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Egypt Modern History

The king was overthrown by a group of officers in a bloody coup in 1952 and Egypt became a military dictatorship with socialist signs. Anwar al-Sadat, who became president in 1970, abolished the one-party state, but the regime remained authoritarian. After losing several wars against Israel, Egypt in 1978 made peace with the arch enemy, as the first Arab country. It was rejected by Islamists who assassinated Sadat in 1981. Under successor Hosni Mubarak, a low-intensity conflict with Islamists continued, while the economy was liberalized. Mubarak was driven from power in 2011 and 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood won the first free elections in Egypt.

Following the defeat of the Arab states in the war against the newly formed state of Israel in 1948–1949, the underground group of Free Officers was formed under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser (Jamal Abd al-Nasir). The officers had no common ideology - some were Marxists, some sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood - but they wanted to liberate Egypt from British domination and create a more just society. The Free Officers carried out a coup in 1952, King Faruq was deposed and in 1953 a republic was proclaimed. All parties disbanded and in practice Egypt became a military dictatorship. Brotherhood was banned in 1954. Nasser was elected president in 1956.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Egypt. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The same year, the last British troops left the Suez Canal, and shortly thereafter Nasser announced that the English-French canal company would be nationalized. One of the thoughts was that revenues from ship traffic would be used to finance a large dam construction in the Nile in order to expand Egypt's electricity grid, while controlling the Nile's recurring floods.

The message of nationalization of the Suez Canal prompted Britain, France and Israel to attack, but they soon withdrew after harsh criticism from the US, the Soviet Union and the UN. The Suez crisis in the autumn of 1956 meant a triumph for Nasser, who achieved the goal of independence from British and French control.

Contemporary History of EgyptInstead, dependence on the Soviet Union increased. Egypt had started to buy weapons from the eastern states and Nasser turned to Moscow when the West did not want to lend for the construction of the mighty Assuan Dam, which began in 1959. The dam that would provide electricity and more stable water access to agriculture was ready in 1970.

Arab nationalist leader

In the early 1960s, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) was created as the only permissible political party. A second land reform was implemented and Nasser's policies deprived the old upper class of power and influence. Instead, a new privileged class emerged in a sweltering state and military bureaucracy.

With his active foreign policy, Nasser emerged as the leader of Arab nationalism. He became a unifying force in the conflict with Israel. Nasser's politics attracted tremendous response in the Arab world and also gave him prestige within the Third World and the Alliance Free Movement, which Nasser co-founded. The pursuit of Arab unity, panarabism, led to several union attempts with Syria and Libya, among others, which failed.

The defeat of Israel in the 1967 Six Day War (see Foreign Policy and Defense) shook Nasser's position. Purges in the military followed, but workers and students demanded Nasser's departure and democratization of politics.

Sadat takes over

1970 Nasser passed away. He was succeeded by Anwar al-Sadat, also a member of the Free Officers. Sadat paved the way for a permanent constitution that increased legal certainty, and in 1978 multi-party systems were introduced. Sadat formed the National Democratic Party (NDP), which replaced the former government party ASU and in practice retained the monopoly of power. He also approached Egypt with the United States and in 1981, relations with the Soviet Union were severed.

The initially successful October war against Israel in 1973 (see Foreign Policy and Defense) strengthened Sadat's position and helped him to assert his own line, which was different from Nassers. For Sadat, Egyptian nationalism came before the Pan-Arabian. He wanted to solve Egypt's difficult economic problems by encouraging investment from the West and strengthening the private sector.

But rapid Population growth, widespread poverty, high unemployment and low productivity plagued Egypt. The new economic policy favored a small group and widened the gaps when the prices of basic commodities were raised as a result of the World Bank's conditions for granting loans. Riots and famine shook the regime in 1977.

Nor did the peace with Israel from 1978 to 1979 (see Foreign Policy and Defense) lead to improved economy as promised. Support for the Muslim opposition increased.

Sadat is murdered

Sadat tried to appease the Islamists and in 1980 a constitutional amendment was adopted which stated that Islamic law, sharia, would form the basis of all legislation. But the reforms were not comprehensive enough for Sadat's critics. Opposition grew, especially among students. Armed groups were formed with demands for an Islamic state. In October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists from the al-Jihad group.

