The Thawra generation: A talk with Egyptian revolutionaries, by Lucy Oleinik
More than three years have passed since the first revolution in Egypt. Three tumultuous years have altered the Egyptian society once and for all. During this time multiple revolts and protests took place in the infamous Tahrir Square and beyond. However, what will always remain embedded in our minds is that very first Thawra (Arabic- revolution), when the young generation first voiced its dissent. They took to the streets spontaneously, ushering in an era of change. This unprecedented massive movement lifted the hopes of millions worldwide.
Today we are witnessing a vicious circle. Young people in Egypt are still unemployed, disgruntled and uninvolved in the political process. Prominent activists such as Alaa Abd el-Fattah, a dissident blogger, are behind bars. Thousands of other young Egyptians are locked up for utterly ridiculous charges. Ahmed Maher's story (leader of April 6 movement) is rather telling in this regard. He is now serving a three-year sentence for attending an illegal protest. Since the ban of more or less police-sanctioned demonstrations in November, some 16,000 people have been jailed.
Mohammed Emara and Tariq Yusuf were at the forefront of the protests in 2011. Based in Cairo and Alexandria accordingly, they joined the April 6 movement in 2010 and were actively engaged in promoting the revolution. They are now willing to take a look back at the time when spirits were high and ponder over the situation in their homeland.
Q: How would you describe the first revolution from today's perspective?
Mohammed: I realize now that as protesters we were hasty, disorganized, and somewhat romantic. We all came from completely different backgrounds. The only thing we had in common was striving for liberties. We naively believed overcoming corruption and bribery was possible. Was there any strategy behind this idea? Not really. We were so exhilarated about the revolution we didn't give much thought to its consequences. It's perfectly understandable that such unexpected success had blinded us completely. One day there was just a group on Facebook – “Kullena Khaled Said” (“We are all Khaled Said”) – and the next day actual protests began. Soon enough, these demonstrations would bring tangible results. Night-time curfews were perceived as a considerable achievement. For the first time our voices mattered. We might have failed in the long run, but we most certainly embraced freedom at its best.
Tariq: I must agree. What united us was the fight against the regime's preposterous favoritism and unlimited bribery. We didn't set specific goals. The young people of Egypt just had enough. Today I clearly understand we lacked a leader and a consistent program. Back then, I saw everything through rose-colored spectacles.
Q: Would you say the main aspiration back then was to topple the regime?
Mohammad: As I said, it all started with sporadic demonstrations against the regime. It felt as if the society exploded from internal grievances. We were hoping for a change, but no one thought we would come that far.
Tariq: It was an outcry of Egyptians in search of a better life. Ousting Mubarak was out of the question when we first went out to protest. Only after the military crackdown did we come up with an open slogan "اسقط يا مبارك" (“Bring down Mubarak”). After his resignation, it took us a while to process this news. As Mohammad mentioned, we never thought we would come that far.
Q: How was Morsi perceived when he came to power?
Mohammad: Some revolutionaries hated him and didn't vote for him. Others hated him, but still voted for him, hoping he would supervise a collective constitution. I personally voted for Morsi. To me he seemed like a better alternative. After all, the anger towards the old regime was overwhelming and no one wanted to see members of Mubarak's cabinet back in charge. Besides, the Brothers have always appealed to the religious Muslim majority.
Tariq: I am Christian and I voted for Morsi nonetheless. The Brotherhood's program seemed promising. However, what really mattered to the revolutionaries was the fact that the democratic elections were taking place in Egypt. The turnout was impressive and for the first time there was no fraud. Yet again, we were too preoccupied with the present to think a few steps ahead.
Mohammad: There is certainly a sense of desperation. The elections are looming, as you know. Named Hamden Sabahy is the only viable opponent to Sisi at the moment . Although the former was a revolutionary, most activists believe his participation is a setup. Taking into account that Sisi enjoys the backup of the military and intelligence forces, the odds are in his favor. The media is growing more conservative by the day, calling jailed activists foreign-paid spies.
Tariq: I should correct Mohammed. The youth feel reckless, whereas the older generation openly supports Sisi. The Homey Egyptians ,"Hizb al Kanaba" (“the sofa party”) as we call them, are his main proponents. These people prefer sitting on their sofas, watching TV, and blabbering instead of taking action. Sisi's agenda of security and stability sounds compelling to them. The revolutionaries in turn feel betrayed and know Sisi's regime is another trap where social rights won't be welcome.
Q: What awaits Egypt in the nearest future?
Mohammad: It hurts me to say so, but Egypt will most probably deteriorate to a state of backwardness. With Sisi in power, the crackdowns on revolutionaries are likely to intensify. It's an embarrassing feeling when you are incapable of helping your country. The "Thawra" generation is in a deadlock.
Tariq: I am not that pessimistic. Maybe the youth is going through a hard time, but we will not give up on our hopes so easily. Wallahi (Arabic- I swear to God) Egypt is slowly moving towards another revolution. This time we will be prepared and the Old guard won't stand a chance. As one Egyptian proverb teaches us: اللى مكتوب عالجبين لازم تشوفه العين (One will inevitably meet one’s destiny.)