25 January Revolution: A decade of upheaval, setbacks, challenges, and successes

Mohamed Samir
35 Min Read

Egypt’s 25 January Revolution: On this day a decade ago, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to make various demands of their government.

The demands were, namely, an end to police brutality, bread, freedom, social justice, and eventually the fall of the regime. On 11 February, Egyptians celebrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after former president and National Democratic Party (NDP) head Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

Amid remarkable scenes of mass protests with real momentum, it seemed that the uprisings were about more than just removing autocrats. At their heart, they were a mass demand by the public for better governance, rule of law, as well as an improved economy and greater rights.

Egypt endured a tumultuous few years that saw the end of the long-running Mubarak era, only to be replaced by the brief and disastrous rule of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was later ousted after the 30 June Revolution.

Many observers view the regional uprising, dubbed the Arab Spring, as a mistake. This view assumes that had the series of uprisings, which started in Tunisia on 17 December 2010, not occurred, the apparent stability under authoritarian rule in these countries would have endured for the foreseeable future.

Many view the current conflicts, civil wars, insurgencies, and the reinstatement of authoritarianism in some countries in the region as outcomes of the uprising.

Ten years later, Egypt has been through extreme ups and downs, facing a myriad of social, political, and economic challenges.

Power vacuums resulted in extremist groups only getting stronger, and conflicts have devastated economies in the region. Egypt’s economy has been suffering in the post-2011 revolution era, with political instability, in addition to regional security concerns, having had an additional negative effect, especially on the tourism sector.

These factors intensified Egypt’s already existing structural problems, fixed exchange rates, sky high budget deficit and public debts, and low growth achieved in the years following the 25 January Revolution.

On the 10th anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, Daily News Egypt looks at the defining moments of the movement.

Where does Egypt stand economically after 25 January Revolution?

It is undeniable that Egypt witnessed deterioration in its economic conditions in the period before the 25 January 2011 Revolution.

Such was the deterioration, that it contributed directly to the overthrow of the then-President Hosni Mubarak.

At the end of 2010, about 25% of Egypt’s population lived below the poverty line, and a large part of the population was dependent on subsidised goods.

Also in 2010, corruption indicators confirmed that Egypt ranked 98 out of 178 countries, with an evaluation of a poor 3.1 points out of 10 points, according to the Transparency International report. The ranking was based on the degree of corruption conducted by businessmen and state analysts.

During the first days of the 25 January Revolution, the economy suffered severe damage in all its sectors and indicators. The losses accrued by the Egyptian Stock Exchange (EGX) exceeded EGP 72bn during that time period, with the country’s ports losing about EGP 10m per day.

Airlines also saw financial losses, with a further $90m being lost due to the Internet being cut during the first days of the widespread popular protests.

Since the 25 January Revolution, Egypt has witnessed a series of further successive economic shocks.

In this article, Daily News Egypt analyses the gains and the challenges that Egypt has faced in the decade since the popular 25 January Revolution, and outlines the challenges the country still faces.

In the awake of the 25 January Revolution, the Egyptian economy has faced several challenges, which came to a head when the country was on the brink of announcing its bankruptcy during the Muslim Brotherhood government.

All sources of national income coming from tourism, remittances, and foreign investment and income to the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone) ground to a halt. Egypt’s production wheel also came to a complete stop, with foreign exchange reserves declining to their lowest levels. The latter meant that Egypt no longer had the financial reserves sufficient to import basic food commodities.

The extent of the crisis was reflected in the country’s growth rate, which fell to its lowest level, reaching 1.8% in 2011, and around the 2% mark until 2014, according to Ministry of Finance data.

Egypt’s budget deficit also increased to 9.8% of the GDP in fiscal year (FY) 2010/11, the Ministry of Finance data added.

Unemployment rates commensurately reached 11.9% in 2011, after recording 8.94% in 2010. In the post-revolution years, many companies and factories laid off workers as a result of deteriorating economic activity and rising production costs. The unemployment rate reached 13.4% in 2013.