Sadat's successor Hosni Mubarak sought to choose a middle ground between Nasser's and Sadat's lines and promised both continuity and reform. "Democracy" and "dialogue" became words of honor. Both press and political debate were initially given increased freedom and opposites were released from prisons.

However, Mubarak never let the political opposition threaten his own position. The state of emergency introduced after the murder of Sadat was constantly renewed, citing terrorist threats and the need for stability. The underground armed opposition grew, including through the Islamic Group (al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya). Terrorism against security forces, foreign tourists and Christian Egyptians increased. The regime responded with merciless disbelief in the pursuit of terrorists. Thousands of people were arrested, tortured, tried before a military court, given defective trials or held without charges.

The goal of the Islamists was to overthrow the regime, which they considered godless and US-friendly, and to establish an Islamic state. Mubarak's policy of deregulation and privatization of the old centralized economy led to increased unemployment and widening class divisions. It strengthened the breeding ground for radical Islamists, who themselves tackled social problems through their own schools and clinics in metropolitan slums and in poor rural areas.

Still terror

In Luxor in 1997, some 70 people were murdered, many of them foreign tourists. The regime responded with mass arrests, death sentences and increased control of the mosques, where armed groups often retrieved their recruits.

The Islamic group decided in 1999 to lay down arms and move into political struggle. The ceasefire was a victory for the regime, which released a thousand members of the group. At the same time, several Islamists were sentenced to death and many received long prison sentences.

In the 1990s, a total of about 1,500 people were killed in assaults and fighting. About 30,000 radical Islamists were jailed, although most were soon released. The fight against terror weakened the democratic institutions.

Human rights activists, opposition politicians and intellectuals formed a committee that called for an end to the state of emergency, the release of political prisoners, free elections and free party formation. The committee eventually came to lead a growing protest movement.

But President Mubarak's and the NDP's strong hold on power hardened after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. The regime was accused of exploiting the international fight against terrorism to fight opposition Islamists in Egypt.

At the same time, the regime became increasingly difficult to deal with the growing protest movement, which also condemned Egypt's relations with Israel. Several illegal committees emerged in collaboration between Arab nationalists, Marxists, Islamists, intellectuals and others. US plans for military intervention in Iraq were condemned in street demonstrations that followed Friday prayers at Cairo's major mosques.

Increased opposition

The Iraq war, which started in March 2003, became the trigger for a more daring opposition to Mubarak's support for the US and US support for Israel, but also against unemployment, poverty, corruption and the state of emergency. Now Mubarak's departure and free elections were openly demanded. A wave of arrests took place and was followed by testimony of torture.

President Mubarak was forced into a very difficult political balance. In 2003, more than 2,000 prisoners were released, including many members of the Islamic group whose leaders have renounced violence and condemned the murder of Sadat.

Following a government reform in 2004, a series of economic reforms were implemented, followed by proposals for prudent reforms in the political sphere as well. Among other things, Mubarak suggested that more than one candidate should be allowed in the presidential election. The demand for several candidates had been driven by the new movement Kifaya (The expression corresponds to "Now it is enough" or "Now it must be enough" in Swedish.) That gathered leftists, liberals and moderate Islamists. Kifaya inspired the forbidden Muslim Brotherhood to become less cautious and openly demand real political reform.

After a few years of relatively calm, Egypt suffered a series of acts of terror in 2004-2006 partly aimed at tourists on the Sinai Peninsula. In the bloodiest deed, about 70 people died when three suicide bombers struck in Sharm el-Sheikh seaside resort in 2005. Many suspected terrorists were arrested.

Several candidates

The 2005 presidential election was the first with more than one candidate. The competition forced the now 77-year-old Mubarak into more open debate, but his position was hardly threatened. According to official data, Mubarak won 89 percent of the vote. The opposition claimed that cheating has occurred.

Ahead of the parliamentary elections a few months later, more open criticism of the regime was allowed than before. The fraternity, the largest opposition force, for the first time appeared openly and stood with independent candidates. Many dissatisfied NDP members also participated as independents. The result was that the NDP declined significantly, even though the party still received close to 70 percent of the mandate. The Brotherhood's supporters received almost 20 percent. The success of the Brotherhood contributed to the regime's repression against the opposition.

