Making Use of a Revolutionary Moment: The Impact of Human Rights Organizations in Post-revolutionary Egypt

In the aftermath of the 2011 revolution in Egypt, human rights organizations were free to formulate a human rights discourse and use diverse techniques to attract public and government attention on a wide range of issues. While they continue to play the same role as before, the revolution heightened public support in pushing for change and enabled other stakeholders to mobilize and engage, leading to some success. This short-lived momentum was stifled by a return to repressive policies and practices since mid-2013, limiting the work of human rights organizations and their impact.

Arab Reform Initiative - Making Use of a Revolutionary Moment: The Impact of Human Rights Organizations in Post-revolutionary Egypt
Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate in Tahrir square after the announcement of the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak from his post, Cairo, Egypt, 25 January 2011 © Andre Pain/EPA


On 25 January 2011, Egypt’s National Police Day, massive protests took to the streets in response to calls by activists, widely supported by various movements and groups, and then later by the majority of the public. The unprecedented public mobilization that 2011 witnessed created the perfect opportunity for human rights advancement. In post-2011 Egypt, there was more public space than had ever existed during Mubarak’s three-decade rule for all stakeholders to engage freely: media, political parties, the judiciary, and human rights organizations, in the absence of the usually domineering state security apparatus. Human rights organizations were dealing with a vulnerable regime that was keen to appease, willing to listen, and open to reform and dialogue, regardless of how genuine its intentions were. In the aftermath of the 2013 military coup, which followed massive demonstrations against the Muslim Brothers-led government, some of the gains made by these organizations proved to be fragile, and within a few months a security state was back in full force. Despite a general agreement that the human rights conditions in Egypt quickly became far worse than during Mubarak’s years, there remains some elements of success that were reaped in the short “revolutionary” years from 2011 to 2013, and especially in the early months following Mubarak’s downfall.

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The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.