London: The Egyptians who took to the streets on January 25, 2011 knew what they were doing. They know they are in danger of being arrested, or worse. However, as the number of people in the central Tahrir Square in Cairo surged, they tasted success.
The police retreated, and within a few days, former President Hosni Mubarak agreed to call for resignation.
However, the incident did not prove the way many protesters envisioned. Ten years later, it is estimated that thousands of people have fled abroad to escape the administration of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who is considered more oppressive. The massive loss of academics, artists, journalists and other intellectuals, coupled with an atmosphere of fear, frustrated any political opposition.
Dr. Mohamed Aboelgheit was one of those sentenced to prison in the southern city of Asiut in 2011. He put part of the uprising in a cramped cell.
Released amid the chaos, he reveled in the atmosphere of political freedom in the Arab world’s most populous country — protesting, working as a journalist and joining a campaign for a moderate presidential candidate. But it did not last.
Interim military rulers followed Mubarak. In 2012, Mohamed Morsi, a member of Egypt’s most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected as the first civilian president in the country’s history. But his tenure proved divisive. Amid massive protests, the military — led by then-Defense Minister el-Sissi — removed Morsi in 2013, dissolved parliament and eventually banned the Brotherhood as a “terrorist group.” A crackdown on dissent ensued, and el-Sissi won two terms in elections that human rights groups criticized as undemocratic.
“I began to feel, by degree, more fear and threats,” Aboelgheit said. Friends were jailed, his writings critical of the government drew attention, and “I wasn’t going to wait until it happened to me,” he added.
After el-Sissi came to power, Aboelgheit left for London, where he’s published investigative reports on other parts of the Arab world.