On January 25, 2011, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets, demanding an end to the nearly 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen days later, Mubarak stepped down. In Tahrir Square, the crowds cried, “Lift your head high, you’re an Egyptian.” “We can breathe fresh air, we can feel our freedom,” Gamal Heshmat, a former member of parliament, told The New York Times. “After 30 years of absence from the world, Egypt is back.”
Today, such pride and hope are a distant memory. Once again, a former military official turned dictator rules the country. But President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has established an even more harshly authoritarian regime than the one Mubarak oversaw. By almost every measure, conditions in Egypt are worse now than prior to the revolution. Economic growth remains stagnant. Egypt’s reserves of foreign currency have dwindled to perilous levels: in July they dropped beneath $16 billion, their lowest level in almost a year and a half and barely enough to cover three months of imports. The Egyptian pound has collapsed, and the government has begun rationing dollars.
Egypt’s tourism industry, a vital source of hard currency and investment, has also withered. In 2010, more than one million tourists, on average, visited Egypt every month; in May 2016 (the last month for which statistics are available), fewer than half that number did so. Egypt’s infrastructure is crumbling, and its education and public health systems are deteriorating. And more than a quarter of all Egyptians—about 22.5 million people—live in poverty, while youth unemployment exceeds 40 percent.
Yet Egypt’s rulers have done little to revive the economy. Instead, they continue to focus on the one thing they do well: repressing their citizens. Since Sisi seized power in July 2013, his security forces have arrested more than 40,000 people, killed more than 3,000 (including between 800 and 1,000 on a single day in August 2013), “disappeared” hundreds more, placed thousands in continuously renewable pretrial detention, and injured countless others. More than three years after Sisi ousted President
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