On 28 January 2011, the rapid collapse of Habib Al-Adly’s troops in front of the popular uprising was astounding for everyone, including the military, the State Security apparatus, and all the regime’s senior staff. The popular outrage was far beyond their expectations, more infiltrating than what they prepared themselves for, and went above their ability to repress it.
The interior ministry possessed a fully equipped army and they imagined that such an army was capable of suppressing double of what the opposition could mobilise, at least in Cairo. Nonetheless, the people came out from every corner, and they could not control the crowds. After the police forces withdrew from the streets and abandoned their strongholds in the police stations, which were burned down, the army moved into the streets. The army, I believe, was astonished by the reaction of the people. The soliders expected the scenario of 1977 to be repeated when the protesters withdrew once the army appeared.
The military did not need to fire a single shot during the so-called Bread Uprising in January 1977. But this was not repeated in 2011 and so the old guard began to prepare for a counter offence by mobilising thugs against the protesters. Thus was the attack on 2 February, which became known as “the battle of the camel.” Between 28 January and 10 February, the Egyptian armed forces were hoping for a swift transition of power, and their best scenario was that Mubarak completes his period and the protesters go back home. Their alternative scenario was that General Omar Suleiman take office after he had been sworn in as the vice-president on 29 January.
Here one must notice the conversations that occurred between Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the then manager of the military intelligence, and a group of activists who were arrested from the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre on 3 February 2022, including the late notorious human rights lawyer, Ahmed Seif Al-Islam. The general, Sisi, demanded the activists to urge the youth protesters to wait for the end of Mubarak’s presidential period, but Seif Al-Islam refused and told the general that the wheel of time has begun, and no one can turn it back.
The most terrifying thing when we speculate over the experience of 2011 is that the post-2013 regime does not seem to have learnt its lesson. The uprising has undoubtedly had an influence extending beyond Mubarak’s regime onto all the pillars of the state, which was weakened in front of all its adversaries including Gulf and African competitors as well as Israel. Those who speculate on the experience objectively would know that the popular outrage that exploded against the police and the State Security headquarters was not a foreign conspiracy or a domestic plot. It was, rather, a collective indignation of the inflating iniquity and tyranny, and despair of a reform from inside the system after daily practice of humiliation against the citizens. However, the state institutions see the 25 January Revolution as the most dangerous mutiny the Egyptian state has known. The revolution was an incarnation of all the crimes and vices in the dictionary of the post July 1952 state, which is topped by the violation and disobedience of state orders.
The Egyptian security and military institutions distinguish the 28 January uprising from the 25 January protests. According to them, 25 January was usual protests and a chance to readjust Mubarak’s regime, while 28 January was a mutiny against the state itself. The Egyptian state strongly believes there was foreign influence behind the 28 January uprising. This belief is not based on information or even deductions, but on a conviction that the Egyptian people have limited ambitions and capabilities and were not able to carry out a popular uprising which accumulated from years of injustice.
Since the first revolution in Egyptian Pharaonic history until the April 2008 uprising in Mahalla, the Egyptian state has managed to keep the popular movements within the state’s red lines. Even when a popular uprising succeeded to overthrow the ruler in 1805, it was controlled by Nobles who were respected by the state. This was not the case with the 25 January Revolution in 2011, as the people challenged the state’s red lines, and the state institutions cannot forgive them.