The Egyptian public and the international community were shocked last week by televised images of civilian Hamada Saber being dragged, stripped, and brutally beaten by police officers amid ongoing clashes between police and protesters in Cairo.
One of the primary demands of the 2011 Egyptian revolution was to end the three decades of emergency rule under President Hosni Mubarak. But two years later, President Mohamed Morsi has declared a state of emergency in three canal cities: Port Said, Suez, and Ismailya.
The past week’s developments in Egypt have been dispiriting to anyone who thought Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year represented a true revolution. It is now clear that, though unplanned, Mubarak’s downfall presented a golden opportunity for Egypt’s generals to stage a soft military coup, easing him out of power and preventing a handover to his son and heir-apparent Gamal, a businessman with no military experience whom the generals were unwilling to accept. Since then, the world’s focus has been on Egypt’s continuous political turmoil: demonstrations by revolutionary forces in Tahrir Square, parliamentary and presidential elections, the struggle for power between Islamist movements and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and now reports of Mubarak’s incapacitation or death. But the real story is the relentless campaign by Egypt’s “deep state”—its generals and their military-industrial complex, state security organizations, and elements of the former ruling party, with their well-established patronage networks and allied business interests—to stage a counterrevolution.
I was supposed to be in Bahrain this past weekend to lead an international freedom of expression mission with representatives of several prominent advocacy groups, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN International, Index on Censorship, and Reporters Without Borders. However, after approving our mission in early April, and even offering to arrange meetings with relevant officials, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development decided to deny permission for the joint mission just days before we were to depart, meaning our organizations had already incurred travel and other expenses. The letter we received cited “new guidelines” that prohibit more than one organization from visiting at a time, and assured us that this was “merely an organizational matter.” But given that this is the second time this year that Freedom House has been denied entry to Bahrain, the ministry’s explanation seems rather dubious.
To mark the first anniversary of Egypt’s January 25 revolution—which resulted in the fall of long-time president Hosni Mubarak just 18 days later—a coalition of more than 80 revolutionary groups issued a statement underscoring just how unfinished the revolution really is.
Last week, Freedom House released the 2012 edition of Freedom in the World, its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. According to the report, Egypt remains in the Not Free category, but with a number of score improvements and an upward trend arrow to reflect progress since the ouster of long-standing president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Some might argue that this assessment does not give sufficient credit to the achievements of the uprising, while others will insist that the improvements registered in the report are not justified in light of ongoing repression.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times last April, we took a cautiously optimistic view on the possibility of a breakthrough for media freedom in post-Mubarak Egypt. We argued that if state-controlled media, especially television, underwent serious reform, it would tip the balance toward an open information landscape, particularly when combined with the revolution in online social media in the country.
Now, one year since the January 25, 2011, onset of the uprising in Egypt, we are far more cautious than optimistic.
As we mark the first anniversary of the events that led to the Arab Spring, it is worth highlighting the uprisings’ far-reaching repercussions for freedom, both in the region and beyond. Freedom in the World, the report on global freedom issued annually by Freedom House, found more declines than gains worldwide for 2011, but we believe that the overarching message for the year is one of hope and not reversal.