Three years since the Mubarak dictatorship fell, the great hopes of the revolutionary moment have been dashed. What was seen as the first step toward democracy in the Arab world’s largest country has instead led toward military coup, political chaos, and extreme polarization. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which won all the elections after 2011, has been outlawed. The military is running the country and army chief Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has emerged as the front runner to be Egypt‘s next president. Reporters, political activists and human rights activists have been jailed. Economic free fall has left millions much worse off. Perhaps most important, the broadly expressed sentiment that it was time for democratic institutions to blossom has completely fractured.
Louisa Loveluck sat down in Cairo with five Egyptians who supported the uprising against Mubarak and now have sharply different views about how to set the country to rights. Their opinions on what’s needed now make clear the depth of the challenge facing Egypt. The other four interviews are linked at the left of this page.
On Jan. 25, Abdalla Kamal was at work. “Even the greatest optimist predicted no more than 300 [protesters]. Then I got a call from my friend. He said he was walking with 5,000 people. I stood up and left the office that second.”
Mr. Kamal remembers the 18 days as a time of courage and intensity. For the first time in his life, he saw the police being beaten back. “At one point,” he recalls, “they were running away, right in front of our eyes.” Mubarak’s resignation was an overwhelming moment. “It was amazing,” he says. “Just amazing.”
But the years since have yielded none of what he hoped for.
“I thought we would see a different way of handling people,” he says. “Thousands have been killed and arrested. New prisons are being built; the police are torturing people and acting with more arrogance than ever before. We thought we’d won, but we have nothing now.”
“Apparently, it’s over,” he says. “The revolution has changed nothing.”
His disillusionment, common among young Egyptians whose first engagement with politics was the 2011 protests, has set in gradually – and after considerable personal cost. In November 2011, Kamal took part in three days of clashes between police and protesters in downtown Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud Street. On the first day, he was shot in the face with birdshot. When he returned the next day, he was shot in the leg, hip, and back.
He still despises the police and sees them and their treatment of citizens as the root of Egypt’s problems. But he’s done fighting. “I don’t regret my own actions, but I do regret the chances that were missed.
“But it doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s over.”