Three years ago, thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding the self-determination that had been denied them for decades. Following 18 days of popular revolt, the country's long-ruling despot was deposed and the military stepped in to assume power. Following several rounds of voting, today the military is in firm control, and freedom from political repression in Egypt remains as elusive as ever—proving that elections in themselves are not enough to bring democracy. Here, a look back at key events that continue to shape Egypt's revolutionary struggle.
Jan. 25, 2011: State-run media celebrate “Police Day,” commemorating resistance to colonialism by Egyptian police. During the 30-year autocracy of President Hosni Mubarak, though, the institution has become the regime’s blunt instrument for political oppression, and the holiday is therefore marked as an occasion for anti-police protests. The unexpected mobilization of thousands seems to rouse the latent populace, who have been keenly observing intensifying protests in Algeria and Tunisia. Anti-regime chants jostle for attention as protesters spill into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand dignity, liberty, and social justice. Police respond violently, with tear gas, batons, and arrests of peaceful demonstrators.
Jan. 26–27: Crucially, protesters linger in the streets, and an increasingly weary police is forced to backpedal.
Jan. 28: Day of Rage: A broad and leaderless movement of hundreds of thousands converges on the country’s public squares, demanding the downfall of Mubarak and his regime. Clashes escalate as deadly police tactics further provoke angry protesters. Police stations across Egypt are torched. The embattled police force collapses, and army tanks enter the scene in the role of savior.
Jan. 31: The army announces that its presence is to ensure the safety of the people and protect freedom of expression.
Feb. 1: Members of the country’s more conservative social classes join the sit-in at Tahrir Square to hear Mubarak’s second speech since the protests. He promises to step down at the conclusion of his current term, later in the year.
Feb. 2: Any goodwill aroused by Mubarak’s announcement is shattered as camelback riders lead a charge of hired thugs and plain clothes police officers in an attempt to empty Tahrir Square by force. In a harbinger of the army’s shifting role in the uprising, tanks sit idle amid the violence.
Presuming to speak for the disparate, leaderless demonstrators, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized opposition, has joined with a mixed bag of liberal opposition voices to negotiate with the regime. The talks are ostensibly fruitless.
Feb. 11: At least 800 protesters have been killed and thousands injured since the first demonstrations 18 days ago. A wave of public sector strikes has further threatened the regime’s stability. In a terse televised statement, the vice president announces that Mubarak has relinquished all powers to the military. Egypt’s streets erupt with jubilant celebrations, but the sudden power shift leaves a giant question mark regarding the military’s stewardship: Which way will it turn?
Feb. 13: The military dissolves Parliament and suspends the constitution. An eight-member committee is appointed to amend articles outlining interim rule and establishing electoral regulations for presidential and parliamentary elections. In a move intimating cozying relations among the strongest political forces remaining in the wake of Mubarak’s overthrow, the military appoints two Islamists–one a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood–to the constitutional committee.
Emergency law, in place since 1981, remains in effect, along with a nighttime curfew.
March 1: The military sets the vote on constitutional amendments for March 19, alarming Egyptians who argue that the military’s rapid timeline suits the already organized Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak’s former ruling party, and that more time is needed for political life to develop after decades of oppression.
Tahrir Square has largely emptied, though anti-regime demonstrations continue, with protesters demanding a comprehensive dismantling of Mubarak’s regime.
March 9: A monthlong sit-in at Tahrir Square is forcibly dispersed by the military. In the adjacent Egyptian Museum, torture and “virginity tests” for female protesters—the military’s crude euphemism for sexual assault—reveal a darker side to the ruling generals.
March 19: Egypt’s first vote since the uprising: a referendum on the constitutional amendments. Military rulers capitalize on the "yes" vote and release a 62-article declaration that goes beyond the original mandate, seizing full executive and legislative authority.
March 23: A law criminalizing protests and strikes is passed by the military-backed government. Egyptians protest it.
Oct. 9: After the burning of a church in late September—the third since the uprising—Christian protesters begin their third sit-in outside the state television headquarters. The military’s response shocks the nation: Armored vehicles ramp onto sidewalks, chasing and crushing civilians.
