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The once and future Egypt
January 25, 2013, 4:59 pm

Musician and video producer Omar Kamel joined protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square exactly two years ago and has been a participant in demonstrations calling for social justice and government accountability. He has been chased by thugs and fired upon by Egyptian security. Here, he details the rise and fall of the populist movement and what may lay ahead.

Two years ago, my days were divided between fighting against the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square and rushing home to upload photographs and videos online so that the world could see what was going on.

I would blog and tweet in both English and Arabic, because I considered it necessary to also explain what was happening to fellow Egyptians who did not understand the situation in Tahrir Square. Many at the time were still spellbound by the state media’s deluge of lies.

During those 18 days, something magical happened; we were transformed from civilians into revolutionaries, we had taken on challenges we had never thought ourselves capable of; we had been shot at in the middle of long bloody battles shrouded in thick clouds of tear gas.

We stood our ground as thousands of armed thugs attacked us, and we stood our ground as friends fell to sniper fire. Too often, we carried the wounded and dead bodies of our friends and allies to makeshift tent hospitals and morgues.

Then, Mubarak fell. Incredibly, it seemed that we had won.

More importantly, we had experienced an Egypt that we had never dared imagine; one in which we could all stand together whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or secular.

No matter what our political ideologies might have been, we formed a community of individuals that cared deeply for one another, one in which you knew that the man or woman standing next to you, whose name you did not happen to know, would easily risk his or her life to save yours. It was a wonderful magical Egypt, and for a while, at least, it was real.

All we needed to do was preserve it, and sadly, we failed.

We did not fail on our own, that much has to be said.

A man holds a sign that reads: "I'm back in Tahrir cause there's been no change!". [Omar Kamel]

A man holds a sign that reads: “I’m back in Tahrir cause there’s been no change!”. [Omar Kamel]

Enter the military

First, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took advantage of our good will. SCAF claimed neutrality at first, and then, carefully, claimed to support the revolution and its goals, when all they were trying to do was co-opt it.

They sacrificed Mubarak and pretended that his regime was not their own, and that Egypt had not suffered under an oppressive military regime for 60 years, but had suffered under a Mubarak regime of 30 years – an easy deceit to pull on a population that, mostly, still regards Nasser in high regard.

It took us a year to change our minds about SCAF, a year fraught with showdowns between the revolutionaries and the military. A year in which Egyptians were getting run over by military APC’s while the Muslim Brotherhood were negotiating deals with SCAF. The Islamists were effectively betraying the revolution in order to secure their own political gains.

We had failed, and it was as much because of the betrayals we had suffered, from both SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, as it was because of the splintering within our own ranks.

Most of us were not political, yet the politicisation of the revolution began soon after Mubarak was removed, leading many revolutionaries astray, and persuading many to think, despite decades of rigged elections, that somehow, they could continue the revolution through the ballot boxes – but ballot boxes do not revolt, ballot boxes are where revolutions go to die.

Revolution: Act III

Sometime last year, I predicted that the revolution had not yet truly begun. I saw it as, at the very least, a three-act play, and that the inauguration of a new president would not signal the end of the revolution, but the end of the first act.

I suggested that a somewhat tedious second act would follow, in which the new president exposed himself as a fraud incapable of meeting the people’s demands (which include tackling Egypt’s severe unemployment, revitalising the tourism industry, and pumping new energy into a stalled economy) or fulfilling campaign promises (to rid the streets of thugs, remove garbage and resolve relentless traffic congestion).

It would be during this phase that the people’s anger would slowly rise again, until finally, it would come to a boil. Only then would the third and final act of the revolution, the real revolution, begin.

Egypt is out of control right now; the lack of political stability has led to economic decline – the currency has devalued 12 per cent in the past month.

President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are trying in vain to appear like they know what they’re doing, trying in vain to make the ever-important ‘West’ think that they have things under control, that they have popular support, that they endorse a modern democratic vision for Egypt, and that, above all, they are capitalists.

What Egyptians have been finding out for the last few months is that yes, the Muslim Brotherhood are capitalists. Everything else is a lie.

The Muslim Brotherhood have proven one thing to all parties; that they cannot be trusted – many I have spoken with who once favoured the group have withdrawn their support and are looking elsewhere for a party or leader who represents them.

Over the last two years, the Brotherhood have said whatever was necessary to maintain their posture as the most experienced and most entitled political bloc to lead Egypt out of its impasse.

However, their actions have revealed the little regard they have for the general welfare of Egypt compared to the party agenda and status.

They broke their pledge when they said they would not compete for all parliamentary seats, and again when they said they would not field a presidential candidate. They lied when they said that they will form a political alliance in the shape of a ‘Presidential Team’ if they won the elections, and they lied when they said they would work towards a consensual constitution.

Thousands of Egyptian protesters gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, 25 January, 2013. [Omar Kamel]

Thousands of Egyptian protesters gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Friday, 25 January, 2013. [Omar Kamel]

United in determination

The people of Egypt are now once again divided. There are those who seek stability, no matter who is in charge, and at whatever cost. There is the Muslim Brotherhood, hoping to tighten their grip on a country with ambitions far in excess of their own.

And then there are the revolutionaries, whose numbers depend on the mood of the population at large, and who, lately, have reluctantly tolerated the newly arrived demonstrators made up of people who had no trouble with Mubarak, and are only demonstrating now because they cannot imagine living under Islamist rule.

The problem with the new arrivals, as we are all painfully aware, is that many of them would gladly welcome a military coup if it removed the Islamists.

What does unite Egyptians, however, is a growing sense that we have some kind of say in how our destiny unfolds, and it is this that makes us hopeful. Despite all our failures there is one thing we have managed to achieve, almost as a side-effect; there are youth growing up now that have been emboldened in a way we could have never imagined.

It is this generation that now continues to demand such things as social justice and accountability, wage adjustments, a restructuring of the security apparatus, bringing corrupt officials to trial and economic transparency.

Whereas we were unfortunate enough to have grown up with no heroic role models to speak of, other than those dredged up from history or religious tradition, there is a new generation of Egyptians now – young kids – who were witness to genuine acts of altruistic heroism.

They saw the revolutionaries, many of whom might have been their neighbors, their cousins, their fathers, or their brothers, performing acts of true nobility. They saw these very real people not only risk life and limb, but lose them as well.

For those young Egyptians, the martyrs of the revolution continue to live, not only on the walls of Egypt, in the countless murals and stencils that are repainted or re-sprayed as fast as the government can wipe them out, but also in their hearts. Moreover, they know that unlike the generals and the politicians, the martyrs had nothing personal to gain, had no popular polls to check their conscience, and above all, did not let fear control their destinies.

To the world we say, you cannot fight this fight for us, but you can, at least, make sure that you are not directly funding those who would oppress us. The world should not be betting on oppressors. They will lose.

The future is certain, but what none of us can predict, however, is how long it will take to achieve the justice that we have been fighting for, and how many more lives it has yet to cost.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.