25 january 2011 — 29 november 2014

black tombstone

I went to Tahrir Square the day Mubarak and his henchmen were acquitted to see with my own eyes that the Egyptian revolution has been defeated.

There I found the sand-coloured army vehicles (with the absurd phrase “protection of citizens units” emblazoned on their armour) blocking all access to the iconic centre of the Jan 25 revolution.

May be they were manned by the same soldiers who four years ago were hugged by the protesters who’d brought down Mubarak and his family. This time, the servicemen had parked their vehicles behind a thick layer of coiled barbed wire with their guns pointed towards a small crowd.

One hundred or so angry young men have gathered next to the barricade shouting the solgans that have become – like the square itself – the hallmark of the failed revolution : the people want the fall of the regime, (alsha?b youreed esqaat el nezaam) , the police are thugs (el dakhliyya baltagiyya) etc.

I tweeted a few pictures and fired a few more about the slogans. That made me slightly nostalgic. But I was under no illusion that a new wave of the revolution was about to start. Not only was it asking too much of history to repeat itself three times in as many years, but it has become unambiguously clear to me as I look back at those four turbulent (albeit, exciting and full of hope) years why the revolution had failed.

I wandered around the area known as down town. There was the usual bustle, cafes with plasma screens showing match of the day were packed. Other joints known for being a watering hole of the trouble-makers were ordered to shut — usual practice by the Mubarak police ( yes, it is still Mubarak’s ) to control the city and nip any protest in the bud.

I went back to the area around the square one hour later to find that the size of the crowd had almost tripled to around one thousand protesters or more. Nearly every one there was in their twenties or younger. Some were from the Ultras — the football supporters who played key role in the 2011 uprising– with their amazing ability to act and chant in unison. Unfortunately, they never carried that organisational ability beyond the spectacle of the football stadium or the street demos.

I asked one of the young demonstrators who loitered on the side-lines, what will they do when the state security police arrive with their guns and tear gas. One said everyone would run away. We would come back, said the other. But they had no idea what else to do beyond demonstrating or trying to occupy a street or a square.

To me, they looked haunted by the Tahrir euphoria – if they could only repeat those magical 18 days, then this time they would get it right. Fat chance I said to myself.

And what a beautiful dream that was, hard to wake up from, for sure. That is why the myriad of youth activists who made the revolution happen still dream of recapturing the square, as if this was the only form of politics available. That remains their biggest error. Disorganised expression of anger and frustration will not bring about any meaningful political change. On the contrary, it will be used by the enemies of the revolution — be they the Islamists or the Mubarakistas — to further their own goals which are fundamentally at odds with those of the revolution.

As expected, the police did move in, two activists were killed, several others injured and many were rounded up, beaten up and then released. I don’t expect those killings to be investigated, because the people who control the police and the judiciary have made their political and ideological preferences abundantly clear.

The following night the police redeployed early enough to control the area around the square to thwart any repeat of the previous night. Hovering alongside the armoured vans were “honest citizens”, sinister looking ex-convicts and rabble who are often used by the police to attack protesters and make it look like two rival camps.

Eventually the angry reaction to the Mubarak verdict inside Egypt forced President Sisi to make some conciliatory noise in support of the January revolution with the usual caveat that he does not and will not interfere or comment on the judiciary processes. He even promised a new law that criminalises defaming the revolution, which gained him applauds from some and ireful words from the Mubarakistas.

Freeing Mubarak has put Egypt’s legal system itself, its ability to expedite justice, in the dock. No one in Egypt doubts these crimes have been committed in broad daylight and were captured on camera the world over. A legal system that looks the other way when crimes on such a scale are committed will keep the gates of hell open for Egypt. One can only feel sorry for Egypt and the hundreds who died in vain. The romance of the 18 days of peaceful revolution that toppled a dictator has turned out to be just that — a romance.

Egyptians looked freedom in the face (or so they thought) and were terrified and rushed back to the suffocating patriarchal hug. But what they actually saw in the months that followed the overthrow of Mubarak was not freedom but chaos and a spectacular failure of the revolutionary forces to seize an historic moment.

The role of the Mubarak security apparatus in orchestrating that chaos has never been officially investigated, and may never be in the foreseeable future. However, plenty of anecdotal evidence and many media reports have pointed the finger at police generals loyal to his notorious minister of interior (Habeeb El-Adly). Those police generals, so far unknown to the public, played a key role in making the prospect of a free society almost synonymous with chaos and rampant crime. Many people spoke of police refusing to respond to appeals for help or to investigate the theft of their cars. Instead, they were told   “that’s the revolution you wanted”. Clearly, they wanted to punish the public for revolting against the Mubarak police state.

What we have now is not a counter-revolution, because the revolution never really succeeded in dismantling the Mubarak regime. It is the final act in the defeat of the jan 2011 revolution.

Obdurate optimists still believe that it is far from over. Some pin their hopes on Sisi himself to take on the Mubarakistas and dismantle the powerful and rich networks that sustained the Mubarak regime. They base their aspirational analysis on the contradiction that exists between the military etablishment that represents the authoritarian state (created by Nasser) and the crony capitalist regime of Mubarak.

In theory, that makes sense. But in reality it would be suicidal for Sisi to fight on three fronts simultaneously. The battle with the Islamists and their terror campaign is far from over. It may get even worse as the terrorists are hammered hard and feel under siege. Those who supported Sisi among the revolutionary forces are abandoning him in droves, because of his failure, so far, to make the transition from a military officer to a political leader. The best the pro-democracy groups can hope for now is that Sisi will bow to pressure and rein-in some of the lust for revenge from the young revolutionaries inside the Mubarak security apparatus.

The Mubarakistas can live with Sisi as long as he does not threaten their economic interests. The main losers in the current balance of power would be the people who supported the original demands of the revolution : bread, freedom and human dignity.

Without reforming the police and the judiciary the dream of freedom and human dignity would remain just that. With his eyes set on stability and providing bread for the masses, no sign whatsoever that Sisi (assuming he really wants to ) will attempt to take on the lynchpin of the Mubarak corrupt machinery: the police and the judiciary.


Magdi Abdelhadi

Writer, broadcaster, moderator, media consultant. I commute between London and Cairo. I am a former BBC journalist. All views here are only mine.

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