Egypt's long, bloody road from Arab Spring hope to chaos

Story highlights

  • In 2011, Egyptians' protests for greater freedom led to the ouster of a longtime leader
  • Years of political chaos and economic instability followed Hosni Mubarak's ouster
  • Today, the country still battles an economic crisis, and Egyptians seem angrier than ever

(CNN)For a moment in 2011, it appeared that the revolution worked. Thousands upon thousands of demonstrators who had massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square succeeded in toppling a dictator who had ruled for nearly 30 years.

But the euphoria faded as Egypt was whiplashed from one political extreme to another, from the oppressive government of the Muslim Brotherhood to the military regime that now rules. Five years after Egypt's Arab Spring, the country is on shaky ground financially, unemployment is rampant and the people are angry. And an ISIS-linked insurgency is growing, the terror attacks becoming more brazen and frequent. Nothing seems sure in Egypt today, except that there's bound to be more fitful change ahead.
Here's a review of what has happened since 2011:

January 2011: Arab Spring protests grip Egypt

Inspired by protests that ousted Tunisia's oppressive leader, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered to demonstrate day and night for an end to President Hosni Mubarak's rule. Egyptian security forces battled back, and dozens of people died, but the protesters kept on, even more empowered.
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Tunisians and Egyptians started a wave of uprisings across the Middle East that called for peace, greater freedom and better economic opportunity. Some rebellions worked. Tunisia is considered mostly a success story. Others, such as an uprising in Syria, led to widespread and continued bloodshed.

February 2011: A longtime ruler leaves

In the face of protests, Mubarak said he wouldn't run for re-election but vowed to finish his term in office. Eventually he backed down against the overwhelming popular opposition and resigned. Deafening cheers erupted in Cairo.
"Egypt is free!" and "God is great," protesters shouted.
Timeline of Tahrir Square's violence
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Throughout the year, the protests kept up as Egypt wrestled with change.

June 2012: A longtime outsider gains power

Once a political prisoner who opposed Mubarak, Mohamed Morsy became Egypt's first democratically elected President. A former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsy gave a rousing speech calling for calm and progress.
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But tension between Morsy and the military remains despite his victory.

November 2012: New President makes power grab

Morsy issued an order preventing any court from overturning his decisions, allowing him to run the country unchecked. In that moment, he established himself as a true autocrat, analysts and critics said.
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Several thousand protesters subsequently turned out. Some called him "Morsy the dictator."

December 2012: Protesters go after the President

Protests erupted surrounding allegations of mistreatment of anti-Morsy demonstrators outside the presidential palace gate in 2012. The turmoil convinced many Egyptians that Morsy was not just incompetent but also violent.
A Human Rights Watch report urged Egypt's public prosecutor to investigate the detention and abuse of several dozen anti-government protesters.
A man shouts political slogans during a march to the presidential palace in Cairo in December 2012.

July 2013: Protests turn deadly

Protests against Morsy raged. The President's opponents and his supporters clashed at Cairo University. At least 16 people were killed and 200 wounded, according to state-run media. Morsy refused to bow to military leaders' ultimatum for him to find a solution to the violence or leave his post.
A statement on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' official Facebook page said, "We swear by God that we are ready to sacrifice our blood for Egypt and its people against any terrorist, extremist or fool." The post was titled "The Final Hours."
Morsy refused to go.

July-August 2013: Carnage after Morsy's ouster

After a year in office, Morsy was ousted in a military coup. Roughly 1,000 Egyptians were killed during protests against the military government.
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In mid-August, Egypt's security forces used automatic weapons, armored personal carriers and military bulldozers to raid and crush a monthlong sit-in protest by thousands of Morsy supporters at Rabaa Al-Adawiya, a mosque in eastern Cairo.
Human Rights Watch investigated and found that at least 817 people were killed, calling the carnage "one of the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history."

May 2014: Egyptians suffer economically

The constant protests and political uprisings gave way to a reduction in tourism, an industry long considered a significant economic lifeline to Egypt. The thing that demonstrators had asked for since 2011 -- a better economy -- didn't materialize, experts said. Food prices and unemployment continued to rise.

June 2014: A new President takes control

Egypt's former military chief, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, became President, winning 96% of the vote. He vowed the nation would "witness a total rise on both internal and external fronts, to compensate what we have missed and correct the mistakes of the past."
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Washington showed its support but added caution. There is hope "to advance our strategic partnership and the many interests shared by the United States and Egypt," the White House said, while noting the political turbulence with Morsy's exit.

November 2014: Mubarak's acquittal, then outrage

Mubarak, then 86, was cleared in a retrial after initially facing life in prison or worse after a Cairo judge dismissed charges linking him to the deaths of hundreds of Arab Spring protesters. The judge also found him not guilty of corruption. Protests then broke out.
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The prosecutor vowed to appeal the verdict, state-media reported.

April-June 2015: Morsy sentenced

Morsy was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted on charges related to violence outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
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In a separate trial concerning a jailbreak, Morsy was sentenced to death. He and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders also received a life sentence for espionage.

June-November: ISIS affiliate strikes

An ISIS affiliate launched attacks on Egyptian military checkpoints. Soldiers and terrorists were killed as well as an Egyptian prosecutor.
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In August, an ISIS affiliate claimed to have beheaded a Croatian hostage kidnapped near Cairo.
The Sinai Peninsula became a new front in the battle against ISIS after the Egyptian wing of ISIS claimed it downed Russian passenger Metrojet Flight 9268, killing all 224 people aboard.

February: Terrorism tied to plane downing

Egyptian leader Sisi publicly linked terrorism to the downing of the Russian plane, reportedly for the first time. It came months after Russian authorities said a bomb brought the aircraft down, and Western intelligence said a bomb was likely. But Egypt still hasn't issued a definitive report about what happened to the plane.
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April: Egyptians incensed over islands

Once again protests turned violent, this time over the proposed sale of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia and a spiraling economic crisis.
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Riot police in Cairo hit demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets. The proposed islands' sale came after Saudis invested billions in Egypt. The islands, which are between the countries, are strategically important as transport points for ships headed to Jordan and Israel.
Also a bridge over the Red Sea that Sisi and Saudi King Salman want to build remains wildly controversial. According to Sisi, the bridge would support export between the countries, but many Egyptians said they fear it would make their country a colony of sorts to Saudi Arabia.