Tahrir Absentees

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 26 Jan 2012

Those who did not join the mass marches to Tahrir Square yesterday no longer support protests

Tahrir Square
(Photo: Bassam El-Zoghbi)

It was sunset and endless cars were finding their ways to the 6 October Bridge exit leading to Tahrir Square – with many drivers parking their cars on the flyover for lack of parking space around the heavily crowded square.

"It is impossible to get into the square; we will just be moving around it," Hassan, a 38-year-old accountant at a leading IT company branch in Cairo, told his wife and two daughters.

Around the same time in Heliopolis, Abnob, a pharmacist in his early 30s, was busy watching National Geographic while eating a shwarma sandwich at his workplace. For Abnob, whatever was happening in Tahrir on the first anniversary of the 25 January Revolution – with all the reports about confrontations between some of the Muslim Brotherhood members with other demonstrators in Tahrir – "was of no interest."

"I really don’t care," Abnob said. He added, "I have lost faith in this whole story."

The Coptic pharmacist, who was never an admirer of either ousted president Hosni Mubarak, or what he views as the Orthodox Church's overly cordial attitude towards the regime, was part of the 25 January Revolution last year. He was there during the Friday of Rage on 28 January and several following days before Mubarak was forced to step down on 11 February.

At the time, Abnob was hoping "that Egypt was changing and that the time has come for all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims, to be Egyptians." A short-lived dream, he says today.

Not long after Mubarak stepped down, disillusionment crawled over Abnob. "I thought we were getting over the splits between Christians and Muslims and I thought we were building a new Egypt for all of us but this did not happen," he said. He added that what came after the revolution was the "shocking rise of political Islamic groups" in parallel with a renewed and even a more aggressive wave of anti-Coptic sentiment.

"Nothing has changed – we are still seen as strangers in our own country," Abnob said before he switched his TV channel from the National Geographic to Rotana Cinema.

During the past few months, several Coptic churches have come under attack by extremists seeking to undermine the visibility of some churches. Coptic individuals were also under attack by extremists. Several Coptic activists were also killed and wounded at the hands of anti-riot factions of the army during a Coptic demonstration that was staged before the TV building, not very far from Tahrir Square.

The concern of Abnob about the influence of the rise of political Islam on the fate of Copts in Egypt and the failure of the transitional authorities to adjust different forms of injustice including the right to build churches and to assume fair access to all jobs.

But a dismayed Copt is only one of those who chose to absent themselves from the million-man march to commemorate the 25 January Revolution.

Assem, a university professor, who also said that he was there "almost every day of the 18 days that led to the end of the Mubarak regime," chose to miss the first anniversary of the revolution – or rather the second wave of the revolution, as some activists qualified. Assem believes that the revolution was hijacked by Islamists, the ruling military authorities and "members of the old regime who disguised themselves as part of the revolutionary forces."

Much criticism has been leveled by political commentators and activists on the confused administration of the transitional phase – with many accounts surfacing on a possible deal between the ruling military authorities and the leading political Islamic party Freedom and Justice, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

At the same Mohandiseen café-restaurant where Assem was enjoying a quiet brunch, Nadia, a computer engineer was waiting for some of her friends to join her for lunch. "No, we are not going to Tahrir," she said.

The mid-40s and clearly well-off lady said that she was never part of the revolution – not even a sympathizer for that matter. For Nadia the Mubarak regime was just like any other regime that came before it and for that matter like any other regime that would follow. "So what did the revolution – if you want to call it so really do? It wrecked the economy and it compromised our security."

Nadia, who lives in one of the posh residential compounds outside of Cairo, said that her lifestyle was changed a great deal. She is now not allowing her two daughters to go to their Maadi school by bus; she sends them with a driver and keeps following through on the mobile until they reach school or home. She herself is no longer feeling comfortable to drive back home later than midnight, when she used to stay out much later before the revolution.

During the last year, the Egyptian economy has suffered a considerable set-back with a severe drop in the GDP and a sharp decline in the foreign reserve.

Foreign investments have also been on the decline, especially with a receding security as the police forces continue, by and large, to fail to fully abide by their responsibilities that they had abandoned on 28 January last year.

Lack of security is the concern that Samiyah, a middle aged housewife was also expressing as she made her way to the underground station in the afternoon to go to her poorer neighbourhood of Marg. Samiyah, whose two daughters work as a sale assistant in a downtown store and a secretary at a lawyer's office in Giza, decided to compromise the family income generated by both young women as she insisted that they would only do the morning shifts and abandon the rotated evening shifts so that they can go home before sunset. "I cannot take the risk to have them subjected to any harm."

This year, Samiyah banned her two daughters from joining Tahrir Square, although last year the two young women joined part of the last three days, as she said. "Things are not going well; it is not safe; we pray for mercy of the Almighty."

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