Sunday, April 18News For London

Arab Spring five years on – success or failure?

From her cell, she reached out to fellow revolutionaries in Egypt: “Are we defeated and has the revolution ended?” asked Maheinour El-Massry.  

Egyptians pprotesting in Tahir Square, 18 November, 2011. (Photo: Lilian Wagdy)
Egyptians protesting in Tahrir Square, 18 November, 2011. (Photo: Lilian Wagdy)

The popular human rights activist and lawyer is still serving a fifteen-month prison sentence for “protesting without authorization”in Egypt.

Through a message on Facebook – posted on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the revolution – she encouraged Egyptians not to lose hope because they had not lost the fight against the current oppressive regime.

“The regime, however, feels that they have won, but is this the correct and decisive answer? Are we defeated and has the revolution ended? We made mistakes sometimes, we were defeated sometimes. We were arrogant sometimes and hopeless at other times, but we are still in the fighting ring”.

The success or failure of the 2011 protests that toppled long-term dictator, Hosni Mubarak, has been a topic for discussion over the past weeks.

In London, the Middle East Society of the London School of Economics and the Frontline Club have discussed this issue at forums where analysts and campaigners shared different thoughts.

Panel discussing Egypt revolution at the London School of Economics. From left to right: Jack Shenker, Zeyad Salem, Nadine Marroushi and Dr Omar Ashour. (Photo: Adelaide Arthur)
Panel discussing Egypt revolution at the London School of Economics. From left to right: Jack Shenker, Zeyad Salem, Nadine Marroushi and Dr Omar Ashour. (Photo: Adelaide Arthur)

Success or failure?

The revolution has failed, the analysts say. The current situation is even worse than the conditions that sparked the protests. The current regime, they believe, has not given the people what it promised.

“This is a regime that undoubtedly secured a measure of popular support in 2013 and the support was predicated on a promise to provide security or in the regime’s words, can prosecute successfully this so-called war on terrorism and provide people with highest standard of living and economic stability.

“Now the regime has failed miserably on both fronts. Terrorism attacks are on all-time high, economic security is very very far away,” said Jack Shenker, former journalist of The Guardian and author of The Egyptians: A Radical Story.

Senior lecturer in Security Studies at the University of Exeter, Dr Omar Ashlar’s thoughts were not different.

“It did not bring about democratic transition in Egypt. It did not put control over the armed forces. The slogans, the dignity, the bread, the freedoms and the social justice were not achieved.”

Dramatic events have unfolded in the north African country in just five years. An elected government was removed in a coup in 2013. This was after long-serving dictator, Hosni Mubarak was overthrown by popular protests in 2011.

It seems the freedom that thousands of Egyptians lost their lives for is still no where in sight after half a decade. But campaigners and revolutionaries believe they have not been defeated.

Protesters take to the street in Alexandria, Egypt on 28/1/2011. (Photo: Zeyad Salem)
Protesters take to the street in Alexandria, Egypt on 28/1/2011. (Photo: Zeyad Salem)

“It’s very much an on-going struggle that continues till this day,” said Amnesty International human rights campaigner, Nadine Marroushi.

For her, the revolution cannot be strictly classified as a failure or success. “You’ve had revolutionaries that have made gains, and the state that has tried to push back against those gains.”

Zeyad Salem protested in the streets of Alexandria and had a close shave with death. But he does not think his efforts have been wasted. “It had its ups and downs but it created a wave of change that is obvious on the social level, which is the real backbone of any change politically.”

Egypt in a dark place

Egyptians are more oppressed today than they were under Hosni Mubarak according to analysts who describe the current regime as “aggressive”.

“Mubarak at least allowed some kind of activism. Mubarak is Mother Theresa compared to Siisi,” Dr Ashour told the audience at the forum organized by the Middle East Society of the London School of Economics.

Shenker added: “attacks on journalists, mass imprisonment and degree of intimidation show Egypt is in a very dark place.”

Could Egypt have avoided this troubled phase if the first elected leader after the revolution had acted in a democratic manner? Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow in 2013 after just a year in office, according to analysts, was as a result of his counter revolutionary rule which created dissatisfaction among citizens.

“People voted for Morsi because he represented something new. But he put himself above the law; different sections felt excluded; people became more frustrated,” said Nadine Marroushi.

According to Shenker: “Morsi wasn’t a democratic leader. He was autocratic. He protected the security and economic system the revolutionists were trying to get rid of.”

Filled with dreams of freedom

Narrowly missing a teargas canister will be enough to scare off some people but Mr Salem won’t give up the fight as he is hopeful that freedom from tyranny would eventually come.

Many Twitter users are optimistic as they remember the event using the hashtag #Jan25.

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Twitter users have been remembering the event with the hashtag #jan25.

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Jailed activist, Maheinour El-Massry still dreams of freedom. “This is the fifth year of the Revolution… I almost cannot believe that five years have passed since the chants of “the people want(ing) to bring down the system” and “Bread… Freedom… Social Justice… Human Dignity” … Maybe this is because even in my cell I am filled with dreams of freedom and with hope.”

The revolution may be seen as a failure by some people and success by others. But both sides agree that the regime, which once thought of itself as “invincible” is now “weak” and “profoundly vulnerable”.