Asmaa Mahfouz


Egypt’s revolution that started a half-decade ago will continue for years to come. In the time, headlines about Egypt have been laden with insta-emotion: awe at an uprising against one of the Middle East’s longest reigning and best-armed dictators, joy at its success, confusion in its aftermath, sadness that the young protesters were seemingly defeated in the end, that elections were overturned, and that autocrats rose once again. At times, far from being a political inspiration, events in Egypt have felt like a textbook example of why mass protest is doomed to failure; a study in how “business as usual” always wins out in the end. This narrative is profoundly misleading. The revolution, and counterrevolution, has never been just about Mubarak, or his successors, or elections. It is not merely a civil war between Islamists and secularists, nor a fight between oriental backwardness and western liberal modernity, nor an “event” that can be fixed and constrained in place or time. In reality, the revolution is about marginalized citizens muscling their way on to the political stage and practicing collective sovereignty over domains that were previously closed to them. The national presidency is one such domain, but there are many others: factories, fields and urban streets, the mineral resources that lie under the desert and beneath the seabed, the houses people live in, the food they eat and the water they drink.(1)

Asmaa Mahfouz

A small, young Egyptian woman broke through the fear barrier that had kept a dictator in power for 30 years.

Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, had ruled for nearly three decades. During those years, his power as president increased and a long history of police abuse and corruption followed. Individual freedoms were eliminated under the “emergency law” that allowed the police forces to arrest and detain political figures and activists without charges. Decades of corruption led to a growing income inequality between the rich and the poor and a weakening of vital social services.

In January of 2011, Asmaa and her network of friends would be inspired to seek change for their nation. The bordering citizens of the Tunisian Republic, through a series of street demonstrations and civil resistance, ousted their 23 year dictator. Since both nations shared similar problems, many people across Egypt began to hope that somehow they could topple the authoritarian regime. However, in a nation where an estimated 18,000 activists had been imprisoned and where it was illegal to gather in groups larger than five people without government approval, the Egyptians had a major hurdle. Their major hurdle was fear.

Fear of the government, fear of kidnapping, fear of harassment and abuse. These fears had kept the regime in power for three decades. These fears caused Asmaa’s parents to disagree with her efforts to provoke change. These fears also kept many activists out of the public realm. As a result, they often used anonymous names on websites to avoid being identified and captured.

This all changed on January 18th, 2011 when Asmaa Mahfouz decided to face her fears and ask others to join her in protest. She posted a video of herself online speaking to the camera, boldly identifying herself and calling on others to join her at a protest in Tahrir Square on January 25.

I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner.” “I wrote that whoever is worried about this country should come with me, and that anyone who is worried about me or thinks that I am mentally ill should come in order to protect me.”(2)

If you think yourself a man, come with me on 25 January. Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on 25 January. Whoever says it is not worth it because there will only be a handful of people, I want to tell him, ‘You are the reason behind this, and you are a traitor, just like the president or any security cop who beats us in the streets“(4) – Asmaa Mahfouz

She was not alone in her efforts, but did take the big step of going public with her identity and plan. Asmaa knew the danger she could have brought upon herself. Only a few days earlier Asmaa and a small group of protesters had been arrested by the police for speaking out against the government.

Shared virally on Facebook, blogs and cell phones, her message boldness and her call to action quickly inspired others across the nation. Asmaa and the others began distributing leaflets, making more videos and encouraging others to turn out on the 25th.Tahrir_square_25_January_revolution

The Youth Movement was only expecting a turnout of a few thousand, but over a million Egyptians showed up.

The military was inspired by the movement and pledged to not attack or remove the protesters despite their orders. The riot police used every method available to stop the demonstrations but were overwhelmed by the large masses. Overall, the protesters remained committed to non-violence despite abuse from the police, the cutting of internet access and the enactment of strict emergency curfews.

All Egyptians, not only the protestors, have broken through the fear barrier, therefore I expect only one outcome – protests will continue until Mubarak steps down from power.” – Asmaa Mahfouz

By February 11th, President Mubarak finally resigned and negotiations for a new government began.(2)


Within 4 years, Ms. Mahfouz and other revolutionaries were marginalized and often depicted in the Egyptian media as enemies of the state. From behind closed doors, Ms. Mahfouz says, “the situation is far worse than during the three decades of Mubarak rule. When we protested then, we were beaten in the streets, sometimes tortured. But now people are being killed in the most brutal way.”

Many say, only the president changed here, not the regime.

Asmaa Mahfouz says Egypt is undergoing a counter-revolution. As the mother of an infant daughter, she is looking ahead with fear.

I am trying to remain calm, I am trying to be optimistic for her,” she says. “But if we continue like this, we are heading towards darkness. They are trying to kill our dreams.”(3)

Despite many setbacks, there is no denying that the Egyptian revolutionaries have achieved fundamental disruption of relationship between Egypt’s citizenry and the state, connecting the dots of political and economic injustice and demanding meaningful democratic agency over the things that affect their lives. They have done so at a time when rampant inequality has compelled many others around the world to do the same.

The key players in this drama are not political leaders such as Mubarak Tantawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s short‑lived president Mohamed Morsi or the army general who overthrew him, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – members of the elites and counter-elites jockeying for supremacy amid the chaos – but rather the ordinary Egyptians fighting for autonomy and attempting to dismantle the constellation of power that enables such supremacy in the first place. They are the farmers revolting against the privatization of their land; the DJs creating illicit new music in backstreet garages; the ceramics plant employees kidnapping their boss and seizing control of their workplace; the Bedouins storming a government nuclear site to reclaim stolen territory; the schoolchildren who spend their lunch breaks playing games of revolution. Their stories rarely make it into the international media. But within them lies the revolution’s threat, and its living, giddying possibilities.(1)

Revolutions take Conviction, Commitment, Persistence; Change needs Time!




  5. Featured image –

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