Egypt’s Unprecedented Instability by the Numbers

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Egypt is far more violent and unstable than it has been in decades. With government repression driving a cycle of political violence, a different approach is needed.
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Egyptians have suffered through the most intense human rights abuses and terrorism in their recent history in the eight months since the military ousted then president Mohamed Morsi. The extent of this story has been largely obscured from view due to the lack of hard data, but estimates suggest that more than 2,500 Egyptians have been killed, more than 17,000 have been wounded, and more than 16,000 have been arrested in demonstrations and clashes since July 3. Another several hundred have been killed in terrorist attacks.

These numbers exceed those seen even in Egypt’s darkest periods since the 1952 military-led revolution that would bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. They reflect a use of violence that is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern political history.

An Egyptian judge on March 24 sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters (147 in custody, the rest at large) to death for the killing of one police officer—in the largest capital punishment conviction in modern Egypt. Though the sentences can still be appealed, they offer a stark illustration of the depths to which Egypt’s political conflict has plunged.

Despite Egyptian officials’ statements that the measures they are taking are necessary to stabilize the country, the opposite is true. Egypt is a far more violent and unstable place than it was before July 2013 or indeed has been for decades, as government repression drives an expanding cycle of political violence. And there has been no indication yet that conditions will quiet down anytime soon.

Current Numbers

It is difficult to figure out how many Egyptians have been killed, injured, or imprisoned during the country’s recent turmoil due to the government’s increased opacity since the military takeover, intimidation of international groups tracking developments, and rifts in the Egyptian human rights community. One organization that has tried to keep track is the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), whose initiative Wiki Thawra has drawn on open source information to compile a statistical database of political violence since the January 25 revolution that led to the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

While Wiki Thawra’s numbers most likely are not perfect—and in fact the authors hope that others can offer more precise figures—they are the most comprehensive currently available. And they offer a compelling sense of the scale of the violence currently afflicting Egypt.

Since Morsi’s ouster in July 2013, Wiki Thawra has reported the following counts:

  • Killed: A total of 3,143 Egyptians are estimated to have been killed in various acts of political violence between July 3, 2013, and January 31, 2014 (see figure 1). Of those deaths, at least 2,528 civilians were killed in political events such as protests and clashes. At least 60 police officers and soldiers were also killed in those incidents.

Egypt is far more violent and unstable than it has been in decades. With government repression driving a cycle of political violence, a different approach is needed.

  • Wounded: More than 17,000 Egyptians are estimated to have been wounded in more than 1,100 demonstrations and clashes between July 3 and February 28.
  • Detained: An estimated 18,977 Egyptians were arrested for reasons related to the country’s political turmoil between July 3 and December 31, including 16,387 detained during political events and another 2,590 arrested as political leaders, primarily from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations (see figure 2). These figures are broadly in line with those reported by sources in the government. No more than one-quarter to one-third of these prisoners have been released, according to lawyers at the ECESR.

Egypt is far more violent and unstable than it has been in decades. With government repression driving a cycle of political violence, a different approach is needed.

  • Terrorism: A total of 281 Egyptians are estimated to have been killed in terrorist attacks between July 3 and January 31, including 224 police officers and soldiers and 57 civilians (see figure 1). More than 180 incidents of terrorism were reported through February 28. Cumulative figures on militant casualties do not seem to be available, but in February 2014 alone the military’s spokesman announced the killings of at least 56 militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

How does the scale of this violence compare to previous periods of repression in Egypt since 1952? As post-coup instability accelerated following Morsi’s ouster, commentators described the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood as the most intense since the 1950s and also asked if Egypt would witness a return of the terrorist violence of the 1990s. But if the above numbers accurately capture the scope of the current troubles, it seems clear that Egypt has already surpassed both of these deadly landmarks.

More Widespread, Faster Paced Terrorist Attacks

Between 1992 and 1998, the Mubarak regime faced a small but deadly Islamist militant insurgency (not the Brotherhood per se) that targeted government officials, tourists, liberal intellectuals, and Christians. Credible estimates suggest that approximately 1,500 people were killed over seven years.

The years 1993 through 1995 were the deadliest, with near-daily attacks that included assassinations of government officials and police officers, shootings of tourists, and small bombings. According to figures compiled by the Ibn Khaldun Center, a total of 332 people were killed in 1993 (120 police, 111 extremists, 101 civilians), 304 were killed in 1994 (93 police, 159 extremists, 52 civilians), and 415 were killed in 1995 (108 police, 217 extremists, 90 civilians). Egypt also experienced a spate of terrorism in the 2000s, of which the highest-profile attacks targeted tourist hotels in the Sinai and killed some 150 people between 2004 and 2006.

