Demonstrations marking the anniversary of the Egyptian uprising were subdued on Monday. Five years earlier, on January 25, 2011, mass protests had broken out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, culminating weeks later in the ouster of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for the previous three decades. Since then, Egypt has experienced its first democratic elections, the brief presidential tenure of Mohammed Morsi of the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood, another wave of protests over his misrule, a military coup, and a reversion to authoritarianism under former army chief and now President Abdel Fattah el- Sisi. As Lauren Bohndocumented from Cairo over the weekend, many of the revolution’s leaders and supporters are now in prison; the crackdown only intensified ahead of the anniversary of the Tahrir Square protests.
Similar uprisings across the Middle East seemed, five years ago, to hold the promise of a wave of transitions to democracy throughout a region infamous for its dictatorships. The relative absence of al-Qaeda as a driving force in the events appeared to show that the forces of democracy had succeeded in removing dictators where terrorists groups, which sought to overthrow those regimes by violent means, had failed. Since then, though, the flood of good news from the region has dried up. ISIS has fed offthe civil war that resulted from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on protesters, and the group has also put down roots in Libya, where chaos followed the international military campaign to overthrow the late Muammar al-Qaddafi. Yemen, too, is engulfed in war. Houthi rebels took over the capital in 2014, and a 10-month Saudi-led bombing campaign has caused massive loss of civilian life but so far failed to dislodge the rebels. Tunisia, in the words of Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, is “widely regarded as the Arab Spring’s success story,” marked by the passage of a new constitution and apeaceful transfer of power through elections in 2014, and a Nobel Peace Prizeawarded in 2015 to the civil-society groups that helped bring all of it about. But even there, Cook notes, the “transition hasn’t been smooth.”
In the audio slideshow that follows, Cook gives a brief tour of the region and what happened to the Arab Spring, country by country, over the past five years.