The challenges did not stop at the macroeconomic level, but also impacted on the livelihoods of the ordinary Egyptian citizen. There were unforgettable scenes of people dying in hospitals due to the electricity cuts, or the scenes of long queues for bread and butane cylinders.

Vehicles wait at a gas station amid fuel shortages after 25 January Revolution
Vehicles wait at a petrol station during a fuel shortage in Cairo June 26, 2013

Due to the 2012-2013 Muslim Brotherhood government’s inability to process the challenges, the country went to the streets again on 30 June 2013 that saw the ousting of the Islamist group from the seat of power.

Unfortunately, the country’s economic growth faced years of slow recovery in the years following the 30 June 2013 Revolution, due to the decline in investments. By FY 2014/15, however, the Egyptian economy had started to recover, and growth rates have exceeded 5% since FY 2017/18.

With this cold data at hand, the new government decided to secure a $12bn bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2016.

In November 2016, the IMF’s Executive Board approved a $12bn loan as financial assistance to Egypt, to support the country’s domestic economic reform programme. Once the financing was granted, Egypt embarked on the bold programme that included the Egyptian pound’s flotation, a reduction in fuel and electricity subsidies, and the imposing of taxes including value-added tax (VAT). The different aspects of the programme aimed to trim the country’s budget deficit.

The decisions were tough on Egyptians, who suffered greatly from a currency shortage, as well as a blanket hike in the prices of commodities and services. This, in turn, caused a hike in inflation and a fuel crisis.

The government attempted to compensate the citizens, by implementing more social safety net programmes, most notable of which is the Takful and Karama initiative. As of November 2020, the number of beneficiaries in the programme stood at 3.6 million families.

This large increase in government expenses in terms of salaries, support, and debt services, was challenged by the lack of revenues to cover the increase in expenditures. As a result, the government resorted to local borrowing to overcome this major financial problem. Additionally, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) had to increase the printing of money to fill the worsening budget deficit.

In parallel with the economic reform programme, the Egyptian Government focused on announcing many major national projects. These included huge road, bridges, tunnel projects, as well as the development of fourth generation cities, most notably the New Administrative Capital (NAC).
In addition to these huge infrastructure projects, the government decided to implement the 1.5 million acres project, as well as greenhouses and energy projects.

Where Egypt stands now economically

Egypt has successfully completed the three-year $12bn loan arrangement with the IMF, with the final disbursement approved by the IMF’s executive board in July, 2019.

The country has enjoyed reaping the fruits of the IMF programme, during which the macroeconomic figures were significantly enhanced. Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has since put a break on the hopes of the economic reform programme.

Despite the severe economic and financial implications of the global health crisis, most international institutions and government officials pointedly push Egypt forward as a model of what can be done with stringent economic reforms. There is almost universal agreement that Egypt would have been unable to handle the pandemic, had it not implemented the comprehensive economic reform.

No one can deny that Egypt’s success in dealing with COVID-19 has won widespread international praise. These reforms granted the domestic economy greater flexibility in absorbing shocks, and the ability to positively handle and overcome internal and external challenges, after a period of pessimistic reports about the future of Egypt.

In its latest report, the IMF said that Egypt is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that will achieve positive economic growth during the current FY.
The IMF also expects the Egyptian economy to undergo a rapid recovery in the medium term, with GDP growing by 5%. It noted that the country will see its total deficit ratio fall to 5.1% during FY 2022/23, and 4.4% by FY 2024/25.

The international financial organisation also said that the state budget will achieve an initial surplus of 0.5% during the current FY, despite the coronavirus pandemic. This will then rise to 2% during FY 2022/23, continuing this approach at a rate of 2% on average until 2025.

In a recent World Bank report, Egypt was described as a “bright spot” in Africa, after foreign direct investments (FDIs) rose by 11% during FY 2019/20, compared to FY 2018/19. The uptick reflects investor confidence in the Egyptian economy, despite the challenges and negative repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic. This reflects the ability of Egyptian financial policies to deal positively and effectively with local and international variables.

