Tuesday

26th Jan 2021

Interview

2011: The 'Arab Spring' was a great dream

  • Egypt, 2011, and the beginnings of what became known as the 'Arab Spring' (Photo: Koert Debeuf)

When Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself on 17 December 2010 in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, it appeared to be the catalyst for a wave of revolutions across the entire Arab world, called the Arab Spring.

The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abedine Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January, 2011. On 25 January, people went to Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding freedom in Egypt. Everyone was stunned when Egypt's long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on 11 February 2011. It triggered revolution and protests from Rabat in Morocco, over Bahrain to Damascus in Syria.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Asmaa Mahfouz in Cairo in 2011 (Photo: Wikimedia)

Not all outcomes of these revolutions were for the best. Tunisia became a functioning democracy, while other countries plunged into civil war, or into new dictatorships. In 2011, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to five representatives of the Arab revolution. Mohamed Bouazizi received the prize posthumously.

For Egypt, the prize was given to Asmaa Mahfouz. Nine years later, we talk to her about that incredible moment in 2011.

"I was a very regular girl, working in sales and marketing. No one in my family was politically active. Actually, no one in Egypt I knew had a dream. There was no justice anywhere, but we all kept silent. For some reason, I started to feel angry about it, and started to become politically active in 2008. I had no big ideas, but I thought, why not talk to people about justice and freedom? Why not try making people believe that change is possible? That's why I joined the April 6 movement [the youth movement that organised the 25 January Tahrir Square sit-in]. I wanted to convince people to stand up for freedom and justice," Asmaa Mahfouz recounts.

"When I saw what happened in Tunisia in December 2010 and January 2011, it made me even more angry. I wanted to convince people that it would be safe to come out to the streets and posted my mobile number on Facebook to prove that. From 10 January on my phone didn't stop ringing, day and night. I tried to convince them that we will be with them and that we have to do this together.

"When I posted a video on Facebook, calling on men to show their courage and join women on Tahrir on 25 January, I was angry, but afraid. Back then, I thought, well, the worst that can happen is that I will be killed. But that didn't matter to me. We had to fight for our rights. But when I went to Tahrir, the protest was so much bigger than I and all the others had ever hoped for. People came out massively, without fear, believing things could be changed. Everyone cared for each other and helped each other, certainly on those days when we were attacked.

"Actually, on that day we never thought for a second this Tahrir protest would end with the resignation of Mubarak. We were very surprised and very happy to have accomplished this, and still be alive. Today, nine years later, it all seems like a distant dream.

"Because of my role in 2011, I don't find any work. Luckily, I have my children to care for. It's their future that is my purpose in life now."

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, 20 years of European journalism & history, which you can now read in full online.

Opinion

Why is Egypt jailing my friends?

A new wave of arrests against youth activists who, five years ago, helped bring down Mubarak is a sign of Sisi's paranoia, and could prompt fresh unrest.

Opinion

EU deafeningly silent on Egypt abuses

European states and institutions must condemn what's happening in Egypt if the ideals of and sacrifices of Tahrir Square have any meaning.

EU states 'complicit' in Egypt repression

Amnesty International has named and shamed 12 EU states for supplying arms to Egypt despite a pledge not to contribute to “internal repression”.

Interview

2018: Juncker: Far-right 'never had a chance' against the EU

The far-right rose in power over the span of 2017 and 2018. But for former EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, they never posed a real threat. "They are not right because their basic societal analysis is wrong," he said.

Interview

2020: EU solidarity tested in face of Covid-19 pandemic

When decisive, coordinated action from EU institutions and member states was most needed to respond to the first coronavirus outbreaks, the bloc struggled to find a common and timely response. What lessons have been learned?

Interview

2019: EU's Green Deal - a global 'gold standard'?

All EU action on the climate stands at the crossroads between domestic ambition and international cooperation - especially with the G20 countries, which are responsible for about 80 percent of all global emissions.

News in Brief

  1. AstraZeneca told to meet EU vaccine supply commitments
  2. Estonia to get first woman prime minister
  3. Turkey and Greece to hold Mediterranean security talks
  4. Dutch police detain 240 in anti-lockdown protests
  5. Renewables overtake fossil fuels in EU electricity mix
  6. France's top scientist warns of corona 'emergency'
  7. Growing appetite for Northern Ireland independence
  8. Surge in support for Portuguese far-right party

20 years of EUobserver

Our special anniversary magazine gives an overview of the major events of these past 20 years - and, for every event, we talked to one of the key players. It makes this magazine a document of recent EU history.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks
  2. Why Russia politics threaten European security
  3. MEPs call for workers to have 'right to disconnect'
  4. Reality bites EU's 'No More Morias' pledge
  5. Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity
  6. Vaccine delay and Russia sanctions debates This WEEK
  7. Will EU ever take action to stop Israeli settlements?
  8. EU leaders keep open borders, despite new corona variant risk

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us