Egyptians did not have to work on January 25, 2011 – it was a holiday, National
Inspired by recent protests in Tunisia, thousands of
Egyptians had for days been gathering in Tahrir Square in small groups, to
protest terrible living conditions and demand that president Hosni Mubarak step
On that sunny Tuesday one year ago, something was different in the
way the groups began to gather and surge toward the square.
In Israel, I
watched as the protests grew and then turned violent, with protesters continuing
to fight back. Something was changing in Egypt.
Fast forward a year to January 25, 2012. Again, it was a national
holiday, but it has been rechristened: National Revolution Day. Like many times
over the past year, Tahrir Square was filled with flags and signs, toddlers with
black, red and white face paint and men clambering up lampposts and shouting
from the top.
As I watched the festivities unfold in the square from
Jerusalem, I could not help but remember the first time I found myself in Tahrir
Square, on January 28, 2011. Swept up by the crowds in the Giza suburb near
Cairo University, I joined a march towards the square – into a cloud of tear gas
and into history. Over the ensuing week, I saw the square become a symbol of
both liberty and death.
On Wednesday, I called Cairo journalist and
activist Tarek Mounir, who I met last year in Tahrir Square, to ask what he
thought of the one-year anniversary.
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“It’s been a hell of a year,” Mounir
said, pointing out that countries from Greece to Israel to England to the US had
also seen widespread protests.
While the feeling on the street on
Wednesday was celebratory, Mounir said many activists were worried about the
future of Egypt, where Islamist parties control 75 percent of parliament and the
highest authority is still Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
wasn’t a revolution – a revolution means to turn around things and to take
over,” he said. “[In this revolution], the people who made it went against the
top of the regime, and when the top of the regime was removed, they surrendered
power to the rest of the regime, which is the rest of the military
“It’s not the Mubarak regime, but it’s still the same ship, just
without the captain of 30 years,” Mounir added.
The revolution may have
removed Mubarak, but it hasn’t affected the daily life of Egypt’s poorest
According to the World Bank, 43% of Egyptians live under the
poverty line in urban areas. In rural areas, the gaps are even more staggering,
said Mounir, and residents suffer from frequent electricity blackouts,
nonexistent or subpar infrastructure, gas and food shortages and severe
inflation. Egyptians took to the streets last year to demand a better future. So
far, they haven’t received it.
“Those 18 days they were great, everyone
talked about it and about us,” Mounir said.
“Now it’s back again to a
Facebook and Twitter thing,” to a lot of talk and little action, he
“Now everyone is trying to formulate a coalition here, a coalition
there... now we have 38,000 coalitions full of Egyptian activists,” Mounir
added. “What influence do they have? I claim it’s nothing.”
cynicism was echoed by many activists and bloggers. But in Tahrir Square, the
mood was of optimistic celebration, marking a year since one of the most
remarkable revolutions of modern history.
This square has seen plenty of
flags, chants, fighting and death in the past year.
On the surface,
filled with demonstrators, Tahrir Square does not look any different from some
of the calmer days of the 18-day revolution last year. But something has changed
in Egypt. Perhaps in the future, with the benefit of more hindsight than a year
can provide, we will be better able to understand how January 25 was the tipping
point for a new face for the Middle East.
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