The Unfinished Revolution: Egypt's Youth Mark Anniversary with Calls for More Changes
Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak from power. But, rather than celebrating, the country's idealistic youth are taking to the streets once again to protest military abuses and the army's continued hold on power.
Mustafa Kandil is standing on a traffic island in Cairo, tying a screen to the base of a monument. It's the statue of Umm Kulthum, an Egyptian singer venerated by all Arabs, as she faces the Nile with open arms. Kandil sets up a tripod, screws a projector into place and connects loudspeakers. He looks around. It's still quiet, but the crowd is growing larger. "Take a good look," he shouts, and switches on the projector. "This is our army."
No, says Kandil: "These dead people include a sheik at Azhar University, a doctor and an engineer. Don't believe what the army tells you."
While the ruling military council in Egypt has state-owned television and the newspapers loyal to the regime, young people here have "Kazeboon." The word means "liars," and it's an attempt to refute the generals' propaganda, a grassroots form of government television, so to speak.
The Kazeboon campaign was launched in December, on the day an image of a young woman stripped down to her jeans and blue bra by soldiers circled the globe. Since then Kandil, a 21-year-old dentistry student, has been showing the videos in public spaces, and his activities have been copied by hundreds of others throughout the country.
Although Kandil and the others are often attacked, things remain quiet on this evening. After showing the videos, he and several dozen others march through the streets shouting: "Hey, you on your balcony! The army has killed a sheik, a doctor and an engineer! Tomorrow, it could be you!"
The Second Phase of the Revolution
Kandil took to the streets for the first time exactly one year ago. It was the beginning of the riots that would keep the world in suspense for 18 days before culminating in the seemingly impossible: President Hosni Mubarak's stepping down after ruling the country for three decades. A military council led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi assumed power and declared the revolution over.
The generals intend to celebrate the anniversary this Wednesday with military parades, music and gift certificates tossed out of helicopters. They will behave as if it had been their revolution, as if it were already over and as if Jan. 25 were already some distant event in the country's history.
But those who launched the revolution last year plan to take to the streets once again. This time, they will wear black as they join in a funeral march for the roughly 1,000 people who have died, thereby marking the beginning of a second phase of the revolution. This time, it will be directed against the military council.
The generals are still running the country with the help of the emergency laws imposed under Mubarak. Soldiers have deliberately shot at the eyes of hundreds of protesters, and at least 80 protesters have died since October. More than 12,000 people have been hauled before military courts.
A People Placated by Misinformation
Still, many Egyptians are no longer interested in the revolution. They blame regime opponents for increased bread prices and the sudden scarcity of gasoline.
"The majority of people support the military council because they don't know what's really happening," says Sally Toma, a 34-year-old co-founder of Kazeboon. The psychiatrist also has a clinical diagnosis for her country: schizophrenia -- the chronic tendency to tolerate ugliness alongside beauty, to dance on riverboats on the Nile while people are being shot to death on its banks, and the inexplicable willingness to continue believing what is said on state-run television.
"The military council has taken clever advantage of this last year," Toma says. "The generals have tricked people into believing that we are all thugs and arsonists." For example, after military police attacked Coptic Christians, state television showed protesters setting army jeeps on fire while neglecting to report that those same jeeps had just been used to run people down. The regime opponents, a general later said, were delinquents who deserved to be put "in Hitler's gas chambers."
Anxious for the Military to Hand Over Power
Young people are using Kazeboon to fight back. They want to galvanize the population -- and especially now, since this week marks the first anniversary of the revolution, and since the opening session of Egypt's first freely and fairly elected parliament was held on Monday.
About two-thirds of the parliament's members are with either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafist Al-Nour Party. The rest of the seats are distributed among liberals, former officials with Mubarak's governing party -- and only a handful of young revolutionaries. The latter have failed to transform their rage into a political voice.
"The Muslim Brothers are not the problem," says blogger Ahmed Maher, who helped launch the revolution. Maher doesn't like the Islamists, but he is certain that they will swiftly be deprived of their mystique in parliament. Far more important than complaining about the Islamists, he says, is quickly getting a civilian government in charge of the country, regardless of which party leads it.
For this reason, the army's opponents are demanding that the military leadership transfer power to the parliament even before the country votes for a president and on a new constitution. If this doesn't happen, they fear that the army and the Muslim Brotherhood might forge a secret alliance that would provide extensive control and immunity for the military and a more Islamic constitution for the Islamists.
Efforts to Keep the Revolutionary Flame Alive
Should that happen, it would not be what revolutionaries like Alaa Abd al-Fattah, 30, have dreamt of. The regime critic was imprisoned under Mubarak, and he was jailed again after the revolution for 56 days until his release in late December, because he refused to answer questions from military prosecutors. The military accuses Abd al-Fattah of inciting violence against the government during the protests of Coptic Christians in October.
But the real reason for Abd al-Fattah's arrest was most likely that he went to the morgue after the attacks. There, he found two dozen bodies, including those of many friends, whose death certificates said they had died of natural causes. He then convinced the parents of the dead to request autopsies and wrote a newspaper article in which he sharply criticized the army for its brutality, lies and attempts to cover up its misdeeds. His arrest followed less than 48 hours later. Once again, Abd al-Fattah found himself sitting in a dirty cell, sleeping on the ground and listening to the same stories of abuse.
Two months later, when he was finally released, his first son had just been born. They named him Khaled, after Khaled Said, a blogger who was beaten to death by policemen in Alexandria in June 2010, in an incident that helped trigger the revolution.
Abd al-Fattah speaks quietly and with a hoarse voice. Everyone wants to talk to him now that he has been freed. They want him to reignite the revolutionary spark that threatens to go out. The young activists must now prove that they are not just the radical minority the military claims they are. This is why Abd al-Fattah was at the head of a protest march last Wednesday through Banha, a drab industrial city near Cairo. "Our demands are not being met!" he shouted, to which the crowd replied: "Down with the military council! Down with the military council!"
Then his friends pulled him out of the crowd and took him along a circuitous route to a waiting car. He dove into it as if it were a lifeboat. All the people and questions are too much to him. But they need him now that he has become one of the symbolic figures of the unfinished revolution. So he rushes from one demonstration to the next.
Approaching the Goal with High Hopes
Abd al-Fattah insists that the past year has not been wasted. The trade unions are independent now, Mubarak's ruling party has been shattered, and a civil society is taking shape that is not about to abandon its courage so quickly.
"But, more than anything," he says, "the generals are now afraid of the public rage." Whenever the pressure gets to be too much, he adds, the generals have made concessions, which have included firing the interim prime minister and holding early elections. It is time, Abd al-Fattah says, to bring the revolution to an end.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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