The Egyptian Revolution 2011
It all started in Tunisia. On December 17, 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire as a protest against a system and a president that had denied him and millions of other young people the chance to shape their own lives. In the days that followed, thousands of people flooded the streets of Tunisia, demanding that President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali step down.
The regime tried to crush the revolt, but Ben Ali eventually gave up, and on January 14 he boarded a plane and left the country he had ruled for 23 years.
Eleven days later, January 25, a crowd gathered on Tahrir Square in Cairo. The demonstration was originally conceived as a protest against the police who for decades had forcefully cracked down on any serious opposition to President Mubarak.
Inspired by the upheaval in Tunisia, the call for revolt spread via mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter, and soon thousands demanded regime change in the largest country in the Arab world. A country characterized by poverty, corruption and unemployment; a country where millions of young Egyptians grow up with no prospects of a job and therefore few opportunities to move away from home and eventually get married.
They now demanded that President Hosni Mubarak follow the example of Ben Ali and resign. The president’s response came immediately. He deployed his security forces against the demonstrators – police with batons and guns stormed Tahrir Square, and at least 70 were killed during the first few days.
The president subsequently withdrew the police and made some concessions to the demonstrators. The powerful Egyptian army then announced that it recognized the legitimate rights of the demonstrators and that it would not allow soldiers to use violence against the crowds. Nevertheless, the demonstrators were attacked on February 2, when groups of Mubarak supporters stormed the square and violent fights raged for two days.
The demonstrators dug in, however, and built barricades, first-aid stations and large encampments. They were surrounded by the military and by a country unsure of which side it should support. The atmosphere on the square hovered somewhere between the fear of a massacre and the euphoric sensation that Egyptians could stand in the middle of Cairo with a placard and say nasty things about the president.
Hosni Mubarak spoke on TV several times and gave new concessions to the demonstrators, but he did not utter that final goodbye they wanted to hear.
The public pressure increased, as did the pressure from the outside world and from the army that has propped up all modern Egyptian rulers. At last – after 18 days – release came when Mubarak resigned on February 11. Tahrir Square emerged as the victor of the first round, but no one knows if the demonstrators will achieve the freedom and democracy they fought for in the streets. Meanwhile, the Arab revolt continued in other countries, where people gathered in other squares and demanded freedom.
The photos were taken from February 1 through February 8, when photographer Jacob Ehrbahn covered the events with journalist Bo Søndergaard.