Five years after Mubarak’s downfall, Egypt still counts its losses
CAIRO - The economic and security costs of Egypt’s 2011 uprising were huge but many of the uprising’s political aspirations remain unfulfilled, experts and revolutionaries say.
The movement, which started on social media as an expression of anger against police brutality, undermined Egypt’s security apparatus, with ramifications that continue to reverberate.
“Tens of police stations were torched, several jails broken and tens of thousands of inmates let loose, including some who continue to stage attacks against police and army personnel,” retired police major-general Farouk Megrahi said. “A sizeable portion of the terrorism we suffer from now can be traced back to all this.”
According to the Egyptian Interior Ministry, 720 police officers have been killed and 18,000 others injured since the 2011 revolution, which started January 25th — usually Police Day. Over 18 days, Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where most of the protests occurred, became a worldwide symbol of political change.
The uprising ended president Hosni Mubarak’s three decades of rule. It also created an unprecedented security vacuum because of the wiping out of Egypt’s internal intelligence service, which collected information about terrorists, religious extremists and jihadists.
Some jihadists attacking the army and police in the Sinai peninsula and other areas are believed to have escaped from jail during the uprising.
The Muslim Brotherhood stood back from participating in the uprising at first but joined in after the security system collapsed. The Brotherhood spearheaded attacks on internal intelligence offices and, when it took power, worked to eliminate the service, which had closely monitored its violent members.
Egyptian officials needed a long time to re-establish a new internal secret service from scratch.
Five years after the uprising Egypt continues to suffer economic losses, especially in tourism.
“Tourists came in their millions and revenues from all economic sectors in their billions,” said Yumn al-Hamaqi, a Cairo University economics professor. “There were enough foreign currency reserves in the Central Bank to cover our country’s imports for a long time.”
Egypt under Mubarak annually attracted 12 million foreign tourists who injected $14 billion into the economy. The country has since struggled to come close to this figure. In 2015, 9.3 million tourists visited Egypt, down 6% from the number of tourists visiting in 2014, according to the Tourism Ministry. Tourism revenues were $6.1 billion in 2015, down 15% from the year before, it says.
When Mubarak stepped down, there was $36 billion in foreign currency reserves in Egypt’s coffers. Now, the reserves are less than $17 billion, although Egypt has received about $20 billion in financial assistance from Gulf countries since June 2013.
With oil prices reaching record lows and its Gulf friends suffering budget deficits, Egypt is turning to the World Bank for help, reportedly seeking up to $6 billion in loans. Egypt has also tried to woo investors by launching a series of major projects, including a huge industrial hub near the Suez Canal.
The political gains Egypt made from Mubarak’s overthrow do not equal the security and economic devastation it sustained as a result.
Egypt seems to be politically going back to square one. Most of the symbols of the anti-Mubarak uprising languish in jail; political freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly, the revolution opened the door to are eroding; and the police abuses are again apparent, revolutionaries say.
Almost all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including former president Muhammad Morsi, are also in jail. Morsi is blamed by many of causing the military’s return to power by failing to unite Egypt or address its economic and political woes during his one-year rule.
In contrast, Mubarak’s two sons and most of the figures of his regime, who were imprisoned at the beginning of the 2011 revolt for corruption, embezzlement and use of force against protesters, are out of jail.
The military is back in power with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former defence minister, holding power after elections generally seen as free and fair. Sisi enjoys massive public support.
“Five years after the revolution, youths are still far away from political empowerment, although they were at the forefront of it,” said Tarek al-Kholi, one of the Tahrir Square revolutionaries. “The revolution failed to translate into a political project on the ground, which is, I think, the reason for all its shortcomings.”
Nevertheless, Kholi, in his late 30s, is now a member of parliament, 40% of whose members are younger than 45 years old.