The causes of the Egyptian January 25th revolution are still present and persistent

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The main slogan raised by the demonstrators during the revolution of January 25th, 2011, was “Bread… Freedom… Social Justice”, but despite 12 years after the revolution, none of these demands has been achieved, and it does not seem that there is any near horizon for their realisation. Therefore, political and social experts believe that the seeds of revolution are still dormant within Egyptian society, waiting for the right opportunity to grow again and that the attempts of the regime to eliminate these seeds will not succeed because it uses repression to quell the revolution instead of implementing popular demands.

A society that struggles to get “bread”

When the January 2011 revolution broke out, the poverty rate in Egypt was 25.2%, equivalent to 20 million citizens out of a population of 79 million at the time. According to the latest official figures, the poverty rate before the Corona pandemic was 29.7%, equivalent to 30 million citizens. The extreme poverty rate (the inability to spend on food alone, “the cost of survival”) reached 4.5%, equivalent to 4.5 million people. In 2019, the World Bank, which cooperates with the Egyptian government in many development programs, estimated that “60% of Egypt’s population is either poor or at risk of poverty.” Until now, no official figures give an actual poverty rate after the Corona pandemic, but many studies expected it to increase significantly. In May 2020, a study issued by the Governmental National Planning Institute said that the effects of Corona might lead to an increase in the poverty rate between 5.5 and 12.2%, equivalent to between 5.6 million and 12.5 million people, according to the population at the time.

Although no official figures have been announced about the poverty rate after the economic crisis that the country has witnessed since the beginning of the year 2022. The subsequent financial measures, most notably the flotation of the pound and the rise in the price of the dollar from 15.7 pounds to 29.9 pounds, the few announced indicators indicate that the conditions are horrible. And the number of poor reached a record level. When the governments that followed the January 25th revolution implemented the minimum wage (1,200 pounds per month), it was equivalent to about $200. Although the government minimum wage was recently raised to 3,000 thousand pounds per month, it is only equal to $100 at current exchange rates.

The prices of electricity and fuel of all kinds, and the cost of public transportation, have multiplied several times over the last decade. In 2011, the price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity ranged between 5 piasters for the lowest consumption segment and 67 piasters for the highest segment. The cost of a kilowatt of electricity ranges between 48 and 145 piasters—an increase of nearly 1000% for the lowest and 116% for the highest consumption segment. Fuel prices in 2011 ranged between EGP 1.5 and EGP 2.75 per litre, depending on quality. Now, gasoline prices range between 7.25 and 10.75 pounds. It increases between 291% and 380%. At the same time, the price of a domestic gas cylinder increased from 2.5 pounds in 2011 to 85 pounds, an increase of more than 3000%.

In 2011, a broad middle class of 44% of the population maintained the societal and state balance. Over the past decade, successive economic crises and government economic policies have dropped the middle class. According to a Fitch report, the size of the Egyptian middle class in 2021 reached about 34.3%, meaning it has shrunk by about 10% in 10 years. Many experts believe that the stormy economic crisis that the country is currently experiencing has led to the erosion of the middle class in a huge way.

Expansion of human rights violations

The Egyptians chose January 25th for the revolution against Hosni Mubarak’s regime because of the date, as it coincides with “police’s day”, the most significant and most potent repressive apparatus in the country, which for decades was the stick of the Mubarak regime to oppress the people. The first institutions attacked by the revolutionaries were police stations. Dozens of police stations and unofficial detention centres were burned and destroyed in a sign of great wrath. Twelve years have passed, but the police apparatus has not changed. On the contrary, its violations have increased and become legalised. According to human rights organisations, torture, enforced disappearance, and murder have become essential tools used by the police in dealing with citizens in general, not just with opponents, amid the full complicity of the Public Prosecution and the judiciary.

Last January 2022, the British Guardian newspaper published video clips showing police officers torturing detainees in a police station in Cairo Governorate. The video, which a detainee secretly took, shows detainees suspended by their arms cuffed behind their backs in a metal grate while they were topless. One of the detainees says in the video: “Look how they torture our comrades and us. They came to us and said that we were next.” Then he directs his speech to the President, saying: “Mr President, we want to ask why the police are doing this to us in Al-Salam First Police Station?!” The video went viral, prompting the Ministry of Interior to issue a statement denying the incident’s authenticity, stressing that the videos were fabricated by the “Muslim Brotherhood” and spread rumours and lies about the Egyptian state. Also, instead of transparently investigating the incidents of torture to reach the perpetrators and achieve justice, the Egyptian Public Prosecution conspired with the police to close the case by claiming that “the detainees inflicted injuries on themselves using a coin and filmed the video at the instigation of parties inside and outside the country, to stir up sedition and spread rumours in the country.”

