It’s been two years since millions-strong protests in Egypt toppled the long-time government of Hosni Mubarak in a public display unheard of in the Arab world.
Major protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11, 2011, launched in response to other Arab Spring protests throughout other Middle East and North African countries. The protests were so massive and overwhelming that Mubarak had no choice but to leave office and hand over power to the armed forces.
Since that February day, Egypt has undergone a political and cultural transition to attempt to find itself and recover after more than 60 years of consecutive dictatorships.
In June 2012, Mohamed Morsi and his Islamic political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, took control of the presidency and parliament, beating out secular, Christian and ultra-conservative parties alike.
Despite this, continued protests in Cairo and other cities shows many Egyptians still want reform.
“Egyptians have shown great determination to preserve the gains of the revolution and not let the country fall back into the throes of dictatorship. They have been very involved in this transitional phase that their country is going through,” said Nell Gabiam, assistant professor of anthropology and political science.
“Central to a working democracy is that the voices of the people be heard, and I think it's a good sign that Egyptians of different gender, age, class, political persuasion have continued to converge on Tahrir Square even after the fall of Mubarak, that they have insisted on holding Mohamad Morsi accountable for his actions, and insisted on seeing a transition toward a more just and democratic system.”
Gabiam also pointed out the fragility of the nation’s young democracy and its continued vulnerability to violence and social unrest.
“The negative side is that this being a transitional moment, it is also a fragile one, and one that is easily exploitable for particular political interests rather than concern for the country,” Gabiam said. “The flaring up of violence has sometimes been about that rather than concern for the ideals of the revolution.”
Another major issue facing Egypt is the rift between the military and the people.
When Mubarak left, the military’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over the governance of the country and has been reluctant to hand over certain powers to the people, especially in regards to foreign affairs.
For example, it wasn’t until a year after the revolution that elections first took place.
“I think it's possible that the military will continue to maintain substantial influence for some time,” Gabiam said. “So we might have this back-and-forth type of struggle but that doesn't mean that the army will maintain substantial influence in the long term. You had a similar situation in Turkey for decades but Erdogan's government eventually was able to strip the Turkish army of much of its power, in terms of the army's ability to singlehandedly intervene in the affairs of the country.”
Mohamed El-Mahalawy, an ISU doctoral student in electrical engineering and president of the Egyptian Student Association, was on the front lines during the protests two years ago and knows first-hand the difficult transition Egypt has been going through since Mubarak left.
Most importantly, he stressed his frustration over policies Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have not followed through on.
“The problem is that the scene is very complicated in Egypt. The people that are pro-Mubarak are not over it,” El-Mahalawy said. “On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is not so good in dealing with certain things like infrastructure and growing the economy. Morsi promised all of these things and he did zero. … I’m not saying anyone else would have been better, but I think they would have been transparent.”
El-Mahalawy went on to say the religious and political polarization of the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to cause problems unless they cooperate more with the opposition and listen to their concerns.
“They try this new strategy that if you’re not with us, you’re against God,” El-Mahalawy said. “And when you have a revolution and people are killed, there are high expectations. If you don’t follow through, there may be another revolution and people will be very mad. … The problem is, it’s either getting better or going into a civil war.”
In El-Mahalawy’s opinion, it’s hard to stay optimistic with the new government in Egypt, even though the oppressive Mubarak days may be over.
He stressed higher education as central to improving life in Egypt. Though currently studying in the United States, El-Mahalawy hopes to return to Egypt someday.
“Maybe six months from [now] I hope to say Egypt is getting better,” El-Mahalawy said. “At some point, I want to return to Egypt. I am hoping at some point we can produce a high level of education. … Egyptian students are very smart people, but a lot of them were really oppressed by the regime and now there is this opportunity to get it back.”
Recently, beginning on the two-year anniversary of the revolution, Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest Morsi’s government.
Clashes and riots have been a commonplace in cities like Cairo, Port Said and Suez, while opposition leaders have called for a national dialogue with Morsi.
In response, Morsi has declared curfews and a state of emergency, a type of order which gives certain powers to the president in times of crisis.
However, tens of thousands of protesters have resisted the orders and have called upon Morsi to discuss amendments to the controversial constitution recently passed by the parliament, which is seen by some as a power-grab by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The next few days and weeks will undoubtedly prove decisive in Egypt’s future.
While many like El-Mahalawy are still happy that Mubarak has left, there is still much work to be done, and it starts by working with the new Government.