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Centralization and Marginalization Narrative

In contrast to the secretive and carefully executed Free Officers’ Movement, which rose to power in 1952, the January 25 revolution was a massive popular mobilization that occurred spontaneously across Egypt. Despite the unprecedented scale of the more recent uprising, there has been a tendency to confine discussion of the revolution to the events in Tahrir Square. Indeed, in Egypt it is customary to conflate the political, economic, and social capital of Cairo with the rest of the country, so much so that Egyptians living outside Cairo call their capital city “Masr” (Egypt)—as if they are living outside the country. Such oversimplifications were apparent even at the beginning of the uprising, when Western commentators dubbed Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow the “Facebook Revolution”—thereby relegating the real achievements of ordinary Egyptians to cyberspace. Many other Western observers have interpreted highly complex sociopolitical phenomena as simply the result of Egypt’s young generation of Web 2.0 users, despite the fact that the illiteracy rate in Egypt is over 40 percent. Equally astonishing is the fact that five years have passed since the revolution, and yet it has not been sufficient time for scholars, journalists, and filmmakers to uncover the marginalized narratives hidden from the media and political spotlights.

No attention has been paid to Egypt’s revolutions since January 2011, except for a few researchers who have tried to study the diverse manifestations of political activism and social movements. This neglect is caused by what Mohamad Hamas Elmasry and Mohammed El-Nawawy describe in chapter 7 as the media’s ties and subservience to the Egyptian state. In spite of select researchers’ efforts, there is a salient paucity in documentation, and therefore analysis, of the uprisings witnessed outside Cairo. A clear example of this is the large difference in coverage between Cairo and Egypt’s second city, Alexandria. While the former has seen much media coverage and academic study (such as the chapters in this volume), the latter has enjoyed much less. Alexandria’s demonstrations were distinct from Cairo’s in part due to the fact that in Tahrir protesters came from all over the country, while in Alexandria demonstrators were almost entirely from the Mediterranean city. Hence, while it is true that Alexandria received some coverage in international media and scholarship, it was of a much smaller scale than the coverage of Cairo. In turn, Cairo came to symbolize the entire nation of Egypt. Ultimately, the imbalance in media and scholarship on the revolution in the rest of Egypt has consolidated the belief that the 2011 uprising was the Tahrir Square revolution. We need to recognize that this is untrue.

Perhaps the reason that the April 2006 incident in the delta city of Mahalla, when demonstrators tore down a poster of Mubarak and hit it with shoes, is celebrated as the first such occurrence of protest is because it had the good fortune of being captured on video. However, the first protests for Mubarak’s ouster were not in the Nile valley or in the delta at all. Rather, they occurred two years prior, after the first calls for Mubarak’s fall by the Syndicate of Journalists, and saw their nascent manifestation in the first small protests held by the Kefaya movement. In December 2004, families of detained Egyptians in North Sinai took to the streets, calling for the fall of the regime. This alienation was a result of the expanded crackdown imposed on the border region in Shaykh Zuwaid and Rafah after the unprecedented terrorist attacks by Gamaat il-Twaheed we il-Jihad in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

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