In the first seven months following Morsi’s ouster, the pace of terrorism-related deaths in Egypt surpassed the worst years of the 1990s. As mentioned above, 281 Egyptians are estimated to have been killed in terrorist attacks between July 3 and January 31—including 224 police and military personnel and 57 civilians. That figure does not include militants, who are accounted for in the figures from the 1990s.

The locations of the current terrorist attacks are also significant. Such attacks were happening in Egypt before July 2013; according to Wiki Thawra, there were some 28 victims during Morsi’s year in office (July 2012–June 2013), all or most in the Sinai. But between July and January, 106 of the 281 deaths from terrorism took place in the Egyptian mainland and across twelve different provinces. And the pace of attacks shows no sign of slowing down. A brief perusal of Ahram Online articles in February 2014—hardly a comprehensive summary of attacks—reveals that 23 security personnel were reportedly killed in attacks in that month alone, all of them outside Sinai.

Violence against police and military officers now seems to be an evolving mix of larger operations planned and executed by Sinai-based groups and smaller vengeance attacks carried out against local officials, with specific local motivations. Regarding the larger attacks, militants have shown that they are capable of inflicting far more damage should they choose to do so. To date, most attacks have involved targeted killings of police officers, soldiers, security officers, and a handful of high-level government officials and have not aimed at inflicting mass casualties. There have been worrisome incidents that point to increasing sophistication, however, including several bombings of security buildings and the use of a surface-to-air missile to bring down a military helicopter. Targets might be expanding, as indicated by the February 16 suicide bombing of a tourist bus in the Sinai that killed several South Koreans. Militants have also shown they are capable of ramping up operations to mark certain occasions; the third anniversary of the January 2011 revolution brought a spate of deadly attacks to the Cairo area.

Repression at Least as Bad as the 1950s

Late president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s had been the worst period of repression in Egypt’s modern history, but it seems to have been overtaken by recent events as well.

Following an assassination attempt on Nasser in October 1954, the government arrested thousands of Brotherhood members. Within the first two days of the crackdown, 700 of the organization’s leaders had been detained, and by the end of November the number had risen to 1,000. On December 9, six Brotherhood leaders were executed by hanging, despite angry protests in the Arab world and shock in Egypt. Nasser soon expanded the list of targets to encompass his liberal and leftist opponents, and through 1955 as many as 20,000 Egyptians were jailed. Many were tortured and placed in concentration camps, which had been built to accommodate the expanding prison population. The repression persisted throughout much of Nasser’s rule; six additional Brotherhood leaders were executed in 1966, and Nasser’s opponents remained in prison for years.

Egyptians also look back to 1981 as a time of intense political repression. During September of that year, late president Anwar Sadat jailed more than 1,500 dissidents (mostly Islamists, but also prominent leftists, Nasserists, and liberals), events which are considered part of the lead-up to his assassination in October. But the current crackdown is much larger.

Like Nasser, the post-Morsi government has depended heavily on detentions to crush its opposition. As many as 3,000 Egyptians were arrested shortly after Morsi’s ouster on July 3, and by the end of 2013, the total estimated by Wiki Thawra had already exceeded 18,000, including Brotherhood leaders and thousands of Egyptians picked up at protests and demonstrations. Prisons are reportedly overflowing, and allegations of torture are widespread. The crackdown has not been limited to Islamists; prominent revolutionaries from the January 25 revolution have also been thrown in jail.

Brotherhood leaders including Morsi are currently on trial for charges that carry the death penalty, and more than 500 supporters of the former president were sentenced to death on March 24, 2014, in a three-day trial. The sentences can still be appealed and overturned. It remains to be seen whether the current authorities will follow in Nasser’s footsteps and use the courts to have their political opponents executed.

Either way, the ongoing use of force against Brotherhood protests is already unprecedented in Egypt’s post-1952 history and resulted in the deaths of more than 2,500 demonstrators between July 2013 and January 2014. According to Wiki Thawra, 982 Egyptians were killed during the dispersal of a sit-in at Rabaa Square on August 14 alone, an event that Human Rights Watch called “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.”

