Sixth Anniversary of the January 25 Revolution

Michael Barak analyzes the responses of Egyptian users, mostly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the state of affairs in Egypt six years after the January 25 Revolution.

"The Blood of the Martyrs Unites Us".  From Twitter.
“The blood of the martyrs unites us.” A banner uploaded to Twitter as part of the online campaign “January 25 unites us” (#يناير_يجمعنا) 

January 25 marked six years since Egypt's popular revolution, ousting former President Hosni Mubarak's regime. The date sparked widespread discussion on social networking sites (SNS), in which hundreds of thousands of Egyptian users, especially supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, examined the progress Egypt has made on various issues since the revolution. The discourse was characterized by a deep sense of missed opportunity, feelings of having failed the revolution's goals, and frustrated hopelessness about the current regime's behavior. Building off of these difficult feelings, the Muslim Brotherhood is actively encouraging the Egyptian public to protest the current regime.

In the ensuing discourse on SNS, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian users accused the regime of crushing the dreams of the young and denying the needs of the people. These needs were defined as “three simple goals:” a living, freedom, and social justice. Users blamed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for Egypt’s various ills, including its economic crisis. There were multiple accusations that the government has eliminated political opponents, suppressed freedom of expression, and even committed treason against the Egyptian homeland - considering its forfeiture of Egyptian sovereignty over the Tiran and Sanafir Islands, in favor of Saudi Arabian sovereignty.[1] Some users expressed disapproval of Egypt's cooperation with Israel in the fight against the terrorist cells in Sinai Peninsula, describing this cooperation as an attempt to purify the Sinai of Muslim presence. Others noted that Egypt is led by Israel’s dictates, using the hashtag “Israel manages Egypt,” which received approximately 75,000 views.[2]

Many users, mostly identified as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, called for the Egyptian people to continue the revolution until its objectives are achieved. They used the hashtag “January 25 unites us.”[3] Conversely, there were users who expressed skepticism about the people’s readiness to answer the call. These users expressed a lack of confidence, even despair, about the extent to which it is possible to realize the objectives of the revolution. For example, one user declared, “the revolution went to hell.” Another user noted that the spirit of the revolution in Egypt was waning because it was being suppressed by the regime. He said that elements within the administration, “kidnapped the souls of young people, arrested them, accused them, and drove them out of their country.” In the opinion of many users, “the revolution was stolen” from the people, meaning that authority over the country is instead concentrated in a small group of military personnel with narrow interests. However, other users tried to lift people’s spirits - as one noted, “the only traitor to the revolution is someone who loses hope.”[4]

The discourse gained significant momentum following January 28, when al-Sisi gave a speech to 1,300 young people in Aswan in Upper Egypt, discussing economic development and job creation for young people. Al-Sisi stressed that despite the country's great poverty, Egypt is devoting enormous efforts to the economy.[5] The speech was severely criticized on SNS. Young Egyptians, both secular and Islamist, protested the cost of living and the increase in poverty using the hashtag “al-Sisi broke us,” which was used in approximately 40,000 comments. An Islamic user commented, “We know that we are very poor. This is because you [al-Sisi] and your gang have plundered the country for more than 60 years....”[6] A secular user claimed that all major economic projects designed to improve the Egyptian economy, such as excavating Suez Canal II, had run aground without proving themselves. Another user noted that the military regime is responsible for the destruction of many households, unable to feed their members due to the dramatic increase in the prices of sugar and oil.[7]

Muslim Brotherhood exiles living in Turkey participated in Egyptian public discourse on SNS. They escalated the rhetoric by uploading a propaganda video to Facebook, accusing al-Sisi of perpetuating poverty in the country with the expectation of Egyptian compliance. The ad called on Egypt’s poor to break their silence and protest in the streets until the regime falls.[8] The expats’ involvement in this discourse is not surprising, as many members of the Muslim Brotherhood have fled to Turkey, accepting Erdogan's offer of asylum after the overthrow of Morsi. While in Turkey, they have engaged in ongoing incitement against al-Sisi's regime. In addition to discussion on SNS, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood activists demonstrated on February 3 in several governorates, including Alexandria and Damietta. The protesters expressed their anger about the spread of poverty in the country and called for the al-Sisi regime to resign immediately, and for the army not to interfere in politics.[9]

In addition to widespread criticism, some users defended al-Sisi’s policy. For example, in one post a user claimed that al-Sisi is smart enough to operate prudently in a complex reality, restoring Egypt to a leadership role in the Arab world. Other users mentioned that al-Sisi had saved Egypt from the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had attempted to lead the country into a less than ideal future. In the economic domain, a few users also rejected criticism, claiming that patience is needed, and that there are already signs of improvement. For example, one wrote: “Do you know that Egypt is exporting 1,500 tons of sugar every day despite the crisis, and the price of a kilo of Egyptian sugar sold in Europe is the equivalent to E£ 8?”[10]

Discourse on SNS surrounding the sixth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution reveals the presence of powerbrokers, especially within the Muslim Brotherhood, who do not intend to accept the rule of al-Sisi. From their perspective, the country's deteriorating economic situation is a badge of shame for the regime, and a sign that the Revolution of January 25 was nipped at the bud, but should be continued. At the moment, it seems that only supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are protesting in public spaces. Responding to frustration expressed by SNS users, pro-regime users cited the regime’s achievements and its determination to ensure the welfare of the inhabitants of Egypt. These responses express fear of successful Muslim Brotherhood incitement.

[1] See Michael Barak, “The Tiran and Sanafir Islands at the Heart of an Online Protest,” Beehive, vol. 4, no. 4, April 2016..

[2] #مصر_تدار_من_إسرائيل

[3] #يناير_يجمعنا

[4] #يناير_حتفضل_ثورتنا; #لساها_ثورة_يناير; ‎#25_يناير; #المجلس_خاين_عشان; #عودوا_الى_ثورتكم

[7] #السيسي_فقرنا See also the hashtag “As an Egyptian, where is overdraft?” #كمصري_ناقصك_ايهالسيسي_فقرنا

[10] #السيسي_فقرنا; ياسيسي_يازعيم_العرب