Asmaa Mahfouz - 2011, "Arab Spring", Egypt

Asmaa Mahfouz’s social media posts calling on Egyptians to protest peacefully for freedom, dignity and human rights helped initiate the revolutionary movement in Egypt.

Asmaa Mahfouz is an Egyptian human rights activist and one of the co-founders of the April 6 youth movement. As the spark of the Tunisian revolution started igniting Egypt in early 2011, she braved President Hosni Mubarak's regime's crackdown on activists and posted calls on social media for Egyptians to protest peacefully in Tahrir Square to claim their freedom, dignity and human rights. Her video went viral with millions of views, and inspired a wave of similar videos, resulting in hundreds of thousands occupying Tahrir Square from 25 January 2011, clamouring for Hosni Mubarak to end his 30-year rule of Egypt, until Mubarak relinquished power on 11 February 2011.

Accepting her Sakharov Prize, Mahfouz described the award as a 'homage to the heroes of the revolution'. 'This is a prize that goes out to all young Egyptians, people that have sacrificed their lives', she told Parliament, adding 'we will not betray them, we will continue along the road that they have entered into and we want to make sure that this dream is fulfilled'.

Asmaa Mahfouz was arrested in October 2011 on charges of defaming the military rulers who took charge after the fall of President Mubarak. She was sentenced in absentia in March 2012, but an appeals court overthrew her conviction in May 2012. However, Mahfouz came under increasing harassment, threats and surveillance as Egypt voted a former army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to the country's presidency in 2014, after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013 and a period of military-backed interim government. As a heavy crackdown by the authorities, initially targeted at the Muslim Brotherhood, was broadened to attack critical voices and renowned icons of the January 25 revolution, the April 6 youth movement, to which Mahfouz belonged, was banned by an Egyptian court in April 2014. Three of its leaders, Ahmed Maher, Mohammed Adel and Ahmed Douma, were sentenced to 3‑year jail terms on charges including protesting illegally.

The year 2015 saw Asmaa Mahfouz engaging in the new movement Bidayya (Beginning). Together with the founders of Bidayya she came under investigation in May 2015 for allegedly 'inciting subversion of the State order' and was struck with a travel ban.

Egyptian activists have been facing mounting pressure as space for civil society closes. In 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Asmaa Mahfouz over the Sakharov Prize, on the basis that the prize was a form of undesirable foreign influence in Egypt. As a result, she was prevented from attending the conference of the 30th anniversary of the Sakharov Prize.