The millions of Egyptians who demonstrated in Tahrir Square and throughout the country last year brought with them a wide range of grievances. Some were frustrated with a lack of political freedom, others with a stagnant economy, still others with widespread human rights abuses.
The responsibility for fulfilling their demands has fallen mostly to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the 18-member military council which has ruled Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11.
The interim government has made some progress, particularly in the political sphere, where it has carried out parliamentary elections and established a timeline for a presidential ballot and the drafting of a new constitution.
But the SCAF has done little on other fronts: It has yet to lift the country’s decades-old state of emergency, reform Egypt’s notorious security services, or abolish military tribunals, and revolutionaries would argue that their near-constant protests are the only reason there has been any progress at all.
Click on the items below, or scroll down, for more information.
|Dissolve parliament and outlaw the National Democratic Party|
|Suspend the constitution and prepare a new one|
|Reform the electoral system|
|Hold free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections|
|Arrest and try former regime officials|
|Lift the state of emergency|
|Accountability for violence during/since revolution|
|Reform the security forces and the military|
|Release political prisoners and abolish military trials|
|Reform state media|
|Improve the country’s economic position|
The SCAF dissolved both houses of Egypt’s parliament on February 13, just two days after Mubarak stepped down, but the National Democratic Party (NDP) – Mubarak’s dominant political vehicle for three years – was not immediately banned from public life.
Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister appointed by Mubarak during the revolution, was allowed to remain in office for more than a month. He was dumped in early March because of pressure from activists who considered him part of Mubarak’s old guard.
The NDP was finally disbanded in mid-April, not by SCAF, but by the country’s Supreme Administrative Court.
Activists complain that remnants of the old regime – the so-called felool – are busy trying to reconstitute the NDP under different names.
A series of lower court rulings barred former NDP officials from running in the recent parliamentary elections, but those decisions were overturned on appeal, and SCAF refused to issue its own decree blocking the felool from public office. Instead it approved a vaguely-worded law barring anyone convicted of “political corruption”; activists derided the decree as useless, and indeed it was never used.
(Regardless, the remnants of the NDP did not make impressive gains in elections for the lower house of parliament: Sixteen parties ran felool candidates, according to a web site that tracks them, but those parties collectively won just 13 of the 498 seats up for grabs.)
The drafting of a new constitution has been one of the most divisive issues for the activists who sparked Egypt’s revolution.
On paper, things seem to be moving in the right direction. The old constitution was suspended on February 13, the same day SCAF dissolved parliament, and the generals quickly moved to prepare a package of constitutional amendments, which was overwhelmingly approved by a public referendum on March 19.
One of those amendments requires parliament to appoint a 100-member constitutional assembly within six months of taking office. That assembly will draft a new constitution and put it to a public referendum, according to the SCAF’s stated timeline for returning power to a civilian government.
But activists have complained for months that the timeline should have been reversed: a constitution first, then elections.
It’s easy to see why: The new parliament, which will appoint the constitutional assembly, is overwhelmingly made up of Islamists, while liberal parties affiliated with Egypt’s revolutionaries won less than a quarter of the available seats. Their role in the constitutional assembly, in other words, will probably be a limited one.
For decades, Egypt’s electoral system was rigged to keep Hosni Mubarak in office and ensure an overwhelming majority for his National Democratic Party.
After the NDP faced its one significant challenge, during the 2005 parliamentary election, Mubarak amended the constitution and made other changes to electoral laws. The result was a 2010 poll which human rights groups dubbed the “most fraudulent election ever.”
Egypt’s interim rulers have taken meaningful steps to level the playing field. One of the constitutional amendments approved in March did away with the most onerous provisions of article 76, which had made it nearly impossible for independent candidates to run for president.
The SCAF-approved changes also reinstated full judicial oversight of elections, which Mubarak abolished in 2007, and limited presidents to two four-year terms (instead of an unlimited number of six-year terms).
The High Election Commission, rather than the interior ministry, now administers the polls. And Egyptians are now allowed to vote using their national ID cards, rather than voting cards, which the regime often used as a tool for fraud and disenfranchisement.
It was an almost absurdly complicated process – thousands of candidates, two different electoral systems, three stages of voting staggered over six weeks – but the interim government has nonetheless pulled off Egypt’s first free and fair election in more than half a century.
More than 25 million people cast their vote, some 54 per cent of the electorate; contrast that with the last Mubarak-era election, in 2010, when voter turnout was closer to 10 per cent, according to independent human rights groups. They gave the largest bloc of votes to the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The vote was not without problems, of course. Dozens of polling places opened late, sometimes because ballot papers had not arrived, other times because the election judges got lost on the way. Representatives from political parties routinely broke the ban on election-day campaigning, and occasional violence was reported in places like Suez and South Sinai, where Bedouin tribesmen cut a main road after the Brotherhood’s candidate defeated theirs.