The Egyptian Government’s recent economic policies succeeded in changing the global outlook of the domestic economy. This economic foresight ensured that the IMF acknowledged Egypt as having passed an economic slowdown and achieving financial sustainability. Fitch Ratings raised its rating for Egypt’s sovereign debt, for the first time since 1997, to a B degree with a stable outlook.

Moody’s also decided to maintain Egypt’s credit rating at B2 in September 2020, with a stable economic outlook. It reflects the agency’s confidence in the government’s ability to adopt successful economic and financial policies.

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) decision to maintain the country’s credit rating, in both local and foreign currencies, reflects the continued confidence of international institutions in Egypt’s economic stability.

Meanwhile, Egypt achieved an initial budget surplus of about EGP 14bn in the first half (H1) of FY 2020/21, with the annual growth rate of revenues increasing by 16%, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s expenditures reached 9.6% in H1 of FY 2020/21, due to the increase in government investments and support programmes, whilst the deficit decreased to 3.6%.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s citizens felt the results of the economic reforms, with the crisis surrounding bread, fuel, electricity, and LPG coming to an end. The country has also seen huge discoveries of natural gas fields, thus allowing it to announce that it has achieved self-sufficiency in terms of natural gas. This will ensure that the government will be able to make savings of $92m every month, and putting an end to Egypt’s electricity crisis.

The prime minster, Mostafa Madbouly said that Egypt to is expected achieve self-sufficiency in petroleum products by 2023, after achieving self-sufficiency in natural gas in 2019.
He said that the government managed to achieved self-sufficiency in energy with investments exceeding EGP 34bn during the past four years.
He said that Egypt’s poverty rate decreased to 29% ,mentioning that that the inflation rate fell for the first time in 14 years to 5.7% as well.

However, the Egyptian economy still faces some challenges, as the country’s unemployment rate remains high, with a lower rate of FDIs than the country deserves.
The Egyptian citizen also still cannot touch the real impact of the progress, as poverty rates remain high, with per capita GPD also low.

From Libya to Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt revives its foreign policy, regional role 

Since the 25 January Revolution in 2011 that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s immediate geographical vicinity has been overshadowed and shaken by crises, threatening the very existence of some states.

In response, the North African nation adopted a proactive and energetic foreign policy to address existing threats to its national security. One of the major achievements over the last decade has been the complete reversal of policies inherited from the Mubarak era regarding Egypt’s intra-African ties.

Since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt has enjoyed strong historical relations with its fellow African states and its role as one of the founding members of the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union (AU). The relations stagnated under Mubarak, but Egypt’s ties with Africa have since been revitalised, assuming utmost priority since the 25 January Revolution.

Egypt’s 2014 Constitution stresses on the country’s African roots and identity. In July 2014, the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD) was established to strengthen the country’s developmental role in Africa, reflecting the government’s commitment to supporting African development efforts according to the continent’s priorities.

The EAPD’s main focus areas include supporting economic integration between Egypt and other African countries, as well as strengthening South-South cooperation based on the respect for national sovereignty.

Recently, African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, along with nine other African Heads of State and Government received awards for their role in the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The AfCFTA, the world’s largest free trade area, has the potential to transform the continent with its market of 1.2 billion people, and combined GDP of $3trn across the 54-member states of the AU. Trading under AfCFTA commenced on 1 January 2021.

The independence of Egyptian decision-making has been achieved by maintaining multiple foreign policy alternatives and options.

Faced with the threat against its national security and that of its citizens in Libya, Egypt responded in February 2015 by launching airstrikes against IS targets there
Faced with the threat against its national security and that of its citizens in Libya, Egypt responded in February 2015 by launching airstrikes against IS targets there.

Faced with the threat against its national security and that of its citizens in Libya, Egypt responded in February 2015 by launching airstrikes against IS targets there. Simultaneously, Egypt has supported the political process in Libya and the role of the UN envoy, participating in all rounds of dialogue between the differing Libyan parties, and sponsoring several meetings of Libyan tribes. Earlier, President Al-Sisi said that Egypt’s designation of Libya’s Sirte and Jufra as red lines for Egypt’s national security has helped in preserving the political path of the country’s crisis.