And it has not just been Rabaa. Since July there have been at least 36 incidents in which ten or more Egyptians were killed in political protests and clashes.

Where Is Egypt Headed?

Egypt’s rulers have already earned two dubious distinctions in less than a year: since 1952, no Egyptian regime has been more repressive, and no regime in more than a generation has confronted a more intense terrorism challenge.

Where the current authorities have not yet caught up to their predecessors in the Nasser and Mubarak years is in duration. Nasser (and his successors) left thousands of Egyptians languishing in jail for years, and the insurgency of the 1990s continued for at least half a decade. But in the end Nasser did not eradicate the Brotherhood, a movement present in Egyptian society and public life since 1928. And while the 1990s insurgency was eventually defeated, the campaign against it brought a heavy legacy of authoritarian laws that sowed the seeds of unrest. Support for the Salafi groups involved in the insurgency later rebounded, too.

The current government’s actions seem to be taking the country down a similarly long path. Egyptian government officials continue to justify the crackdown as needed to quell the terrorist threat, brushing aside the fact that the threat was a fraction of its present size before the crackdown began in the summer of 2013.

Some members of the international community—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and Russia notably—have fully embraced the Egyptian government’s narrative. Others—the United States and many, if not all, EU member states—are conflicted. U.S. and European officials undoubtedly would like to see human rights abuses and terrorism end in Egypt, and they have been willing so far to give the government some time and to keep their criticisms muted—in the statement issued at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2014 and in the U.S. State Department’s human rights report, for example. But they are nagged by doubts that things are not going well in Egypt.

Egypt is now preparing to pass yet another landmark in the political road map put into place upon Morsi’s removal—the election of a new president, most likely the very Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who removed him. As the vote approaches, the question to ask is not so much whether a broad campaign of political repression and human rights abuses might, in theory, quiet Egypt down, but whether it actually is quieting Egypt down. The evidence to date shows that it is not.

A different course is needed. Absent an inclusive economic, political, and rights strategy that replaces brutal repression and helps Egyptians become far more invested in the government’s success, a continuation of the cycle of protest, repression, terrorism, and revenge is a more likely outcome than stability.

Scott Williamson is a junior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

End of document

About the Middle East Program

The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.


Comments (19)

  • Omerli
    8 Recommends
    The inescapable conclusion from the brutal crackdown and the hundreds of death sentences is that the regime wants to further an armed insurgency that, given their play book, would be relatively low-level and containable. It would also come with usual gruesome and self-defeating acts of Jihadi terror ranging from mass casualty bombings to beheadings that would rally national and international support to the regime. Needless to say the parasitic Jihadis in their mindless methods will inevitably be drawn into participating in this brutal game. However, this isn't the Nineties and this charade will not hold as ever greater numbers of Egyptians use civil disobedience tactics to reject this cynical ploy - as they did this last weekend and will continue to do so in their thousands in the days and weeks to come. Egypt deserves better by far than this pathetic scenario and one day we will have an Egypt which will rise above false choices between a brutal military regime and pre-medieval, brutal theocracy.
    Reply to this post

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  • ZUZU
    2 Recommends
    The vast majority of Egyptians do not give a toss to the Western type democracy and the ballot box . This organisation the MBH have no place in Egypt political
    life . What Egypt needs right now is a strong leader to put Egypt's in order .
    El Sissi is the Man to rule over Egypt in the near future !!.   I urge the next president to give no notice to what Obama or any Western politicians
    All their threats are hot air !!! . What happened in the Ukraine is a good example.
    Reply to this post

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    • nesie replies...
      what about a chance for real freedom, why back to the old day's... i know you havent a real alternative... i tought i had a favorit, but this coward run to easy Baraday
  • HafedAlGhwell
    2 Recommends
    Brilliant as always Michele
    Reply to this post

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  • Soha
    2 Recommends 3 Conversation Recommends
    The MB are going to come back stronger than they were before. When the coup is defeated, its leaders and supporters are going to face unprecedented violence. The new movement on the streets will use violence to avenge the deaths and abuses listed above. They will only reap the seeds they sow.

