Egypt: Egypt's Arab Spring (2011-2012)

Updated January 2012

'The Arab spring', a string of events that started with the Tunisian revolution in December 2010. The uprising in Tunisia, which led to the fall of President Ben Ali's government, resonated in other countries in the region, including Egypt, Libya and Syria. The revolution started on 25 January 2011 in Egypt, when young Egyptians mobilised and organised 'the day of rage', and came out in their numbers to register their dissatisfaction over the corruption, lack of freedom of speech, rise in food prices, high unemployment, low wages and the enrichment of the ruling class. The key demands of revolutionaries included the resignation of President Mubarak, the abolition of the Emergency Law, the abolition of the State Security Investigation, and the right to publish newspapers without prior authorization. It was also a clear indication of the desperate need of citizens to shape their own destiny against the backdrop of social and economic stagnation.It was also a clear indication of the desperate need of citizens to shape their own destiny against the backdrop of social and economic stagnation.

The protests that started from Tahrir Square spread across the country, much as the government attempted to suppress the protests, citizens were resilient and continued to mobilise. The events in Egypt also took on a global dimension with the use of social media such as facebook and twitter to broadcast the human rights abuses and mobilise international support. As events progressed, President Mubarak made promises of reforms to the protesters, but this was insufficient to meet their demands. On 11 February 2011, the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak was announced.

After Mubarak's resignation on 11 February 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) announced that it would remain in charge of the country until the election of a new president. The military, headed by de facto Head of State Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, suspended the 1971 Constitution, dissolved the People's Assembly and the Shura Council and and disbanded Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). After a referendum of March 2011, the SCAF issued a Constitutional Declaration which served as the country's fundamental law for the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011 and 012 elections that followed. The turnout of the referendum was 41.2% of 45 million eligible voters, and 77% approved the constitutional changes. Thechanges endorsed in the referendum and promulgated by the SCAF included:

  • Limiting the terms of the president to two consecutive terms of four years each;
  • obliging the president to choose a deputy within 30 days of election;
  • requiring that presidential candidates with be at least 40 years old and not married to a non-Egyptian; and
  • entrenching judicial supervision of the entire electoral process.

The election for the People's Assembly was conducted was conducted in three phases from 28 November 2011 to 11 January 2012. The Democratic Alliance party coalition, led by the Muslim Brotherhood orientated Freedom and Justice Party, won 46% of the seats, while the Salafist coalition, the Al Nour led Islamist Alliance, obtained 25% of the seats (see 2011/2012 People's Assembly election results. Third came the New Wafd Party, which had withdrawn from the Democratic Alliance shortly before the election with 8.4% of the seats, followed by the other large secularist grouping in the House, the Egyptian Bloc, which won just less than 7% of the seats, the remainder seats being taken by independents and 11 other parties. The election of the Shura Council, the Egyptian upper legislative house, was held in two phases from 29 January 2012 to 22 February 2012. The Democratic Alliance won 58% of the seats, the Islamist Alliance 25%, The New Wafd Party 8% and the Egyptian Bloc 4.4%, the remainer going to independents (2.2%) the Freedom party (.7%( and the Democratic Peace Party (0.6%; see 2012 Sura Council election results).

A presidential election followed in June 2012, in a tense environment (see Political environment of presidential elections). As with the earlier parliamentary elections, the liberals and seculars who ignited the revolution failed to mobilise and unite themselves so as to ensure their success in the first round of the presidential election, and the runoff was conducted between Mohamed El Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood aligned Freedom and Justice Party and Ahmed Shafik, an independent, who represented the interests of and the longing for a return to order and stability represented by the pre-revolutionary military dominated authoritarian order (see 2012 Presidential election results). The outcome was a victory for Mursi who obtained 52% in the second round and who then resigned from the Freedom and Justice Party and explained that this was a gesture towards the citizens of Egypt to assure the that he will be the president of all the people of Egypt and respect all sectors of the society.

Just 48 hours before the presidential election runoff, however, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the Parliamentary Election Law was unconstitutional and the parliamentary laws invalid, opening the way for Parliament's dissolution by the SCAF. In a rushed process and amid much controvercy a Draft Constitution was drawn up and submitted to a December 2012 referendum in which it was endorced by 64% of the electorate, though with a low turnout of 33% (see December 2012 Constitutional referendum results). Fresh elections in terms of the new Constitution were expected to be held within two months of the referendum in late February of early March 2013.