Global Freedom of Expression

Bringing Down an Uprising: Egypt’s Stillborn Revolution

Key Details

  • Region
    Middle East and North Africa
  • Themes
    Political Expression

Texas A&M University School of Law

August 14, 2014

30 Conn. J. Int’l L. 1 (2014)


Despite warnings that bleak socio-economic conditions were pushing Egyptians to the brink, few could have predicted the timing and extent of what has come to be known as the “January 25th revolution.” For the two years that followed this unprecedented revolutionary moment, many Egyptians believed their nation was headed toward a political rebirth in the direction of democratization – albeit in fits and starts. But what ultimately transpired was far from a revolution, but rather an uprising. Those who risked life and limb in multiple mass protests are now in jail or dead while the military-security apparatus sits firmly at the apex of power. Rather than join other countries moving forward toward a free society, dissent in Egypt is brutally crushed harking back to Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s pervasive police state.

This article seeks to answer the question on the minds of millions across the globe who witnessed Egyptians inspire the world as they rose up against a brutal authoritarian state: What happened to Egypt’s revolution? In hindsight, it has become clear that the moment the Egyptian military took on the official reins of leadership through the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) on February 11, 2011, a pall was cast on the people’s revolutionary aspirations. What was supposed to be a historic political opening to transition Egypt onto a more democratic political trajectory resulted in a regression to military domination where soldiers, rather than civilians, control the levers of political, economic, and security power.

This is part of a larger project that addresses the role of law and the judiciary in Egypt’s stillborn revolution. As such, this article provides the political backdrop in the lead up to January 25 and the key political decisions made by the SCAF and the military-backed interim government led by President Adly Mansour, which lays the foundation for my future articles on the Egyptian judiciary and the role of law in Egypt’s post-January 25 aftermath. In doing so, I analyze the historic events of the past three years to address the first of two pressing questions: 1) did January 25, 2011 permanently redirect Egypt’s political trajectory toward a more democratic, openly contested political system and 2) what role did the law play in producing the outcome? Here, I argue that, as of the fall of 2014, Egypt shows signs of increasing political contestations at the margins while simultaneously regressing to repressive state policing practices firmly under the grip of the military. There is a growing tension between Egyptian youth’s expectations of meaningful political change, regardless of their political or religious persuasions, and the state apparatus reverting to calls for stability at the expense of political rights. In the end, the military hijacked a revolutionary moment by transforming it into a mere uprising. Recognizing Egypt’s missed opportunity to have the revolutionary outcome called for by its youth paves the way for an honest discussion on whether a real revolution is imminent, if not inevitable.

This paper can be downloaded without charge from the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection



Sahar Aziz

Associate Professor, Texas A&M University School of Law, USA