Cairo - A few dozen activists huddle around tents on a
grubby traffic island in Cairo's Tahrir Square, a forlorn reminder of the
revolutionary ardour that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.
A year on, the revolution youth activists spearheaded
appears to have stalled as the military rulers who replaced Mubarak seem to be
exploiting opposition splits and popular fears of chaos to shore up their power
and limit the scope of change.
Many Egyptians admire the youthful fervour of the
revolutionaries but oppose their implacable hostility to the military
caretakers, who have pledged to step aside by mid-year and hand power to
In a nod of approval to the army's transition timetable,
voters have thronged polls for Egypt's first free parliamentary vote in decades
and elected an assembly dominated by Islamists.
Their victory is a huge change in itself. Egyptians speak
more freely a year on, their daily protests evidence both of newfound liberties
and hope that people can make a difference.
For activists, however, the revolution will be incomplete as
long as the army remains in power. Too little has changed, they say, to end a
street movement demanding deeper, broader, faster reform. New campaigns have
been born, such as 3askar Kaziboon, or Military Liars, in which activists roam
the streets showing videos of protesters wounded since the end of the 18-day
"The more time has passed the more people have become
convinced that the regime has not changed... They decapitated the regime so
that the people would calm down, convinced that change has happened when it has
not," said Amal Bakry of the No To Military Trials pressure group set up
after the revolt. "It's still present in its ministers, its government, in
Kamal al-Ganzouri, the generals' choice for prime minister,
led the cabinet under Mubarak in the 1990s.
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the general who is now Egypt's
ruler, was Mubarak's defence minister for two decades. A leaked US embassy
cable said officers called him Mubarak's "poodle".
An emergency law in force since 1981 remains. The generals
say it is necessary to keep order, but activists say it allows them to ride
roughshod over civil liberties as Mubarak once did.
No To Military Trials estimates 12 000 people have been
referred to military courts since Mubarak fell, four times the number who faced
that fate during his 30-year tenure, when state security courts were the venue
of choice for emergency trials.
Some were jailed for their criticism of the military council
and now speak of a campaign to crush the pro-democracy movement.
Sipping tea at a cafe in an upscale district of Cairo, Bakry
said her group struggled at first to convince Egyptians that the army was
trying to block real democratic change.
The army was feted for pushing Mubarak aside last February
and ensuring order when his hated state security forces fled the streets, but
its handling of street protests in recent months has appeared at times to take
a leaf out of Mubarak's book.
In October, at least 25 people were killed near the state
media building in Cairo. Protesters say military police drove vehicles into a
crowd of protesters and fired live shots. The army blamed foreign elements and
other instigators. Watching state media, some Egyptians thought the army had
"People were not emotionally ready to face the
truth," Bakry said. "They did not want to admit that the revolution
had been defeated and... that the army, so highly regarded among the people,
was doing all these things.”
Transition to civilian rule
Egyptians willing to give the army the benefit of the doubt
went out to vote for parliament from November 28 and found they could cast
their ballots for the first time without fear of intimidation from thugs or
finding ballot boxes already stuffed.
The new assembly, which held its first sitting on Monday, is
dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood - officially banned from politics under
Egyptians speak more freely since the revolt, they can and
do protest more freely despite repeated crackdowns and they have set up a
dizzying number of political parties in recent months.
There has been an increase in what activist Mozn Hassan,
head of Nazra for Feminist Studies, calls "active citizenship".
"It could fail, it could be stolen but there are spaces
and subjects open now that you could not discuss in 2010," she said.
"Whether you like what happened or not, there has been
an experience with political parties now."
But critics question how much say new deputies will have in
drafting the new constitution or naming the government. Under the latest
timetable, there will be a two-month window from the end of parliamentary
elections in March to presidential polls in June in which to name a 100-member
body to draft the document, agree on its contents and put it to a referendum.
To those who have campaigned for years for an empowered
parliament and for the rule of law, it seems the generals are railroading the
reform process. The army says it will not field a presidential candidate, but
activists worry it will back its preferred choice via state media, with others
unable to compete.
Veteran activist and politician Ayman Nour told Reuters the
army was conceding control of parliament to politicians while trying to keep
its grip over the powerful presidency.
"They see it as them giving parliament to political
forces, or Islamic forces, while they keep their right to a president who
belongs to them," he said. "They want a person to whom they can give
instructions, who guarantees loyalty to them."
Disappointed by what they see as the superficial reforms of
the army-led transition, candidates have quit the presidential race. Mohammed
ElBaradei, former head of the UN nuclear agency, withdrew, complaining too
little had changed. So has Nour, the only man to ever challenge Mubarak to the
Since the uprising, Nour has failed to overturn a
Mubarak-era conviction on charges of falsifying party registration documents
that bars him from the presidential race. Critics complain that Egypt's
judiciary is still filled with Mubarak-era appointees who resist change.
Mubarak-era laws remain in place.
"I warned from Tahrir Square of the danger of leaving
responsibility in the hands of the army, and I said clearly that I fear the
military beret and the religious turban," Nour said.
"The counter-revolution is managing Egypt now."
One year on
Egypt's most powerful Islamist force, the Muslim
Brotherhood, has largely kept its followers off the streets to focus on winning
elections, consolidating its power inside parliament and working through the
institutions of state.
Egyptians, tired of political turbulence that has hit the
economy and keen to restore normality, say it is time to end protests and give
the newly-elected parliament a chance.
Despondent at the Brotherhood's position, street activists
want to wrest back the initiative and are urging mass protests against the
generals on the January 25 anniversary of the uprising.
With marches, wall art and videos of wounded protesters,
activists are trying to revive the euphoria that swept the Arab world in 2011
for fear that creeping fatalism among their compatriots could allow Egypt to
return to authoritarian rule.
"I am against protesting on January 25. Military rule
will be meaningless after the parliamentary and presidential election; you are
rushing something that if you wait will come on its own," said 30-year-old
Ahmed Farouq, an optician who, like some two-thirds of Egyptians, voted for
"Ordinary citizens want to calm down and achieve
The army has declared January 25 a public holiday to
celebrate, part of what critics say is an effort to appropriate what the
revolution stands for and limit calls for change. It appears to have stepped up
Mubarak-era scrutiny of civil society groups.
In December, Egyptian authorities swooped on some 17
non-governmental groups, part of a probe into what they say are illegal foreign
funds for political activities.
Nazra was not raided but has faced a smear campaign.
"They said I was an American agent!" said Hassan,
slumping her head on the desk in mock shame. "Our funding delays worsened
after the revolution. It was hard anyway but it worsened."
The April 6 Youth Movement, one of the army's most prominent
critics, has been labelled a foreign-funded agency doing the bidding of unnamed
outsiders. Its members say they are regularly attacked by "concerned
citizens" who think they are spies.
Many campaigners say the real revolution has not happened in
the government but in the Egyptian people, who have found more courage to stand
up for their rights.
"The real change is in the people who acted, people
like me who had never been to a protest in my life before January 28 last
year... Now there are thousands, hundreds of thousands who are willing to be
part of this change," said Bakry.
Hassan agreed: "Uprisings are 18 days, protests are 18
days, but if you want use the word revolution in a difficult society like
Egypt's... you are talking 10 years."