Nov. 19: Over the next five days, dozens die and hundreds are injured in clashes between protesters and security forces outside the Interior Ministry in Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
Nov. 28: High turnout in parliamentary elections indicates the nation’s desire to move past military rule. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour Party, another Islamist group, together claim a clear majority.
May 24, 2012: The first round of presidential elections. Results announced the following Monday give a rudimentary image of Egypt’s new political landscape: The candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military emerge at the top, to meet in a runoff. Protesters again gather in Tahrir Square, many demanding the disenfranchisement of Mubarak-era officials, including the military-linked candidate.
June 24: By the slimmest of margins, Mohamed Morsi wins the runoff to become Egypt’s first freely elected president.
June 30: Upon inauguration, Morsi pledges, as elected president and “leader of the revolution,” to “complete the revolutionary course” and to reclaim presidential powers from the military council that has ruled since Mubarak’s overthrow.
Aug. 12: President Morsi forces the resignation of Egypt’s reviled army chief, in what appears to be a crippling blow to the military’s long-standing political clout. General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the director of military intelligence, is sworn in as the new army chief.
Nov. 22: The president issues a highly controversial declaration, immunizing his decrees from judicial challenge. The authoritarian move outrages the judiciary and further stokes public anger.
Dec. 6: Muslim Brotherhood regional offices are set alight throughout the Nile Delta provinces.
Spring 2013: A youth movement known as Tamarod, “rebellion” in Arabic, builds momentum for a petition calling for Morsi to step down.
June 30: On the anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration, millions take to Egypt’s streets demanding early elections. General Sisi is quick to react, issuing a 48-hour ultimatum for all parties to arrive at an agreement. Morsi, clinging to his “legitimacy” as elected leader, offers no compromise. Images of police and Tamarod founders standing shoulder-to-shoulder present a telling portrait of Egypt’s ambivalent moment.
July 3: Sisi suspends the constitution and ousts Egypt’s first freely elected leader, who along with his aides are detained by the Republican Guard. The military assumes leadership again.
July 5 and 8: A series of clashes outside the Republican Guard headquarters leaves dozens of Morsi supporters dead.
July 24: Sisi calls on the public to “confront terrorism.”
Aug. 14: Early in the morning, Egyptian police commit one of the bloodiest massacres in recent history. One estimate, by Human Rights Watch, counts close to 1,000 Morsi supporters killed at Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque alone.
Sept. 1: Morsi is referred to trial for inciting the killing of protesters while he was president.
Human rights groups estimate that at least 2,000 Islamist activists, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, have been arrested since the coup.
Oct. 6: On a day of pro-military parades and state commemorations of the 1973 October War, pro-Morsi marchers are confronted by security forces in Cairo, leaving at least 50 protesters dead. The following day sees deadly attacks against security and military forces by militants outside Cairo.
In the coming months, Morsi supporters continue to protest, often meeting with lethal force. Campuses become nuclei of protest. Clashes escalate, leaving several students dead as police repeatedly storm campus grounds.
Nov. 24: A new anti-protest law is adopted, ostensibly in the name of human rights. Prominent activists are imprisoned after protesting the ban.
Dec. 25: A day after a bomb targets a provincial security directorate and kills 16, the military government declares the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and blames the group for recent bombings and attacks, ignoring announcements by Sinai-based militants that they are responsible.
Bomb attacks in Cairo and elsewhere target Egypt’s security apparatus over the next month.
Jan. 18, 2014: With strong opposition from leading protest movements and the announced boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-coup alliance, less than 40 percent of the electorate head to the polls and endorse the amended constitution, which curtails religious verbiage and safeguards the military’s autonomy.
Jan. 29: The military’s suppression of human rights and its crackdown on freedom of expression intensifies as prosecutors charge 20 journalists with aiding a terrorist organization and endangering national security.
WikiThawra, a website affiliated with the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, has reported that more than 21,000 have been arrested since the July 2013 coup.