Defying cultural norms and family expectations, 22-year-old Heba Afify takes to the streets to report on an Egypt in turmoil, using tweets, texts and Facebook posts. Every time Heba heads out to cover the historical events shaping her country’s future, her mother is compelled to remind her, “I know you are a journalist, but you’re still a girl!” Her coming of age, political awakening and the disillusionment that follows, mirrors that of a nation seeking the freedom to shape its own destiny, dignity and democracy. Heba’s words bear witness to the heady optimism of a country on a path to self-determination, the toppling of a dictator, the difficult transition toward democracy, the courageous challenge to the ruling military who cracks down on the opposition, and the celebration of a cultural shift where a younger generation inspired a country to “lead themselves.”
Human Rights Watch has documented police and military abuses in Egypt and pushed for accountability and respect for the rule of law through our reporting and advocacy, including with local rights groups. Human Rights Watch has also advocated for the legal reforms needed to protect human rights and remedy violations. President Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for 30 years, using powers under a state of emergency to crack down on dissent and to prevent people from organizing politically. On January 25, 2011, Egyptians took to the streets to protest peacefully against Mubarak, calling for social justice, democracy, and an end to police brutality. On February 11, Mubarak resigned and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over, assuming full legislative and executive powers two days later. Over the following year, the military prosecuted more than 12,000 civilians before military tribunals, more than the total number of civilians tried by military courts during the three decades of Mubarak’s rule.