Main Causes of the Egyptian Conflict With Mubarak

Cairo's Tahrir Square was a hub for demonsrations that led to Mubarak's ouster.
... Jupiterimages/ Images

A popular uprising against the dictatorship of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began on Jan. 25, 2011. The movement, organized by Egyptian youth, began with peaceful demonstrations. But hundreds were killed in clashes between protesters and security before Mubarak agreed to step down in February 2011. Inspired by the uprising in Tunisia that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptian protesters organized their own movement through social media. Their revolution was prompted by grievances with the government that had deep social, economic, political and historical roots.

1 Historical Foundations

Egypt's authoritarianism -- before and after the nation's British-backed monarchy was overthrown in 1952 -- was partly a reaction to political Islam, which Egyptian leaders saw as a significant challenge to their power. The Muslim Brotherhood, a group founded in 1928 that advocated Islam-based policy, was often the most vocal and extreme dissenter against the government's secular, authoritarian rule.

Over decades, as a 2004 "New Yorker" article explains, Brotherhood members and other Islamists protested against, assassinated or allegedly attempted to assassinate Egyptian leaders. In response, Egyptian government forces killed the Brotherhood's founder and some leaders, imprisoned its members and drove them from politics and the country, that article said. In 1981, two years after President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, Islamic extremists assassinated him. Purportedly to guard against rising Islamic zealotry, Mubarak, who replaced Sadat, governed under emergency law until his ouster, allowing security forces to arrest people without explanation and detain them without end, according to "The New Yorker," news outlets and human rights groups.

2 Political Sparks

Mubarak’s government, which was wrought with corruption, ultimately drove the public to revolt. Egypt’s rising political and business elite were coerced into supporting Mubarak's government through threats and blackmail. As a result, there was no development of a viable opposition in Egypt's political system, and the Muslim Brotherhood was banned during Mubarak's tenure. Mubarak's authoritarian measures, which included torture and rampant incarceration, paralyzed the Egyptian population with fear. But it became fuel for revolutionary fire.

3 Economic Catalysts

During Mubarak’s reign, the Egyptian economy had been decimated, and there were no substantial job opportunities for the nation's burgeoning new population. This coupled with years of high inflation rates and budget deficits had angered an already restless young population hungry for opportunity and success.

4 Social Gravity

One of the social causes of the Egyptian revolution lay in the widening divide between the rich and the poor. The economic inequality affected social cohesion and the overall health of the population. Egypt was experiencing a vast disparity regarding access to basic services such as health care and education. In addition, the Mubarak regime instituted crackdowns on the media and university life, suffocating culture and freedom of expression. This crackdown, combined with limited education opportunities, angered young Egyptians who, due to low employment rates, had time and energy to put toward a cause they believed in.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.