In the summer of 2020, Egypt warned that Cairo “will not stand idle” in the face of any attack on Sirte and Jufra, a move that many observers and analysts say would never have happened under Mubarak.

Last week, during a meeting in the Egyptian Red Sea town of Hurghada, the Libyan Constitutional Committee agreed to hold a constitutional referendum before the general elections on 24 December.

Furthermore, Egyptian foreign policy has pursued various sources of armament in recent years and accordingly has military relations with different arms manufacturers’ countries. Nevertheless, Egypt’s Ministry of State for Military Production has developed an integrated plan to develop the country’s system of military manufacture, at a value of EGP 7.3bn.

Daily News Egypt has learned further details of the plan, which include: deepening local manufacturing; increasing the role of technical research; creating cooperation with international companies; and completing the development and rehabilitation of production lines.

The Ministry of State for Military Production prepared an EGP 2.8bn plan to develop the production of ammunition, in coordination with the Ministry of Defence.

The plan includes meeting the needs of the Armed Forces from 2020 to 2030, and to direct the surplus for export in the period from 2025 to 2030.

The plan includes the development of production lines for ammunition of all kinds, components, and explosives in eight companies. It is planned to increase the capacity of small arms ammunition to about 73 million units, compared to the current 50 million.

There will be an additional increase in the production of certain parts of medium weapons ammunition, as well as in the local manufacturing and production of balloons for medium ammunition. Further increases will be seen in the production capacity of heavy munitions to 80,000.

Egypt also did not shy away from taking a stand against Turkish provocations and illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Sameh Shoukry, has slammed Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the economic zones of Cyprus and Greece.

In late 2020, six energy ministers, including from Egypt, signed the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) charter. The agreement established a vital platform that brings together gas producers, consumers and transit states to boost a sustainable regional market for gas.

The forum’s members are Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. They united against their regional rivals of Turkey. The latter has been locked in a bitter dispute with European Union (EU) members Greece and Cyprus over gas drilling rights in the region. France has applied to join, with the US and EU requesting observer status.


Public sphere, local politics remain in need of further freedoms 

The 25 January Revolution in 2011 was based on the concept of dissent and organisation against the political and social status quo.

The 25 January 2011 Revolution was based on the concept of dissent and organisation against the political and social status quo. This was not necessarily only by demonstrations and protests which physically contested the authorities, but also by the availability of alternative channels of local politics. Such channels included syndicates, local media, and peaceful civilian groups.

After the ouster of then-President and National Democratic Party (NDP) head Hosni Mubarak in the wake of the the Egyptian revolution of 2011, a boom in the number of press organisations, political parties, syndicates, and NGOs were created leading to a diverse environment.

However the right wing rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood and their domination of the underground political sphere lead to the homogenous voice of the political scene. The group also eventually attempted a monopoly over state institutions and authority.

A constant critique by the press, syndicates, and civil society comes in the absence of strong political parties. After the Egyptian revolution of 2011, when the most powerful political segment was the Islamist wing, dozens of political parties were established carrying more or less the same rhetoric with a few exceptions.

After the ouster of late Islamist and then-President Mohamed Morsi, the majority of these parties failed to remain in operation, and were chased down by the authorities.

After 2013, several parties were formed but a radical change between them is yet to be found, hence leading to a lack of diverse opinions or an active parliamentary leadership. This stagnated status quo has continued to the present day.

The dominating powers in the Egyptian parliament and senate are clearly, by the observation of many, pro-state political parties that are quick to support the political leadership. They also acquire major economic funds, which they claim are provided by businessmen.

Combined with the state of apathy among the “common citizen”, such political entities, despite their numbers, swiftly become obsolete and ineffective in participating in the legislation process.

Despite the overwhelming support that they have from the government, some entities represent the needed diversity such as the 25-30 Alliance, which acted as the Egyptian Government’s critiquing voice. In many cases, it questioned the government’s performance.