Still, there were no major irregularities reported, certainly nothing on par with the Mubarak era, when ballot-stuffing was routine and armed thugs often showed up to intimidate voters.
But the job is not finished: Elections for the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, are scheduled to start later this month and conclude in February. Then the focus will shift to the main event, a presidential ballot planned for June, which was moved up from an undefined date in 2013 only after major protests and violence in November.
Activists have been frustrated with that timeline; many had hoped to finish the parliamentary and presidential ballots last year, hastening the military’s exit from politics.
The scene was almost unthinkable a year ago: Hosni Mubarak, the president-for-life dubbed “the Pharaoh,” wheeled into a courthouse on a hospital bed, forced to answer to a judge on charges of corruption and unlawfully killing protesters.
But Mubarak really has been arrested and placed on trial, along with a lengthy list of other regime officials. Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, are on trial with their father, both accused of profiteering from his position. His former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, could face the death penalty for murder charges.
Former finance minister Yousef Boutros-Ghali was convicted in absentia of corruption and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Anas el-Fikki, the former information minister, is locked up for seven years for “squandering public money.”
The list of prisoners also includes well-connected businessmen: Steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz was convicted of corruption; Hussein Salem, whose company allegedly sold gas to Israel at below-market prices, was arrested in Spain. He is being tried in absentia pending his extradition.
The trials have been far from perfect, though, particularly Mubarak’s. Prosecution and defence have been given only a few days to present their complex cases. Yet the process has dragged on for months because of lengthy adjournments.
And there is one name conspicuously missing from the list of arrested officials: General Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s right-hand man and Egypt’s longtime intelligence chief. He was arguably complicit in many of the regime’s abuses over the past few decades, yet he seems to have escaped prosecution, and was even free to travel abroad to Saudi Arabia last year, where he met with Crown Prince Nayef.
The abuses which defined the Mubarak era – warrantless arrests, indefinite detention, violent crackdowns on public demonstrations – were all made legally permissible by the country’s hated emergency law, which remains mostly in place.
Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the SCAF, announced on Tuesday that the state of emergency would be lifted on the anniversary of the revolution, January 25, but still used in cases of “thuggery.” Given the military’s willingness to use force against protesters it deemed “thugs” on many occasions in the past year, activists don’t believe that concession is very meaningful.
The law took effect in 1981, after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and was renewed every three years by parliament. Mubarak promised during the 2006 presidential campaign that he would repeal the law, but broke that promise after his re-election.
Activists wanted the law repealed immediately after the revolution, but an early communique from the SCAF promised to drop it only “once the current circumstances end.” The ruling generals clarified that statement in September, telling Egyptians that the law would continue at least until after presidential elections in June.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the largest bloc of seats in the recent parliamentary elections, have promised that repealing the law will be one of their top priorities after taking office.
More than 800 people were killed during the revolution, and 11,000 wounded. Violence against protesters has continued in the year since then, with hundreds killed and thousands more arbitrarily detained.
And there has been almost no accountability for the police and soldiers involved: Only one low-level police officer has been convicted for his role in the year-long crackdown.
Egypt’s feared security services are still free to attack protesters with impunity. The Central Security Force has been deployed several times, most notably in November, when they fought a days-long battle on streets in downtown Cairo. Forty-one people were killed and more than 2,000 wounded, many from tear gas inhalation.
The army said during the revolution that it would not attack Egyptians, and it has sometimes tried to stay in the background, serving as a buffer between the protesters and the police.
But it too has committed abuses – the army admitted performing virginity tests on 17 female protesters in March – and in recent months it has taken an increasingly direct role in attacking protesters. Military police viciously attacked a sit-in outside the cabinet building in December: They climbed on top of neighbouring buildings and threw stones, glass panels and even furniture at protesters.
Soldiers then attacked demonstrators in Tahrir Square, beating them with sticks and setting fire to their tents. One group of soldiers dragged a woman through the street and stomped on her chest, while another was seen firing a gun into a crowd of demonstrators.
To understand why Egypt’s discredited interior ministry has undergone little reform, look no further than the interior minister himself.
Mohamed Ibrahim, who was appointed to the post in November, spent decades working in general security, including a stint in Upper Egypt in the 1990s, when fundamentalists staged several high-profile attacks there.
His last security post was a stint as security chief in Giza between 2004 and 2006, when forces under his command violently broke up a sit-in staged by Sudanese refugees in the Mohandiseen district. Twenty-seven refugees were killed, and hundreds injured.
