Egypt tense ahead of revolution anniversary

Shahira Amin
7 Min Read
Shahira Amin
Shahira Amin

On Friday, 25 January, Egypt will mark the second anniversary of the mass uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. Tens of thousands of Egyptians will once again amass at Tahrir Square to commemorate the occasion and one thing is certain—there will be no revelry this year. Two years on, opposition activists say they have little to celebrate.

“The revolution has been hijacked and the revolutionary goals of ‘Bread, Freedom and Social Justice’ have yet to be fulfilled,” lament members of the Revolutionary Youth Union.

They have called for a “second revolution ” to rid the country of Muslim Brotherhood rule. Their demands also include “retribution for the martyrs, retrials for those accused of killing the protesters, the purging of the Interior Ministry, the dismissal of the Morsy-appointed prosecutor general and the amendment of the new constitution.”

Sixteen opposition political forces—including the 6 April group and reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei’s Al Dostour party—have also called for protest marches . Unlike the youth-revolutionaries however, their declared aim is not to force Morsy to step down.

Rather, they will demand “a faster pace of reforms” and reject what they call “the Brotherhoodization of the state.” The National Salvation Front, Egypt’s main opposition bloc will also participate in the protests “to complete the goals of the revolution and send a message that the people will protect the revolution,” its members have said.

A faltering economy, a fragile security situation and Morsy’s crackdown on the media are among the main concerns driving Friday’s anti-government protests. An Islamist-backed constitution—hastily pushed through in December despite objections from liberals and Christians that it is “unrepresentative of the entire population and undermines women’s rights and curtail freedoms”—has prompted a decline in the popularity of the Islamists, plunging the country into deep political turmoil.

A train accident last week in which 19 young conscripts were killed has further fuelled the anger, triggering a fresh wave of anti-government criticism. Furthermore, there’s mounting dissatisfaction over a controversial electoral law currently under review by the High Constitutional Court.

Opposition forces say the new law does not guarantee adequate representation of Christians or women in parliament, nor does it allocate seats for Egyptians residing abroad as has been requested by the Foreign Ministry. Members of the opposition Kefaya movement have also expressed fears that the new law “provides a greater opportunity for political Islam to dominate a majority of seats in parliament.”
Will Friday’s protests be peaceful? Will the protesters remain in the square? Will there be a crackdown by security forces to forcibly evict them if they stage a sit-in? Will there be a repeat of the clashes that have taken place in recent months between the anti-Morsy protesters and the president’s Islamist supporters? And will the government make concessions to appease the protesters? Those are some of the questions that have been on people’s minds as the day approaches.

There is no doubt that there will be protests and that they will be massive. The demonstrations will also be angry but peaceful (at least, initially). Contrary to claims by some Muslim Brotherhood supporters that “the protesters want to drive the country to ruin” or “set the country on fire,” members of the opposition parties have affirmed their rejection of violence, insisting they want to keep the protests peaceful.

The same leftists, liberals and Christians who participated in protests outside the Presidential Palace in December will be back on the streets to vent their frustration at “the unmet expectations, the incompetency of the government and the mounting mistakes of the ruling Islamists.”

This time, they will be also joined by thousands of underprivileged Egyptians who are becoming increasingly concerned about rising prices and high unemployment.

There is the possibility however, that a third party or “invisible hands” will infiltrate the protests and attempt to wreak havoc—as has happened before in many of the previous rallies. Those are ‘thugs’ hired by the former regime or by foreign powers to deliberately stir up trouble. On several occasions before, rowdy mobs inciting violence during protests have admitted to receiving money from groups who do not wish to see stability restored in the country.

It is also likely that clashes may erupt between the protesters and Morsy’s Islamist supporters as has happened before, especially if the protesters decide to continue their sit-in in Tahrir Square. Muslim Brotherhood leaders have down-played such concerns. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Deputy Supreme Guide, Mahmoud Ezzat, has said that he expects the second anniversary of the revolution to be “more positive” than the first one.

“Egypt now has a democratically elected president and a constitution that won the approval of the people,” he told state-sponsored Al-Ahram earlier this week. He vowed that the Muslim Brotherhood would “protect the revolution and would prevent violence from breaking out.”

Even if Friday’s protests pass without incident, the simmering tensions are likely to reach boiling point ahead of or during parliamentary elections slated for April. Seeking to allay concerns ahead of the second anniversary protests, the newly elected Secretary General of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Hussein Ibrahim, wrote on Twitter “the democracy train has left the station and there is no turning back.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is capable of rebuilding Egypt and leading the renaissance,” he wrote.

Sceptics say it will take more than words of reassurance to dispel the mistrust and avert violence. Only a clear roadmap that can convince the opposition will reverse the rising tide of opposition against Morsy and the Islamists, they say.

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Shahira Amin is an award-winning freelance journalist and former Deputy Head of Nile TV. She quit her job at the height of last year's uprising in Tahrir Square in protest at State TV's biased coverage of the revolution. Amin is also a longtime contributor to CNN International.
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