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Roots of Discontent: Egypt’s Call for Freedom

Harvard Kennedy School Review
April 2011

By Sanjeev Bery

On January 1 of this year, few would have predicted that Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak would soon be removed from office. But just three weeks later, thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to begin the push for change. In the aftermath of Tunisia’s political shakeup, Egyptian citizens called for an end to the authoritarian regime that controlled their lives. Never before had Mubarak faced such a massive challenge. After decades of torture, corruption, and fraudulent elections, the Western world’s favorite “moderate” dictator was about to be removed from power.

Looking back, there were key underlying political conditions that made this popular revolt possible. After enduring some 25 years of dictatorship, Egyptian activists had already broken the taboo of publicly challenging Mubarak’s regime in 2004 and 2005. And with the dictator’s ailing health, the Egyptian public faced the specter of a 2011 handoff of power from the father to his son, Gamal Mubarak. Trapped between a dictator and the heavy US investments that supported his regime, the Egyptian public was ready for the Tunisian spark that inspired them to action.

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