Nora Younis is a human rights activist, journalist and blogger who is now working as the website managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm Daily Independent, one of the best known newspapers in Egypt.
As a human rights activist, Ms. Younis won the Human Rights First (HRF) thirtieth anniversary award in 2008 for her work using new media tools to expose human rights violations and police brutality.
When she started blogging in 2005 she focused on addressing the information vacuum on protest movements in Egypt. Before Twitter came into being, she was continually sending mass text messages to human rights activists, political groups, and journalists, informing them of rallies, arrests, state violence and police brutality.
After Twitter became established among Egyptians, she moved into visual documentation. Most recognized is her video of the textile workers’ strike in Mahalla in September 2007 that soon grew into a nationwide movement known as the April 6th strike. One of her most famous blog posts includes her testimonial about the brutal police raid on a Sudanese refugee protest camp in Cairo in 2005 where at least 27 men, women and children were killed. Her testimonial was translated by fellow bloggers and activists across the world into more than seven languages. It was used in law suits and human rights reports condemning the Egyptian government.
During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Ms. Younis played a major role in documenting and reporting events. Using improvised communications methods, she filmed and disseminated to global audiences the demonstrations and crackdowns in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Before she took up her position as website managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm Daily Independent, Ms. Younis covered the Middle East for The Washington Post (2008) and for other international newspapers.
My name is Nora Younis. I was born in Cairo, grew up in Cairo, studied English literature in Cairo. I'm now 34 years. My relationship to politics actually started with the Palestinian movement. I was part of the Egyptian Committee to Support the Palestinian intifada. And I was participating in a lot of meetings, demonstrations, and all the group activities. But then I was completely-- I don't know what to say, shocked with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or maybe depressed. In a single moment, just was the invasion of Baghdad, I decided not to watch news anymore.
I completely disconnected. I no longer listened to the radio. I did not read newspapers. I didn't want to know what was happening because just I couldn't take it. Later on, I realized that I missed so much, because I later learned that on the 20th of March, 2003, there were 20,000 Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir Square. And this was the largest ever demonstration that Egypt witnessed. And later, I felt that I missed so much because I did not participate in it just because I wanted to shut my ears off. Thank God I witnessed a revolution, and even bigger demonstrations. So-- something paid back at the end. But after years of disconnection, like this was from 2003, I returned back to politics in 2005.
It was a whole-- like I was working in a project in Venezuela. I was completely disconnected from what's happening in Egypt and the Middle East. And I was still in this state that I didn't want to know what was happening. And I felt like I will not be able to change it myself. So I didn't want to know. I returned to Egypt.
I had an opportunity to work on a project with a film crew from PBS. They were making a documentary about the state of democracy in Egypt. And I found myself in the middle of all those interviews with all those political leaders and activists and dissidents in Egypt. I was listening to everything, translating, you know, helping with everything. And then I just found myself digesting so much information. And I realized that there is so much happening now in the country that completely brought me back.
With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.
The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.
From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.
For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.
Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.
In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.
In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.