In many statements, however, the coalition has asked for more space to be represented in order to provide a healthy atmosphere in the political sphere, where all opinions are heard and discussed.  The abundance in number does not necessarily mean more diversity.

The same can be applied to the press and the media. After 25 January Revolution in 2011 and 30 June Revolution in 2013, a very positive feature took place within the Egyptian public sphere, where the number of private websites, newspapers, and TV channels boomed.

Despite this, we are currently seeing homogeneity in their voices, as well as a lack of critical approach in handling social and political issues. Such a unification of narrative can push many Egyptians, especially the country’s youth, towards radical channels.

Once they are alienated, they see that both private and public newspapers carry the same headlines, which are then parroted by the presenters and analysts on night talk show programmes.

A margin for independent media to operate freely without physical or bureaucratic harassment has long been a requirement for media and press personnel since 2011, and even before then.

A positive feature that has been taking place since 2016 has been the release of thousands of detainees. The pardons take place on a regular, seasonal basis, and frequently take place on national and religious holidays. However, it is yet to include civil society workers, journalists, researchers, and those involved in the creative industries.

In terms of civil society, Egypt has maintained positive steps as it responded to the criticism of its law governing NGOs that was imposed on human rights and development organisations. The law stipulated harsh punishments for violations of its provisions.

In 2019, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi approved the formation of a committee to amend the Law. It conducted an open dialogue on proposed amendments with members of Parliament, NGO representatives, and civil society youth groups to ensure that the new Law would satisfy all parties concerned.

The amended law reportedly stipulates that an NGO can be established in the country simply by notifying the relevant government administrative body, which would then have 30 days to request the judiciary to halt the registration.

However, the regulatory rules are yet to be put to the test. Activists and experts hope the new law would regulate and improve the state’s relationship with civil society organisations, especially ones that are working on human and social rights issues.

Experts also hope that the government will look into the protest law, which was also criticised by local human rights organisations and political parties.

The strategy is divided into several pillars including, political and civil rights, economic rights, as well as women’s and youth empowerment. Each pillar includes opportunities and challenges, determining what the state has achieved in each of these topics, and what is left to be done to improve them.

The strategy aims to open up the way for women to enter into Egypt’s administrative courts, for example. It stresses that over the last few years, women have been appointed to high-level positions, including at the ministerial level, such as at the Ministries of Planning, Health, and International Cooperation.

Ten years on, and after two radical changes of power that occurred through protests and free speech, the Egyptian public sphere remains in need of diversified political voices. It is also in urgent need to allow channels for alternative opinions, to avoid any further social turmoil.

Egypt’s growing terrorism threat, now and then

Egypt has passed through several stages of insecurity and growing terrorism threats in the decade between January 2011 and January 2021. In the early years following the 25 January Revolution, many clashes occurred between security forces and demonstrators.

In the period between 11 February 2011 and 29 June 2012, as the Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power after removal of former-President Hosni Mubarak, the security situation in the country was extremely fluid.

The scene shifted from clashes and protests to acts of terrorism taking the lives of thousands, whether civilians or security personnel. With the collapse of Libya soon after Egypt’s own revolution, and the rise of militant groups across the region, some terrorist groups in Egypt were given the kiss of life, especially in the Sinai Peninsula.

The security situation in Egypt has remained unstable in the past few years, with the number of victims a non-stop feature of media reporting. Many citizens have lost loved ones, as a result of the deteriorating security conditions across the country during this time.

The period was also characterised by the rise in lone-wolf attacks, mainly targeting the Egyptian-Jordanian gas pipeline. The tempo escalated, culminating in an attack on the Taba Hotel on 10 January 2012.

After the election of former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi on 30 June 2012, the target list drawn up by terrorist groups only expanded. One major attack took place on 5 August 2021, killing 16 police personnel in Rafah.

In September 2013, Egypt banned the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, labelling it as a terrorist group. Many of the group’s members subsequently fled Egypt, either to Sudan or Turkey, or to join terrorist groups outside the country.