With the interior ministry’s senior ranks largely intact, it is little surprise that there have been no comprehensive reforms, nor a reconciliation process for dealing with the decades of abuses under Mubarak’s rule. Changes have instead been mostly cosmetic, such as when the hated State Security Service was disbanded in March, only for many of its employees to be transferred to a new National Security Force.
It’s also too early to tell if the new government will be able to limit the military’s power. The SCAF tried last year to push through a series of “supra-constitutional” measures, which would have kept its budget secret and given generals a kind of legislative veto power over laws related to the army.
Those proposals were blocked, but the army will almost certainly try to maintain its privileged position in Egyptian society.
Rather than abolishing military trials, SCAF has expanded their use: More than 12,000 people have been tried in military courts since January, 2011, exceeding the number of people tried in similar fashion during Mubarak’s entire three-decades long rule.
SCAF tried to placate activists recently when it announced pardons for 1,959 people sentenced by tribunals. But that decision leaves more than 1,400 people in military jails – and by pardoning them, rather than vacating their sentences, it sought to preserve their guilt.
Several high-profile military investigations have become rallying points for the opposition. Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a prominent blogger and activist, was arrested in October on charges of inciting violence against the military. He refused to be interrogated by military police, and was jailed for nearly two months until a judge ordered his release. His detention sparked angry protests in Tahrir Square.
Another blogger, Maikel Nabil, was jailed for nearly a year because of a blog post he wrote in March that was critical of the military. Nabil staged a four-month hunger strike to protest his detention. The military, likely trying to deflate the anniversary protests scheduled for January 25, released him on Tuesday.
Egypt has seen a proliferation of new media outlets since the revolution. More than a dozen new television channels have applied for licences, and while broadcasters still have “red lines” the cannot easily cross – criticising the military, for example – the political debate has expanded over the last twelve months.
Several new publications have launched, too, many of them newspapers affiliated with political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood launched its first-ever newspaper in October, and the new Tahrir newspaper has taken up the cause of the revolution, most famously in December blaring a red headline calling the military “liars” after they attacked a sit-in at the parliament building and dragged a girl through the streets.
A majority of Egyptians, though, still get their news from state-run radio and television, and (to a lesser extent) official newspapers like El-Gomhuria. None of them are known for their objectivity.
There were a few positive steps to reform the state media immediately after Mubarak’s resignation: SCAF disbanded the information ministry and sacked the heads of the state broadcasting authority (often referred to as “Maspero,” after the building in downtown Cairo where it is housed).
But SCAF quickly installed one of its own, General Tarek el-Mahdi, to head Maspero, and months later the state media sounds little different than they did during the revolution.
State television continues to play up fears of “foreign hands” meddling in Egypt. Pro-democracy activists are portrayed as the puppets of “outside agendas.” These accusations have helped create a deepening xenophobia in Egypt; dozens of foreigners have been rounded up by committees of “concerned citizens” and handed over to local police.
Former regime officials continue to enjoy sympathetic interviews in state media, while the voices of activists are decidedly underrepresented.
The state media has also stoked sectarian tensions, particularly on October 9, when the army clashed with a group of mostly Christian protesters outside Maspero; presenters on state television urged Egyptians to “protect the army from the Copts.”
A strong desire for social justice helped to fuel the revolution, but despite a few positive steps, most Egyptians still find themselves in dire circumstances – half the country lives on just $2 per day – and the macroeconomic picture is far worse than it was before the revolution.
The interim government has made a few changes to improve standards of living. In July, it raised the minimum wage for public-sector employees to 700 Egyptian pounds ($116) per month; the previous level was an unbelievable 35 pounds ($6) per month, a figure unchanged since 1984.
In September it awarded the same rights to private-sector workers, their first-ever minimum wage in Egypt.
The corporate income tax has also been raised, and the government will boost its spending this year on subsidies which cover everything from bread to gasoline.
But the overall picture is of an economy in free-fall. Egypt’s foreign-currency reserves have fallen every month since the revolution; the central bank now holds about $18bn, down from $36bn in January 2011. Tourism revenues plunged by 30 per cent last year, pulling $3.7bn out of the Egyptian economy, according to official statistics – and Egyptians who work in the tourism field say those numbers are probably too optimistic.
Many Egyptians are predicting an imminent collapse in the value of the pound, already trading at more than 6 on the dollar, its lowest level in seven years.
The country also continues to face crippling fuel shortages. The government has struggled to explain why many petrol stations in Cairo have run out of gasoline. And violent protests have erupted over shortages of the subsidised butane cylinders many Egyptians use for cooking. The official price is 5 pounds ($0.82), but black marketeers have been buying up the cylinders and reselling them for as much as 40 pounds ($6.60).