The prosecution referred all 23 people who appeared in the torture videos and all those to whom the video clips were sent to trial before an exceptional terrorism court on charges of “joining and financing a terrorist group, broadcasting false news, participating in and helping to broadcast it, possessing two recording devices and broadcasting two phones, carried to record and broadcast false news.” Harsh sentences were issued. According to human rights reports, the arrested were subjected to many violations, including enforced disappearance and the placement of a child in an adult detention centre. The prosecution did not investigate, and during the investigations, they were not asked any questions to ascertain the fact of the assault against them. Last November, the court specialised in “terrorism cases” issued a sentence of life imprisonment for nine defendants (the victims), 13 others to 15 years imprisonment, and a 17-year-old to five years imprisonment. The case was closed after this.

Police officers and personnel enjoy immunity from legal prosecution, and if public anger in some cases causes some individuals to be brought to trial, they are subsequently compensated. A press report published last October documented that the Egyptian authorities allowed 17 officers and policemen convicted and accused of torturing citizens to death in police stations to return to their work in police stations, the Ministry of Interior and sovereign bodies after a presidential pardon was issued for some of them. In another indication of the unprecedented expansion of violations, mass trials and special rulings that are not subject to appeal are still in place. A few days ago, an Egyptian court sentenced 39 people to 25 years in prison, and 44 others, including 23 children, to rigorous imprisonment for periods ranging from 5 to 15 years, in the case known in the media as the “Joker case”, which dates back to demonstrations that erupted in September 2019.

Many lawyers and jurists described the sentences as highly harsh, utterly disproportionate to the accusations, and that they are not subject to appeal or veto (except for those tried in absentia) and await the ratification of the military ruler (the President of the Republic or his authorised representative) only to become final. During the past year alone, only three terrorism courts renewed the detention of more than 31,000 defendants in political cases, according to a human rights report. At least 48 detainees died inside prisons and police stations due to medical negligence and lack of health care.

Social justice is absent

Egypt ranked 117th globally in the Corruption Perceptions Index for the year 2021. It had the same rank in 2020 and 11 places lower than in 2019. This is the second-worst rank Egypt has achieved in the last ten years. Egypt achieved only 33 points in the index, less than the global average (43 points) and the average of the Middle East and North Africa (39 points). Egypt ranks 135th, out of 140 countries, in the 2022 Rule of Law Index issued by the Global Justice Project. According to the organisation, one of the reasons for this low rank is the weakness of the civil justice system and its corruption, submission to the influences of the executive authority, the slow litigation process, and the incompetence of judges.

Nepotism dominates various sectors of the state, and it has issued laws to allow certain people to remain in office. Last July, it has been approved a legislative amendment allowed the President’s brother to remain head of the “Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing” unit in the Central Bank indefinitely, even after he reaches the age of 70 in June 2023, which is the judicial retirement age. Sisi’s sons work in significant positions in the state. One of them works in the General Intelligence Service, and he now holds the rank of brigadier general and is considered the second most important figure in the agency. He is also responsible for managing the media scene in Egypt, and he had a prominent role in the constitutional amendments that took place in 2018 and allowed the President to continue in office until 2030. The eldest son assumes a leadership role in the Administrative Control Authority, which has expanded its role in recent years in exposing state workers’ administrative, financial and technical violations. The youngest son recently moved to work in the General Intelligence Service after working in an oil company.

The President regularly renews the appointment of his son-in-law, father-in-law of his daughter Aya, to the post of governor of South Sinai, the most famous tourist governorate in the country. Fouda has held the position for 11 years and is the longest governor in Egypt’s history, despite his failure and the numerous complaints of his misconduct, including harassment. On the other hand, nepotism and inheritance dominate in also in the judiciary and public prosecution. Last July, a decision was issued to appoint 260 Faculties of Law, Sharia, and Law graduates to the State Cases Authority (an independent judicial body that legally represents the government before the courts), including at least 80 people who have first-degree relatives in various judicial bodies. And in 2021, two decisions were issued appointing 411 advisors to the State Council, including more than 70 of the sons of the Council’s advisors, while the rest of the appointments were distributed to the children of advisors to the Courts of Cassation and Criminal Courts, police officers, and university professors.