Egypt revolt still ‘worth it’ despite turmoil

Three years after uprising, some Egyptians believe democracy is still possible following a coup and ongoing unrest.

Cairo, Egypt – Vivien Magdy was a young girl in her early twenties when her fiancé was crushed beneath the wheels of a rampaging armoured personnel carrier.

Her husband-to-be, Maikel Mossad, had been among thousands of mainly Coptic Christian demonstrators who marched to Downtown Cairo in October 2011 following a row over church-building rights.

In what became known by activists as the notorious Maspero Massacre – named after the state TV headquarters around which the demonstrators converged – 28 protesters lost their lives when the rally was attacked by troops and police.

The killings formed one of the grim chapters of Egypt’s transition following the revolt of January 2011; a day which began with Egyptians exercising their newfound voice of protest against the state, but ended with yet more blood and tears splattered on the floors of the city morgues.

On Saturday, three years after the insurrection which was beamed into the living rooms of astonished viewers around the globe, Egypt is again convulsed by violence and political discord.

The capital was shaken by a series of deadly bombings which killed several people on Friday. There was another explosion near a police academy Saturday morning, according to security officials, though nobody was injured.

Meanwhile the government is engaged in a transitional “roadmap” towards elections expected this year – a divisive process which is welcomed by its many supporters, but emphatically rejected by allies of the toppled President Mohamed Morsi.

‘Biggest cause’

As Egyptians prepare to mark the anniversary of their role in the Arab Uprisings, Al Jazeera spoke to relatives and friends of those who have perished since January 2011 to ask them how they felt about where the country is now.

Some of the interviewees asked that pseudonyms be used in this article. They were not comfortable speaking publicly to Al Jazeera, an organisation which has become unpopular with some sectors of Egypt’s population following last summer’s coup.

Magdy, a 25-year-old who works for a Cairo-based NGO, has perhaps every reason to feel embittered about the status quo.

In her own words, the Maspero Massacre remains “the biggest cause”, because it was the first time many activists came to the conclusion that the “army was not with the people” – despite the fact that Egypt was then being governed by a military council which had assumed power following the downfall of Honsi Mubarak. “The biggest disgrace of the army was Maspero,” she said.

And yet Magdy says she believes the death of her fiancé Maikel, 25, was “worth it”.

“He was presented as a gift in order that Egypt might be improved,” she said. “In order that the country becomes better for people to live in a more comfortable way, and for freedom and social justice to exist.

“I’m confident that what we did was worth it,” she added.

‘Easy people to rule’

In Alaa al-Aswany’s novel, The Yacoubian Building, an official from the fictional Patriotic Party – based on Mubarak’s former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) – describes how “the Egyptians are the easiest people in the world to rule”.

“Any party in Egypt,” says the man, “when it makes elections and is in power, is bound to win, because the Egyptian is bound to support the government. It’s just the way God made him.”

The passage – written by an author who has expressed vehement support for the current military-backed government – is an acerbic swipe against the corrupt entitlements of Mubarak-era rule.

Magdy does not agree that the Egyptian people will never again be willing to challenge their rulers. But she does believe that another revolt is not possible for the time being.

“The Egyptian people want a pharaoh,” she added, referring to the huge levels of public support for General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s army chief. “They didn’t understand that freedom wasn’t just sitting in Tahrir Square for 18 days. No, freedom takes years.”

New violence

Following the massive car bomb on Friday outside Cairo’s police headquarters, a large crowd of civilians began to gather in front of the shattered building. Some chanted for the “execution of the Muslim Brotherhood”, others waved pictures of General al-Sisi in variety of authoritative poses.

One street seller sold posters declaring supporters of toppled President Mohamed Morsi to be the “dogs of the people”. Whoever carried out the attack – Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the al-Qaida linked group based in North Sinai, has claimed responsibility – it is likely to play into the hands of regime hawks who want to tighten the grip of the military and security establishment.

After spending half a year engaged in a merciless crackdown against the country’s religious parties and groups, the state has been busily hunting for new enemies.

Yesterday the film-maker Aalam Wassef was arrested after police raided his home. An American translator, Jeremy Hodge, was detained earlier this week along with film-maker Hossam Meneai, and is currently being held without charge.
It comes after a recent period in which several Egyptian and international journalists have been arrested, secular politicians have found themselves faced with criminal charges, and leading youth activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising have been handed jail sentences for contravening a new anti-protest law.

Military legitimacy

But despite criticism from rights groups and Western officials, there is considerable domestic support for the government’s appropriation of iron fist politics after three years of chaos and uncertainty.

Ahmed Sayed lost his son during the clashes which erupted between protesters and the security services outside the headquarters of the Egyptian cabinet in Downtown Cairo in December 2011.

But the leaders of this coup want to either control us or kill us.If we don’t go to the streets then they will kill us anyway.

by Sherif Abdullah, demonstrator

Despite saying he believes the army should be held “fully accountable” for the blood spilled during the 18 month rule of the military council, he is supportive of the current government and its transitional “roadmap” towards elections.
Speaking to Al Jazeera International in a Downtown Cairo café, he carried with him a placard featuring a photo of his 20-year-old son alongside the words “congratulations, oh martyrs, for the success of the revolution”.

“I opposed Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood,” said Sayed. “The military is the only institution that can save us from that group.

“The army only took over because that was the demand of the people,” he added, referring to the protests last summer which culminated in the toppling of Mohamed Morsi.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sherif Abdullah is less keen to forgive Egypt’s current rulers. One of his best friends, Tariq Nour, was shot dead during the massacre at Rabaa al-Adawiya last August – the worst single act of mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.

Like many of those who were present that day in the pro-Morsi encampment, he continues to reject the popular coup which led to the Islamist ruler’s downfall.

“The government doesn’t want a political solution,” he said. “They want a security solution. All they want is to kill, kill and kill.”

Nevertheless, he said that the death of Tariq, a 39-year-old father-of-three from Kafr el-Sheikh in northern Egypt, was not in vain. “The death of my friend was hard,” he said. “But the leaders of this coup want to either control us or kill us.

“If we don’t go to the streets then they will kill us anyway.”

Source: Al Jazeera