Three years, two overthrown presidents and a lot of “million-man marches” in between. But between the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in 2013 much has changed not only in the political arena but in people’s engagement with it.
On January 25 2011, mass protests poured into the streets, very much centered around principles of freedom and social justice, where anger towards Mubarak’s deep state was palpable particularly in the wave of violence against police stations, prisons, the headquarters of the then ruling National Democratic Party and the notorious State Security offices. January 25 was primarily against the oppressive practices of the state.
The same sentiment persisted, albeit more mildly, throughout the 16-month period of military rule, during which clashes between protesters and army forces raged sporadically.
This however shifted during mass protests that took place on June 30 a year after the Muslim Brotherhood ascended to power. Unprecedented numbers took to the streets, but this time to preserve “the identity of Egypt” from what was often described as the “Brotherhoodization” of the state; a phenomenon that was alarming both to the military and the millions who took to the streets.
The spirit of the revolution, which has proven difficult to tame, has encouraged many who were reluctant to join protests to engage more actively in political life.
“On January 25, I was so depressed and afraid of what might happen. A revolution or a change in the regime was a scary idea for many of us,” Margaret Habib, 53, who participated in the June 30 protests, the first she joined since the toppling of Mubarak, explains.
“Back in 2011, I thought that a small group of young people will go out and get arrested like what used to happen before. But I believe the success of the youthful nature of January 25 and how it broke the fear barrier inside many Egyptians lies behind the millions who took to the streets on June 30,” she says. “We have become fearless.”
Habib, who works in the tourism sector, says that she has been always an introvert when it comes to political participation.
“But on June 30, I felt we have to protect our state, I felt that I’m not proud of Morsi as a president anymore,” she says.
Walking in the Qasr al-Qobba district on June 30, Fatheya Sayed, a 66-year-old housewife, waved a flag as she tried to keep up with the thousands marching towards the presidential palace.
“During the revolution, I felt it is enough for the youth to participate, they were courageous, we were fearful. During military rule, we were very patient as we awaited the parliament and the president to turn things around,” she says.
Despite having voted for the Muslim Brotherhood in parliament and once again for their candidate Morsi in the presidential elections, Sayed says Egyptians have been betrayed.
“I voted for them in hopes that they will change the country for the better, but they crushed our hopes. Our only hope now is protesting,” she adds.
Sayed who receives LE180 as a social insurance monthly stipend, says Morsi lied when he said in his last speech that the insurance was raised to LE400.
“He lies like Mubarak, and then accuses his opponents of being Mubarak loyalists,” she says.
On the other hand, the turbulent political climate that has marred the past two years discouraged others from joining the June 30 protests, feeling that the discourse has shifted.
Hany Morkos, a 28-year-old accountant felt less compelled to participate on June 30, despite his opposition to the Brotherhood’s rule.
“For the last two and a half years, there have been three players in the political arena; revolutionaries who aim to radically change the rule of the game between the state and the citizens, the Islamists who only aim to keep the same form of the oppressive state with an Islamist twist, and the deep state represented in Mubarak loyalists, the police and the military,” Morkos says, explaining his position.
“One player cannot win it all. On January 25, the revolutionaries allied with the Brotherhood and Mubarak was ousted. During the transitional period, both the Brotherhood and the deep state allied against the revolution, while in the second stage of the presidential elections the Brotherhood and the revolutionaries allied again,” he states.
Morkos believes that it is the Muslim Brotherhood’s hunger for power that pitted them against all factions, which eventually led to their ouster by the police state and revolutionaries.
“I’m sick of this game, this revolution will never win this way and its agenda will never be implemented against both military and religious fascism,” he asserts.
Morkos expresses his fears regarding an army takeover.
“I won’t forget what the army did in Maspero, I cannot feel safe with them,” he says.
In October 2011, a Coptic march in front of the main state TV building was attacked by the military police in a massacre that left over 20 Copts killed and hundreds injured.
Habib, however, doesn’t share the same sentiments regarding the military.
“I do not think that this is the same military it was in 2011. It now has a new leadership that is youthful, a leadership that managed to learn the lessons of the past. You can see this in their appointment of the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court as interim president. The army will protect us this time,” she says.
Researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and activist Amr Ezzat sees no comparison between January 25 and June 30 as separate events, but rather views it all as one revolution in which many players are involved.
“January 25 was primarily aimed at bringing down the state, but it failed to do so. Instead, a new player [the Muslim Brotherhood] came to power and tried to control the same oppressive state with a very weak alliance,” Ezzat explains.
The new Brotherhood alliance was a complete failure, according to Ezzat. On one hand, it lost the support of the revolutionaries by failing to fulfill the promises Morsi had given when he was elected, as well as employing a fascist and authoritarian approach against its opposition.
“The Brotherhood also failed to secure a strong alliance with the deep state. It was a very shallow alliance with the army and the police that soon collapsed once they saw the masses turning against the Brotherhood,” he explains. “In addition, the Brotherhood’s battle with state institutions by replacing the old networks with new networks more loyal to the Islamist organization further complicated the situation.”
The Brotherhood’s focus on identity politics ignited a battle with the different political factions, relegating January 25’s original demands, bread, freedom and social justice, so that they were no longer a priority.
“All players agreed on the fact that the Brotherhood must leave. The shape of the state was the main concern not freedom and social justice,” Ezzat explains.
Historian Sherif Younis however sees the fight for the state as a point of similarity rather than a point of difference between both uprisings.
“In 2011, Egyptians revolted against the regime not the state. The violence against the police was an expression of anger towards a tool by the Mubarak regime not anger against a component of the state. The uprising against the Brotherhood was also an uprising to protect that state,” he explains.
“In both instances, Egyptians revolted to protect the state not to confront it,” he said.
Younis argues however that the demographics of those who took to the streets on June 30 were dramatically different.
He explains that those who did not necessarily believe in the January 25 protests and opted to stay behind have had a change of heart.
“Those who were standing in the popular committees to protect their property on January 25 were the ones who took to the streets against the Brotherhood on June 30. They wanted to protect the state,” he added.
Calls for bread, freedom and social justice were implied, that they did not need to be reiterated, he argues.
“It is the rule of the Brotherhood that the people felt was the mistake. The question of identity present on June 30 was less of a concern during January 25. Social justice, freedom and principles of civil society were the main agenda and the Brotherhood’s ascendance to power was a setback to this agenda,” he says.