It’s two years since the Jan 25th Revolution erupted in Tahrir. The changes, the twists and turns, and the upheavals remain unique to Egypt. Today, we look back and contemplate.
Egypt’s modern history will be shaped by the events that ensued during and following the Jan 25th Revolution. The 18 days in Tahrir will be remembered as the time when Egyptians united in a glorious precedent that exemplified the true Egyptian character. Egyptians rallied for their Egypt. The result: they ousted Mubarak; they changed the Egyptian course, and they broke the fear barrier.
Today’s two-year mark brought more protests to Cairo, Port Said, Alexandria, Suez, Mahala, and many other cities, for none of the awaited hopes and dreams have been achieved. And again, Egyptians died. Again, tear gas was in abundance. Again Egyptians remained angry and dissatisfied.
The chants that resonated in Tahrir and other squares all over Egypt were the same from two years back: “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice,” “Leave, leave, leave” and “The people want the fall of the regime.” Nothing seems to have changed. Quite the contrary, it does look as though things have worsened.
One change for the better, however, lies in the fact that the fear barrier has fallen. In Egypt everyone today is free to say just about anything about anybody—no limits and no restrictions. Disappointingly, the respect barrier has fallen with it. There is a saying in Egypt—“If you don’t have an elder to follow, you buy yourself one.” Which translates to this: everyone needs someone to respect, appreciate, or emulate, or else things will turn chaotic. Today, this piece of wisdom is ignored or rejected. It appears that no one and nothing is worthy of respect.
Somehow, some way, and by some unfortunate stroke of events, the Revolution was stolen—right before the eyes of Egyptians. Those in power today are not those who stood their ground in Tahrir. Those leading, or shall we say misleading, the country are a different entity altogether.
Today’s Egypt isn’t faring well. In a short two-year span, Egypt has handed power over to the Islamists. The president; the Shura, the Upper House; the cabinet; the constitution; and the soon-to-be Parliament, the Lower House; are all in the hands of Islamists—Ikhwan and others.
This would have been tolerable had Islamists been able to forget their dissident underground mentality; but their inability to forget their years of suffering has made them unable to befriend, work with, or share with other Egyptians. Only one goal is worth the effort: power.
In the meantime, the challenges remain upfront and centre. First of all, the economy is on the brink of a total meltdown. The Revolution first, the Islamists second. The ongoing mayhem has killed tourism. An average 25% of Egyptians are jobless. Prices of essential foodstuffs are at a record high, and the hungry are getting desperate.
Egypt awaits the five billion dollar loan from the IMF, and Morsi will have to impose severe austerity measures to satisfy the conditions of that loan. He will cut subsidies, increase taxes and devalue the pound to satisfy the IMF if necessary—all good reason for Egyptians to say enough is enough.
In the meantime, Qatar has come on as a strong player, and is about to complete a deal to buy out the NSGB Bank. The Qataris have also provided Egypt with two 2-billion-dollar loans; certainly Qatar will be dictating its conditions and terms in return for these loans. More Qatari investments are headed towards the Suez Canal, raising concerns in many places, according to one writer in Al-Ahram, “including the military and intelligence, over the involvement of a foreign investor in an area of direct national security interest” http://bit.ly/13ls6r0.
Secondly, sectarian strife is alive and brewing—Islamists have given themselves rights to harm, threaten, evict, and kill, if necessary all those who don’t follow their route. This will change the make-up of Egypt, as we know it. It has become a fight over religion instead of a fight over rights. Long gone is the old Egypt, where neighbours and associates hardly recognized, or asked, which religion the others followed. Seriously at risk is Egypt as a secular state, with minority rights protected and freedom of religion a hallmark of the nation.
Thirdly, there is ongoing, seemingly never-ending tension in Sinai. Though the gas line bombings have subsided since Morsi took over, the worry re more terrorist attacks and raids remain a reality.
Egyptians are worried, perplexed, and fractured. They are worried about Sinai’s precarious situation, the Jihadists continuing their onslaught on Egyptians, the fluctuation of the economy, and the Islamists seizing Egypt.
Finally, seemingly on a lighter note but one that affects daily life in Cairo enormously, in the midst of these ongoing serious problems in the life of the nation, there’s Cairo traffic. One day soon traffic will halt; the severity will have people stranded amidst traffic for days unable to abandon their vehicles but unable to budge, either. Maybe then someone will really take the initiative and work on this seemingly unsolvable challenge to the business of moving around this gargantuan city in order to shop for food, get to work, or seek medical attention. When traffic, for goodness’ sake, threatens our sense of humour, you know things aren’t getting any better.
Today’s Egypt is not any better than the Egypt of two years ago.
January 26, 2013: A verdict for some of the defendants in the Port Said massacre is out. Of the 75 defendants, 21 are sentenced to death.