Who schedules a revolution? Well, Egyptians do, joked many on 24 January last year, a day before the historical revolt was set in motion.
For weeks, youth movements had been distributed flyers in the streets and sent invitations on social networking sites, urging Egyptians to head to the streets on 25 January to protest against the 30-year-old Mubarak regime. Inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in neighbouring Tunisia, the revolutionaries vowed to hold a similar revolution in Egypt and oust Mubarak and his men and purge people from his corruption.
Given the magnitude of the Egyptian revolution and its ripple effect not only in Egypt, but the region and even the world, one would think that the pre-revolution weeks were rife with talk about the upcoming uprising. However, a look into newspapers of the day before the revolution shows that the bulk of Egyptian society was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.
Praising the police
One day before the revolution, Mubarak had begun early celebrations of Egypt’s 59th National Police Day, which was set for 25 January. The ousted president honoured the police forces, visited the Mubarak Security Academy, laid flowers on the graves of the police martyrs and congratulated them for a job well done. It seems that neither the president nor the celebrating police forces were aware that a revolution was in the works to topple them both, him for his oppressive rule and them for their brutality which led to the torture of thousands of Egyptians in police stations across the country.
In his last speech before the revolution, Mubarak addressed the police forces to mark National Police Day. In the speech, which was heavily covered in Al-Ahram, Masry El-Youm and El-Wafd newspapers, Mubarak focused much of the address on the recent bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria, which took place on the New Year’s Eve in 2011, and its impact on national unity in Egypt.
"Police day comes this year at a time when Egypt experienced a new attack from terrorist forces which targeted the unity of Muslims and Christians," Mubarak begun his speech.
Mubarak talked about how Egypt has been fighting terrorism for decades and the latest terror attacks were a warning signal that Egypt will always be a target for terrorists. The former leader then highlighted the role the police forces in Egypt played in combating terrorism.
"We will always remember the huge efforts made by police forces to fight for the security of Egypt and its people," Mubarak said. "We remember with pride the heroism of its policemen."
Mubarak then launched an attack on reports that some Egyptians were asking foreign countries to step in and protect the country’s Christian population after the church bombing. The ousted president said that Egypt would not accept any "foreign pressure."
"I say to those who request that friendly nations protect Egypt’s Copts...I say to them...that the age of foreign protection and custodianship is over...We do not accept any interference in Egyptian matters."
Indeed, Masry El-Youm released statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu El-Gheit in which he condemned the US Congress for discussing the attacks on Copts in Egypt.
The Egyptian media was also rife with stories about the Two Saints Church bombing, with reports that the Egyptian government had identified the culprits. The Ahram Arabic website reported that the guilty party was 26-year-old Ahmed Lotfy Ibrahim, who was supported by “the Palestinian Islam Army” organisation in Gaza. Most newspapers, including liberal El-Wafd and Masry El-Youm contained long features about this organisation.
Calm before the storm
On the day before the revolution, it seems that many figures who would soon make the news for both good and bad reasons were going about life completely unaware of the fate that awaited them. The Minister of Interior Habib El-Adly and the Secretary-General of the now dissolved National Democratic Party, Safwat El-Sherif were both pictured in the Ahram Arabic daily, heaping praise on the police and thanking them for the sacrifices they made to protect Egypt.
Both were both arrested shortly after Mubarak’s regime fell, and are now on trial.
In the independent El-Dostour newspaper, Mohamed Rasheed, Egypt’s then Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry, who is now on the run with an international arrest warrant on his head, was commenting on the Tunisian revolution. Rasheed stressed that that Tunisian revolution, which overthrew President Ben Ali, was heavily discussed during the Arab Economic Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh.
According to Al-Ahram, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s Minister of Defence, who would soon become Egypt’s de facto leader and most important public figure, was honouring retired armed forces officers.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayyeb, was warning everyone about a Zionist conspiracy out to destroy and disintegrate the Arab world and ruin the image of Islam in the Western world.
The Prosecutor-General Abdel Maged Mahmoud, whose desk would soon be piled with corruption files linked to members of the Mubarak regime, was investigating the suspects in the church bombing, according to Masry El-Youm.
Masry El-Youm also reported that the long suffering Muslim Brotherhood, completely unaware that the tide would turn in their favour during the coming weeks, spent the day before the revolution complaining about another wave of arrests by the Mubarak regime.
Meanwhile, threats of a revolution did not in any way stop Egypt and Germany from continuing their decade long squabble over the 3,400 year-old bust of fabled Queen Nefertiti, as reported by Al-Ahram that day.
Egypt’s economic woes were also top news on the day before the revolution. El-Wafd reported that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was warning that food prices would increase and that there would be a rise in unemployment in Egypt.
Tomorrow's protests: The Day of Anger
The political disturbance that was taking place in the streets did get a mention in a few newspapers. Both the liberal Wafd and Masry El-Youm reported that several protests were taking place on cabinet streets by doctors, farmers and workers demanding higher wages and better living conditions.
There were also a couple of articles discussing the protests that were being planned for 25 January.
Most media outlets dubbed 25 January "the Day of Anger." El-Wafd reported that the Copts, the Muslim Brotherhood, the 9 March movements, in addition to the Tagammu Party, would not join the protests the following day.
Masry El-Youm also reported that the three main Egyptian Christian denominations had announced that they will not participate in next day’s protests and had urged their followers not to go.
El-Wafd also published a long feature, discussing the phenomenon of Egyptians who, inspired by an act of self-immolation in Tunisia that led to the ousting of the president, have also begun setting themselves on fire to protest against the Mubarak regime. The story included statements by a political expert who stated that Egyptians were reverting to suicide to express their anger because it is the only way they have left in the oppressive regime of Mubarak.
Masry El-Youm did publish a piece detailing the plans for next day’s protest. The article said that the protest would begin at 2pm and end at the Ministry of Interior at 5pm. Protests were also expected to erupt in several Cairo suburbs such as Shubra, Mohandeseen and Mataria, as well as ten other governorates. It quoted a statement by Mohamed ElBaradei, who appealed to security forces not to use violence against protesters. It also had an interview with potential presidential candidate and former parliamentarian Ayman Nour who said that protests will be different this time and will be a “war against a repressive regime.”
However, if on the day before the revolution the media intentionally or unintentionally did not give much weight to the next day’s planned demonstrations, the voices of discontent were already growing in the street, loudly enough to launch a revolution the next day.