible for bringing the Brotherhood to power in the first place, while January 25 youth and other liberal and leftist parties are portrayed as foreign agents taking part in a US conspiracy to create chaos and divide the Arab region.

Most observers agree, however, that the call to protest against Mubarak four years ago was influenced mainly by similar events in Tunisia that led to the removal of former Tunisian President Zein El Abidine Ben Ali. Secular, revolutionary youth movements mobilized the protests, while Brotherhood leaders, always cautious, originally shied away from backing the call for demonstrations on January 25, 2011. The group ordered its members to head to Tahrir Square in big numbers only after it became clear that Mubarak’s regime had been weakened tremendously and was expected to fall.

Radical, pro-January 25 Revolution youth groups also complain they feel betrayed and bitter because they took part in the uprising against the Brotherhood and sought an end to their rule, to restore the original goals of their January 25 Revolution and the aspirations to build a modern, democratic state. Instead, many of them currently find themselves under attack, or, worse, in prison because of the protest law approved by the government in late 2013, after Morsi’s ouster.

Abdel-Aziz Abdo, an April 6 Movement leader, said many similar groups are seriously considering the risks of marking the fourth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution on Sunday. He points to last year’s anniversary, when the Interior Ministry sponsored an official celebration to mark the occasion in Tahrir Square, providing metal detectors at main entrances to provide security. Mubarak’s picture was raised in Tahrir Square—the irony lost on those celebrating the very anniversary of the event that led to his ouster. Meanwhile, policemen chased members of revolutionary youth groups in the streets of downtown Cairo to prevent them from holding their own demonstrations. Over 100 were arrested, and one young man, Sayed Wezza, was shot dead.

Sisi told reporters accompanying him on a visit to the United Arab Emirates that some activists “who might have been held unjustly or committed small mistakes” would be released by presidential pardon. The pardon will coincide with the January 25 anniversary, and also aims to ease the political atmosphere ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held in March. It is not clear how many activists will be released, but the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said last week that it had compiled a list of nearly 200 activists who were either sentenced or continue to be held for violating the protest law, and were not involved in any acts of violence. But according to local media, the number of activists expected to be released ranges only between 60 and 70.

However, in the speech he delivered on Tuesday to mark the Police Day, Sisi minced no words confirming his long-standing view that this was not the time to hold demonstrations. “We are very keen to protect human rights, more than anyone,” Sisi said. “But I tell those who come to talk to me about human rights, what about the rights of millions of Egyptians who need education, health and jobs? Where is your help to me to provide those rights?” he asked. Sisi said that he did not only need to care for those make civil and democratic rights a priority, “but I have 90 million people, 40 percent of them or nearly 40 million people who are in need. Where are the rights of those people? We should not summarize human rights in freedom of expression only. We all need to work together to make our country better.”

Khaled Dawoud is currently Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Weekly, an English language weekly published by Egypt’s oldest news establishment, Al-Ahram. He is also the official spokesman of social-liberal Al-Dostour Party established by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. 

Image: Photo: Ahmed Abd El-Fatah (Flickr)