The fifth anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 revolution is this Monday, January 25. In the lead up to this historic day, the government has taken dramatic measures to stifle protests commemorating the revolution or calling for the government’s ouster.
The regime has done its best to diminish the importance of the 2011 revolution, attempting to supplant it in the popular imagination with the June 30 coup, as the true manifestation of the will of the Egyptian people. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has directly involved himself in these efforts. He has discouraged people from participating in protests through fear mongering, and insisted that protests will contribute to the destruction of Egyptian society. Alluding to violence and unrest in the broader Middle East, Sisi has implied that these devastating consequences will come to Egypt, if people once again take to the streets and demand change.
The Egyptian government has also used religious discourse to bolster its cause. Egypt’s Endowments Ministry is actively urging mosques to discourage protests. The Ministry has distributed model Friday prayer sermons to these mosques, which encourage uncritical allegiance to the current government and denigrate anti-government protestors as bad Muslims, “ill-hearted, weak believers; those who don’t believe in the country and carry extremist ideas, who work on disintegrating society and destabilizing it,” according to Mada Masr. The tactic is one widely used by other autocratic states, such as Saudi Arabia.
Despite this anti-protest rhetoric, many Egyptians are looking back on the revolution fondly and remembering it as a momentous event when people were inspired to take ownership of Egyptian society and work towards improving it. As Mohammad Bamyeh, a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburg, wrote for Muftah shortly after the protests in late January 2011:
Everyone I talked to echoed similar transformative themes: they highlighted a sense of wonder at how they discovered their neighbor again, how they never knew that they lived in “society” or the meaning of the word, until this event, and how everyone who yesterday had appeared so distant is now so close. I saw peasant women giving protestors onions to help them recover from teargas attacks; young men dissuading others from acts of vandalism; the National Museum being protected by protestors’ human shield from looting and fire; protestors protecting captured baltagiyya who had been attacking them from being harmed by other protestors; and countless other incidents of generous civility amidst the prevailing destruction and chaos.
As Mada Masr reports, Egyptians are echoing these sentiments on social media, proudly sharing their memories of the revolution and describing the powerful sense of community and collective agency they experienced, using the hashtag “I participated in the January revolution” (“أنا_شاركت_في_ثورة_يناير” in Arabic). According to Mada Masr:
Facebook and Twitter users remembered their experiences in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of the revolution. One tweeted, “I participated in the January revolution and saw a utopic city in Tahrir; the price was the blood of great young people, I bore witness and I will never forget, despite the monsters.”
Another tweeted, “Teach your children that the January revolution was the noblest, the fairest that took place in Egypt’s history and you should be proud that you were one of those who participated in Egypt’s dream, I participated in the January revolution.”
Despite the government’s efforts, it is likely that a number of Egyptians will take to the streets this January 25 in remembrance, awe, and renewed hope.