Off the street: How 5th anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolution was commemorated

Ahram Online , Monday 25 Jan 2016

Tahrir Square
A general view of Tahrir Square during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt, January 25, 2016. (Reuters)

Even though the 2011 revolution that toppled Egypt's long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak was not commemorated in public spaces, its fifth anniversary saw reflections on those still imprisoned and a focus on what has not yet been achieved since the uprising.

Although it is known for robustly supporting the incumbent regime, privately-owned Youm7 newspaper in its banner headline questioned, "how many revolutions does Egypt need?" listing schools, hospitals, corruption, and bureaucracy as sources of grievances that may foment revolt.

The paper dedicated several pages to look at why a revolution in state institutions has stumbled.

Meanwhile, privately-owned daily Al-Masry Al-Youm earmarked 10 pages for the revolution's anniversary, interviewing political activists and a slew of families of some of those imprisoned.

In an interview from inside his prison cell, one of Egypt's most prominent activists, Alaa Abdel Fattah told the paper that "no hope has been left in him" five years after the popular revolt.

The activist, who was sentenced to five years in jail in February for violating a protest law, said he regrets staying in Egypt after his name was removed from a travel ban list in 2013.

Abdel Fattah said he wants to "leave the country and the region to a place void of conflicts" when he is freed, stressing though that he is not expecting this to happen any time soon.

In another interview with the family of imprisoned activist Ahmed Maher, his brother Mostafa talked about unlawful treatment by prison authorities, including restrictions on access to books and food.

Maher is currently serving a three-year jail term for protesting without permit and assaulting the police..

Few demonstrations occurred on Monday's five-year anniversary, which is also the national Police Day. This is in stark contrast to mammoth demonstrations that poured into the iconic Tahrir Square on the same day in past years.

The absence of protests comes against the backdrop of El-Sisi’s speech last month in which he warned against any demonstrations marking the anniversary. The interior ministry, the body responsible for police, has also promised a firm response to any non-sanctioned protests.

Mixed emotions on social media

Egyptian security forces have arrested administrators of Facebook pages organising protests and raided or shut down cultural spaces in recent weeks to prevent possible gatherings as the anniversary approaches.

However, the hashtag #jan25 was trending on Twitter Monday, with many users expressing nostalgia and sharing photos of the 18-day revolution.

Some have mocked the lack of protests on the day despite perceived disillusionment amongst many.

@khaled_B3eet tweeted a couple of images of empty streets in downtown Cairo and around Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the revolution, jokingly captioning them: "the calm before nothing."

Ahmed M. Tuni tweeted "that feeling when you're lying under the blanket but your ideology is making authorities sleep in the streets," in reference to heightened security presence in the capital Cairo and other governorates on Monday in anticipation of protests.

Several key figures during the popular revolt have written about clinging to the same ideals of the uprising.

"To anyone who took part or sacrificed for freedom and human sure the revolution will win because you're the future and no force is above that of the right," Mohamed El-Baredei, Egypt's leading opposition leader and former interim vice president wrote on his Twitter feed.

"We will continue to dream, and it’s destined that our dreams will become your nightmares,” Wael Ghonim, prominent youth activist who was a key player in the uprising, wrote on Monday.

Frustration amid revolutionary political forces

Some of Egypt's revolutionary political forces issued statements on the fifth anniversary of Egypt's 25 January uprising insisting that pre-revolutionary state practices continue in Egypt.

The Strong Egypt Party, founded by 2012 presidential candidate and ex-Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, said in a statement that "five years have passed and the 25 January revolution has not achieved its goals, as the stolen dignity [and rights] of Egyptians have not been reclaimed, but [the revolution] will remain alive in hearts and minds."

"We, the Strong Egypt Party, do not consider today a celebration," the statement added. "It reminds us of the martyrs we lost in this uprising and of our consolidation against one enemy which steals our dreams and freedom."

Strong Egypt supported the 30 June 2013 demonstrations against Muslim Brotherhood rule, but criticised the ouster of Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, calling it a "coup." The party decided to boycott all electoral and political activities in the transitional period which followed Morsi's ouster, including the 2014 constitution referendum and the presidential elections.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, founded a few months after the 25 January uprising, said in a statement on Monday that the revolution's goals were "still out of reach."

"We are living in a state of constriction of the public domain and civil society organisations, as social justice principles have not been achieved," the statement read. "We believe that things are worse than they were before the revolution because of the practices of the security apparatus, and because of the unconstitutional legislations which were issued over the past years."

The party called for amending the controversial protest law, releasing all those jailed without charge, and addressing the issue of forced disappearances, which some say involves the secret arrest of individuals by government agencies, an allegation authorities have strongly denied.

The now-banned 6 April movement also issued a statement quoting its political bureau member Khaled Ismail, who said that "the movement will continue its efforts in reuniting the revolution's political factions to reclaim its goals, especially since the ruling regime has showed its suppressive practices against the people."

The 6 April Youth Movement was founded in 2008 to support protesting workers in the Nile Delta's Mahalla, soon developing into one of the leading opposition movements during the Mubarak era.

After the ousting of president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the movement continued to play a role in the political scene. However, a Egyptian court order banned all activities of the group in 2014.

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