Five years ago in Cairo’s Tahrir square Egyptians thronged in their tens of thousands to call for Hosni Mubarak to go. Thirty years in power were ended and January 25th became a public holiday, “Revolution Day”.
But on this fifth anniversary there are no ceremonies and all demonstrations are banned. Security personnel are out in force and only a handful of regime supporters were allowed to hold a low-key celebration.
2011 had been so full of hope for a change for the better. The 6 April movement was on the frontline five years ago, but has been banned. Several key members are behind bars. Finding human rights activists willing to speak is hard.
“I never imagined that we would reach the stage where we are now. If we had one percent of freedom, or one percent of economic power before the revolution, we no longer have this. This is because of the current regime, not because of the revolution,” said human rights activist Dolly Bassiouny.
General Abdel Fattah Al Sissi became Egypt’s strongman in July 2013. His military coup toppled the democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi, the man who made him army chief.
The summer of 2013 saw the start of a merciless and bloody crackdown against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, followed by crackdowns on secular movements and the Egyptian Left. Summary arrests and torture became routine.
On Sunday night now-President al-Sissi made a brief television address.
“Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday. We are building together a modern developed civilian state that upholds the values of democracy and freedom,” he said.
Raids and house searches of opposition members or people thought likely to take to the streets this Monday were stepped up ahead of the anniversary. A few days ago the Merit publishing house was raided.
“We will continue to play our part. We will continue to dream of freedom for our people from all types of oppression, and all types of discrimination from both religious and military fascism. We will continue to voice our beliefs that there’s no point in oppressing the people, or oppressing their freedoms, under any slogan, religious, national or political.”
Political disillusion appears almost total in today’s army-run Egypt, where the economy is now sinking, the tourists are scared off, and social tensions are rising. The martyrs of 2011 look down and see many facing worse conditions than under Mubarak.
Euronews: “In 2011, Tahrir Square was full of people chanting ‘the regime must go’. Now Egypt is celebrating the anniversary of the revolution in silence. Why is that? What are the reasons?”
Hasni Abidi: “It is a paradox in Egypt nowadays. Tahrir Square was the symbol of the opposition. It was a real agora, the historic square where people gathered in opposition to totalitarianism. It became a symbol not only for Egypt, but for the Arab world, I would say to the entire world.
And if it (Tahrir Square) managed, nonetheless, to show that the Egyptian street was in effect a genuine political movement, today, the square shows that the Egyptian people, after five years, have been greatly disappointed, and I would say that people today see this paradox, because January 25 is in principle a day of commemoration for the revolution, and at the same time the authorities have decreed that every demonstration is prohibited. It’s an Egyptian paradox.”
Euronews: “Since 2012, the 25th has been named the Day of Revolution. But now the streets are empty and the social networks are silent. Is this a sign of resignation?”
Hasni Abidi: “It is true that Tahrir Square is empty but we’re not completely silent, even if the authorities are trying to impose silence. Because not only is there a fear mounting in people’s minds, but what is more worrying, is the indifference. Because today, for Egyptians, going out and risking their life for a demonstration has no meaning.”
Euronews: “In 2011, the Egyptians were proud to have defeated the fear imposed by Mubarak. But fear seems to have returned perhaps even a greater fear. What happened in the past five years?”
Hasni Abidi: “It is primarily the failure of the democratic transition, certainly a difficult and dangerous one, with President Morsi, coming from of the Muslim Brotherhood, who unfortunately, for lack of time and lack of experience, didn’t manage to build bridges with all of society. He was angry with what is called ‘deep Egypt’. The failure of Morsi has paved the way for another force, which has never disappeared, the army, which returned to power. I would say that the transition, buffeted by the military after the end of Mubarak, is responsible for the difficult and delicate situation today in Egypt.”
Euronews: “The Egyptians are asking for bread, freedom and social justice. How do you see the current state of human rights in Egypt?”
Hasni Abidi: “Today, not only public freedom is declining, but the second element is of course the economy that is slowing down. And we have to add a third element that President Al- Sissi has not yet realised the importance of: national reconciliation. Egypt is far from reconciled with itself, and until starts upon that important journey, without any part of Egyptian society being left out of the rebuilding of politics and the economy, it will be difficult for Egypt to find the path of serenity and look at the future with serenity.”