Egypt's Durable Arab Spring

A Third Revolution Haunts President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

A journalist shouts slogans against Interior Ministry during a protest against the detention of Ahmed Ramadan, a photojournalist with Egyptian private newspaper "Tahrir", in front of the Syndicate of Journalists in Cairo, Egypt August 17, 2015. Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters

Today’s anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian revolution—which led in quick succession to the overthrow of longtime President Hosni Mubarak, the election of the Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated candidate Mohamed Morsi, and the ouster of Morsi by the Egyptian military—is haunting sitting President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Confronted with another social media campaign urging Egyptians to take to the streets on January 25, the president is worried that the kind of popular uprising that brought him to power may also come to unseat him. He is responding to the challenge with all the tools of repression at his disposal, including (paradoxically for a president determined to expunge the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt) mobilizing religious authorities to prevent demonstrations.


Revolution against the government is enshrined in Egypt’s constitution. The January 25, 2011, uprising against Mubarak is praised as the beginning of Egypt’s first revolution, and July 3, 2013, the day the military deposed Morsi, is proclaimed as the triumph of the second revolution. In both events, the military emerged as the real winner. In 2011, it took advantage of the street chaos to depose Mubarak and keep its own power. In 2013, it went further, using widespread popular discontent with Morsi to orchestrate large demonstrations that provided the political cover for a coup d’état.

Security personnel stand guard at the scene of a bomb blast in a main street in Giza, Egypt, January 21, 2016.
Security personnel stand guard at the scene of a bomb blast in a main street in Giza, Egypt, January 21, 2016. A bomb attack killed six people, including three policemen, on Thursday near a road leading to the pyramids in the Cairo suburb of Giza, security sources said. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

Sisi thus worries that the military, and he personally, will be the target of any public discontent. In that, his fears are well-founded. On January 25 last year, widespread protests led to violence that left 18 dead and at least 52 injured. He is concerned that a lot worse could happen this year, and so, over the past few weeks, his security forces have searched 5,000 homes and apartments in downtown Cairo and warned their residents

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