Cairo, Egypt - As polarised crowds dominate political discourse in Egypt - on one end, those who support the military, and on the other, backers of deposed president Mohamed Morsi - a middle ground is mourning the loss of a dream.
"My hope was that we don't live in injustice anymore, because we were basically suffering with that for 30 years," said 33-year-old Hamdi Adel, describing his aspirations for Egypt during the January 25, 2011, uprising which toppled long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.
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Part of the pro-Morsi vigil in Giza, Adel said that the military was "brutalising and bullying the public", adding that, if any of his hopes had been realised, he wouldn't be participating in the sit-in to reinstate Morsi, ousted on July 3.
For some, a gloomy pragmatism has kicked in since the heady days of the revolution and even since Morsi’s election, which was widely seen as the first free and fair presidential election in the region's most populous nation.
The slogan "it took 18 days" rang out across the country in the first halcyon days following Mubarak's downfall. A power grab by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) followed, before the Muslim Brotherhood rose in influence.
Our dreams haven’t been met and we’re still in the dilemma of choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and military rule.
There have been several massacres since the start of the revolution, several surges of protests - against SCAF, against a supraconstitutional document it tried to pass, against Morsi’s decree (granting himself pharaoh-like powers) and against Morsi's presidency itself.
It was not the jubilant entrée into democracy that many Egyptians had hoped for.
"There's a difference between dreams and the reality today," said Mahmud Ali of the Egyptian Association for the Support of Democracy.
"We dreamed and hoped for freedom of expression and justice.
"As a [human] rights man, I see no major difference between before January 25 and after - there's the same state interference in the democratic process, in addition to the use of money and power and negligence of the poor.
"Our dreams haven't been met and we’re still in the dilemma of choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and military rule."
A false polarisation
There is a popular saying in these parts: "Me and my brother against my cousins, me and my cousins against the village, me and my village against the tribe, me and my tribe against the world."
This is largely indicative of how many in Egypt feel - that they at times have to form uncomfortable alliances in order to communicate not so much what they support, but rather, what they don't support.
For instance, not everyone who attended the pro-military rally on Friday went because they wanted military rule. General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called on those present to give the military a mandate to fight "terrorists".
And then there are those who wish to make it explicitly clear that they support neither camp.
The Revolutionary Socialists issued a statement on Thursday indicating that a large presence at the El-Sisi rally should not be taken as "offering a blank cheque to commit massacres".
|A boy stands guard during a Muslim Brotherhood protest near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, Egypt, 28 July 2013 [EPA]
The statement turned out to be prescient, as less than 48 hours later, at least 72 people on the outskirts of a pro-Morsi vigil were shot dead. The Muslim Brotherhood holds Egypt's security forces responsible for the massacre, a charge flatly denied by the ministry of interior.
Gigi Ibrahim, a 26-year-old activist with the Revolutionary Socialists, did not attend Friday's rally - where military helicopters swooped low and nationalist anthems blasted through speakers all day and night.
"We're polarised in a very superficial way - you're either pro-Morsi or pro-military - I don't think this is legitimate," she told Al Jazeera.
"I think there are a lot of people who don't believe in the military coup, but at the same time, do not support the Muslim Brotherhood."
She said she blames Morsi for failing to unite people and for failing to deliver on any of the demands of the revolution.
|Mohamed Morsi retains a lot of support in Egypt [Reuters]
"Since January 25  until now, we don't feel the changes. In fact, things got worse, economically, with security... with the rights of women, with the rights of workers to earn a fair wage," said Ibrahim.
While she said she had not entirely lost hope - "as long as there are people on the street, the revolution is still alive" - she's not optimistic about the situation.
"The spirit of the revolution hasn't been fulfilled, there's no political will to do so… and the revolution has not provided an alternative to the power of the Muslim Brotherhood or the military," she said.
A similar sentiment was expressed in Nasr City, where a largely pro-Morsi sit-in has been maintained for several weeks.
While the rally certainly seems dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, there are those such as Ibrahim Abdelghafar who are there to express their disapproval of the military coup.
"All that we hoped for was that we'd live a decent life with dignity in this country," said Abdelghafar.
But, the 37-year-old said, the military robbed him of his freedom and democratic rights when it deposed Morsi.
"I'm against the military coup and what happened," said Abdelghafar, who works in a ceramics factory. "But not every here is Muslim Brotherhood. They are in fact the minority here."
Coup a 'near-fatal blow' to revolution
While there is a sense that, if the military manages to take over completely, all will be lost, there's also some hope that - through sheer force of will - something will give.
Morsi's reinstatement - a long shot by all accounts - would send a powerful message to the military; while a return to military rule would, said Mohamed Rezk, a media rights activist, "take the country back even worse than 30 years of Mubarak".
"If that happens, all of what we achieved in the revolution will be spilled on the streets."
No-one mentions the interim government as a long-term player in this game - perhaps an indication of a frustrating lack of progress for a country still stuck in a fight between the military and the Islamists.
All that we hoped for was that we'd live a decent life with dignity in this country.
Still, the goals of the January 2011 uprising, with its chants for "freedom, bread and social justice" might still be revivied, said Omaima Abou Bakr, a professor at Cairo University and a founding member of the Women and Memory Forum, a Giza-based NGO.
"I wouldn't go to the extreme to say that it has died, but it has been dealt a near-fatal blow, particularly in the recent military coup. We need a serious concerted effort to revive it," said Abou Bakr.
"We need to recall what January 2011 was all about - we've lost sight of that."
She said she had little faith in the current political elite, in whom she's "disappointed".
"I don’t know who these people are anymore - they haven't been able to transcend this polarisation on the streets."
If anything, she says the way forward can be forged with the emergence of a new intelligentsia and the "original revolutionary youths - the ones originally involved" in the January 2011 uprising.
For now, the only formal manifestation of this middle ground is the "Third Square" group of protesters, who have been holding small, but frequent protests at Sphinx Square in Giza.
It remains to be seen whether the group, which includes members of the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 Youth Movement, manages to change the narrative on the streets of Cairo and revive the spirit of January 2011.
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Source: Al Jazeera