In the spring of 2010, the Peace Prize Laureate and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, founded a new umbrella organization for opposition groups, the National Movement for Change.

Ahead of the November – December parliamentary elections, more than 1,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were reported to have been arrested. There were unrest, including between security forces and the Brotherhood. Gradually, both ElBaradei's group and the Brotherhood and several others decided to boycott the election. The NDP won big, but the opposition and independent observers considered cheating to happen.

Mubarak is overthrown

Then followed the revolution in 2011. Few had predicted the dramatic development, despite the apparent frustration over rigged elections, abuse of power and oppression, and corruption and widespread unemployment. The mainly young, secular and often well-educated Egyptians who organized the first protests had already formed networks. They had organized campaigns against corruption, inequality, police brutality and the regime's power monopoly, largely through social media.

The upheaval began on January 25, when thousands of Egyptians gathered for a demonstration in Cairo, inspired by the popular uprising that just forced the Tunisian president to flee his country. The protesters demanded Mubarak's departure, and stayed on the Tahrir Square - the Liberation Square - for the following days. Islamist groups and the established opposition joined. Soon, millions of Egyptians from all walks of life participated in demonstrations across the country.

The regime tried to stop the protests with a mix of threats, violence and promises, but the demonstrations only grew. Hundreds were killed in clashes and thousands were arrested. After almost three dramatic weeks when Tahrir Square was in focus, Mubarak resigned on February 11.

A military council headed by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi took power. Mubarak's old power organization NDP was dissolved. The Brotherhood was allowed to operate freely and formed a new moderate Islamist party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Many new parties emerged.

Initially, the military council had popular support, but the impatience soon grew. The military was accused of violating human rights, persecuting regime critics and igniting contradictions between Muslims and Christians. More and more people felt that the old regime remained, though without Mubarak. From the summer of 2011, protesters gathered repeatedly at Tahrir Square.

Parliamentary and presidential elections

In November, elections for a new parliament began. The elections were held several times in January. The largest was an alliance dominated by the FJP, with nearly half the votes, and second largest was the more extreme Salafist party al-Nur, which got around a quarter.

Presidential elections were held in May and June. In the second round, FJP candidate Muhammad Mursi was opposed to a former minister in Mubarak's regime. Mursi won the election, with close to 52 percent of the vote.

The Islamists' big victory at the ballot boxes was quite unexpected. Among the predominantly secular middle-class groups that have been at the forefront of the revolution, concerns about what would happen if ultra-conservative religious forces now took power. Others felt that the success of the Islamic parties reflected the desire of the majority for a socially conservative society based on religion - at the same time as citizens wanted increased economic equality, representation and a functioning rule of law.

Power struggle with the military

The old establishment was also troubled by the success of the Islamists. The Constitutional Court unexpectedly annulled the parliamentary election. The Military Council declared Parliament dissolved and took the legislative power itself. The Council also took control of the state budget and gave itself the right to decide who would draft a new constitution.

Mursi in turn chose to challenge the military. Immediately after his accession on June 30, 2012, he called the dissolved parliament for a brief meeting. In August, he rescinded the declaration of the military and allowed the senior military chiefs to retire. In doing so, Mursi greatly cuts the military's long-standing influence and unified power in his own hand.

When Mursi went ahead and via decree sat over even the judicial system protests erupted and the judiciary threatened with strike.

New basis is assumed

The decree meant that a proposal for a new constitution could be presented, without the risk of being stopped in court. Mursi quickly announced a referendum on the constitutional proposal. The riots and protests continued, from liberal, non-religious and Christian groups who considered the new constitution to be too Islamic. Nearly two-thirds of voters supported the proposal when the referendum was conducted in December 2012, but turnout was low: 33 percent.

The noises became increasingly irreconcilable. Violence increased in connection with the two-year anniversary of the revolution in January 2013. In February, the government announced that new elections to Parliament would be held in the spring. But the election was stopped by a court on the grounds that the electoral law was not properly adopted.

In the spring, protests against Mursi's rule escalated. In connection with the one-year anniversary of his entry, the demonstrations grew until millions of Egyptians were out on the streets. Many accused the Brotherhood of hijacking the revolution and using their electoral victories to initiate Islamization of society. Eventually, the military intervened and on July 3, 2013, Mursi was deposed in a coup.

 
 

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