Background

Although the protests that ousted Mubarak in 2011 bore similarities to protests across the region known as the Arab Spring, the country has not always been in lockstep with the politics of other Middle Eastern countries. A historic peace deal brokered in 1979 by US President Jimmy Carter between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, known as the Camp David Accords, preceded Sadat's assassination in 1981 at the hands of Islamic extremists. His death instigated the expulsion of Egypt from the Arab League until 1989. Following Sadat's assassination, Egypt re-enacted the country's emergency laws in 1981, which stifled political dissent and enabled the country's security forces to actively oppress opposition political parties. The emergency laws originally came into force in 1967 — the same year as the Six-Day War in which Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and took control of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. When Mubarak took over following Sadat's assassination, the country enjoyed a time of stability and economic growth. However, the emergency laws bred corruption in the country as the government cracked down on political dissent.

Egypt's emergency laws were renewed in May 2008, notwithstanding a December 2006 promise from Mubarak to repeal the laws. Human Rights Watch (HRW) sharply criticized the renewal, saying the move showed "contempt for the rule of law." In May 2010, the Egyptian Parliament voted to extend the country's state of emergency for two years, which drew protest from opposition groups who claimed the laws were ineffective and used to stifle dissent. The Egyptian government often used the country's emergency laws against opposition parties to arrest and indefinitely detain individuals it considered a threat to state security, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which the Egyptian government accused of trying to create an Islamic theocracy through violence. In July 2010, the trial of 26 individuals with alleged ties to Hezbollah was transferred to a court established under the emergency laws.

Following the renewal of Egypt's emergency laws in October 2010, Egypt issued new media restrictions that critics claimed effectively put all live television media — including talk shows and news shows — under government control. The telecommunications regulator cancelled the broadcast permits of all private media companies, forcing them to apply for new licenses through the state television agency. Critics argued that the measure was meant to stifle the media in the run-up to the November 2010 parliamentary and the 2011 presidential elections.

Controversy also surrounded the Egyptian parliamentary elections on November 28, 2010, as violence accompanied accusations of corruption, fraud and political suppression. Reports surfaced of vote-buying and the ejection of independent vote monitors from polling locations. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) took tough measures to hold onto its control of the 508-seat Egyptian Parliament. The week before, 11 people had been found guilty of taking part in election demonstrations and campaigning for the banned MB — the only legitimate opposition party threat. At least 1,200 supporters of the MB were arrested during the run-up to the election, which raised issues for the presidential elections the following year.

 

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