With Morsi’s ouster following the 30 June 2013 Revolution, terrorist attacks skyrocketed and began indiscriminately targeting hundreds of police personnel, soldiers and civilians.
With Morsi’s ouster following the 30 June 2013 Revolution, terrorist attacks skyrocketed and began indiscriminately targeting hundreds of police personnel, soldiers and civilians.

With Morsi’s ouster following the 30 June 2013 Revolution, terrorist attacks skyrocketed and began indiscriminately targeting hundreds of police personnel, soldiers and civilians. The largest was the second Rafah massacre on 19 August 2013, which saw 25 soldiers killed.

In a 2015 bid to halt Egypt’s tourism flow, the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis terrorist group conducted a suicide bombing targeting the Karnak Temple in Luxor, which left two people dead. In late 2015, two police officers were killed in a terrorist attack near the Pyramids. It was, however, the downing of a Russian passenger plane after it had taken-off from Sharm El-Sheikh Airport that had the most disastrous impact on the tourism sector.

Radical Islamists have also increasingly attacked Christian institutions in Egypt, accusing the Christian community of being responsible for Morsi’s downfall.

In a 2018 attack, a terrorist group targeted a bus carrying a number of Copts near the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya.

Even those identifying as Sufi Muslims have not been immune to targeted attacks by Islamists. In 2017, a terrorist attack targeted Friday prayers at the Al-Roda Mosque in the North Sinai town of Bir Al-Abd, leaving 235 dead and scores of others wounded. The responsibility for those attacks was claimed by the group known as the Islamic State (IS).

The Egyptian judiciary was also targeted, with the most prominent attack being the assassination of Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat.

Later on, Egypt was able to confine the focus of the armed movements in the Sinai Peninsula, as attacks in the Nile Valley and Delta declined. The country has achieved many successes in combating terrorism.

In 2018, the Egyptian Armed Forces launched a massive military operation named ‘Sinai 2018’, aimed at combatting terrorism, insurgency, and criminal elements in central and north Sinai, the Nile Delta region, and the Western Desert. The operation involved the army, navy, air force, border patrol, and the police.

In 2018, the Egyptian Armed Forces launched a massive military operation named ‘Sinai 2018’, aimed at combatting terrorism
In 2018, the Egyptian Armed Forces launched a massive military operation named ‘Sinai 2018’, aimed at combatting terrorism.

In Sinai, terrorist activities were reduced to a small corner in the north of the peninsula.
The army has, since the start of operations on the peninsula, declared that hundreds of suspected terrorists have been killed or arrested.

The military also announced the thwarting of dozens of “aggressive” attacks targeting its officers and military camps, security checkpoints, as well as civilians.

The military has imposed its control over areas formerly used by terrorist elements for hideouts, including central Sinai’s Mount Helal, which was used as a main shelter for such elements for many years.

The issue of combating terrorism and extremist ideology has become one of the priorities of Egypt’s external action. In turn, Egyptian diplomacy has intensified its efforts to present the country’s vision, comprehensive approach, and various tools in combating terrorism and extremism.

Egypt has stressed, during international and regional meetings and events, the need for a comprehensive confrontation with all terrorist organisations without exception. The country highlights that these groups represent a common threat to international peace and security, whilst also stressing the importance of concerted action.

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Mohamed Samir Khedr is an economic and political journalist, analyst, and editor specializing in geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean. For the past decade, he has covered Egypt's and the MENA region's financial, business, and geopolitical updates. Currently, he is the Executive Editor of the Daily News Egypt, where he leads a team of journalists in producing high-quality, in-depth reporting and analysis on the region's most pressing issues. His work has been featured in leading international publications. Samir is a highly respected expert on the Middle East and Africa, and his insights are regularly sought by policymakers, academics, and business leaders. He is a passionate advocate for independent journalism and a strong believer in the power of storytelling to inform and inspire. Twitter: https://twitter.com/Moh_S_Khedr LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohamed-samir-khedr/