    The peaceful January 25th scenario is not going to be repeated again. Everyone learned their lesson and know very well that the system is too corrupt to be fixed. It has to be torn down completely and rebuilt again.
    Reply to this post

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    • dr nesie replies...
      1 Recommend
      how??? renting the pyramides again? corryption ? The MB destroy more then they build. religion don't fit in politics
  • Mohamed Makky
    Are you sure you're conducting a scientific research
    What I read right now is a Piece of Propaganda not less than those issued by Hitler, or even the so-called free-world leaders like W. Churchill, H. Truman or F. Roosevelt
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  • Mohamed Makky
    The Business-backed Government (the so-called US Democratic Government) and Its Propaganda Centers (The so-called Media Outlets) don't bother themselves to speak about the oppressed, living-in-bad-condition peoples as long as satellite local governments are installed to keep these Peoples under control ... so thereis no wonder you The Business-backed US Gov. and Its Propaganda Centers hit the roof when a national leader stand up against their fascist theocratic Puppets
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  • Mohamed Makky
    What matters is the rule of law whatever it is. That's what's called Fairness and the esteemed members of this institution are presumably political scientists and Human Rights advocates understanding what fairness means. As to the type of punishment employed here I think it an internal matter determined in light of the society wherein its executed and the circumstances wherein the act and the punishment have taken place. But the great wonder is the Business-backed US and most state Govts. have legislations permitting Capital punishment putting USA on top list countries hanging peaple every year though The USA facing no terrorist acts underminig its social peace and causing people to suffer through darkest theocratic rule. But a country used to keep relations with Taliban for providing stability to their pipe lines in central Asia would of course keep relaion with whoever just to kepp its interests running
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  • Distant observer
    While I do not contest the numbers, it would be useful to put them in a comparatice context of the rapid growth of Egypt's population since the 1950s.
    Reply to this post

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  • F. Asaad
    I wonder what the USA government would do if the fascist Islamic terrorists start terrorizing and killing people in the streets of NYC and Washington DC.The US sends drones to kill people just for helping or inciting terrorism.Where are the human rights and the concept of innocent until proven guilty?
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  • F. Asaad
    To Michele Dunne, why are you blaming the Egyptian government for tying to deal with a very violent extremist group of terrorists that is bent on destroying the country unless ludicrous specific demands are met. Why aren't you condemning those people for the horror and blatant destruction they are doing to Egypt!?
    Reply to this post

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    • SJK, Cairo replies...
      1 Recommend
      My answer would be that the Egyptian government is using the actions of a small number of violent extremists to round up large numbers of its political opponents, be they members of the brotherhood or the more secular opposition. This is the same policy that Hosni Mubarak adopted, and there is a danger that yet again this policy will lead Egypt up a dead end.
    • Almi replies...
      1 Recommend
      the problem is those who advocate democracy cannot and do not want a democracy that sees groups that dio not like to come to power, in this case the MB.
      If you do not like the MB, throw it out through the ballot box then, why do it violently and against democratic principles?
      Competing ideologies are what makes a democracy, if all parties are allowed to voice their views/preferences and let the people decide which one they would prefer. Don't go for sham democracy as you find in some dictatorships in the Middle East and N Korea.
  • Edward Yeranian, Cairo
    Regarding the larger attacks, militants have shown that they are capable of inflicting far more damage should they choose to do so.

    How could you possibly know that?
    Reply to this post

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  • Ahmad Abushadi
    This is a starkly gruesome write-up! Michelle Dunne seeks to lay the blame on a government trying its restrained best to manage the country's transition to true democracy. Ms. Dunne glosses over acts of the violent and extremest moslem brothers working in the opposite direction through civic disruption, bombs and stone-walling! The fact remains that the vast majority of the people of Egypt stand behind their government, army and police until democracy and peace are stored. The presidential and parliamentary elections are the next steps in the ongoing process. Egypt will overcome!
    Reply to this post

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    • SJK, Cairo replies...
      2 Recommends
      "Transition to true democracy"? When the opposition is behind bars and the head of the army is running for president with the support of the army, the police and the judges? Give me a break.
      Have your coup and enjoy it, but don't call it democracy.
  • Sherifa Zuhur
    How has the Muslim Brotherhood and its advocates taken over Carnegie's reportage on Egypt. Has no one contested the label "political violence for terrorist actions such as bombings, attempted bombings, murder, and mayhem? Michelle Dunne, stop advocating terrorism in Egypt and conflating it with other forms of protest! This is sickening.
    Reply to this post

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  • peg
    I note that state terror is not included within the scope of the term "terrorism." But thanks for this excellent collection of data.
    Another point, though - does the State Department's being "nagged by doubts" mean fear of a renewed "Arab spring"? That the newly renewed dictatorship will not e effective for long?
    Reply to this post

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In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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