Stuck between two revolutions

In early June, when I was writing an article about Tamarod (or “Rebel,” a grassroots initiative that campaigned for former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster), I found that it wasn’t the spokespeople who were particularly interesting, but rather those actually collecting the signatures demanding that Morsi step down.

I randomly approached people gathering names for the petition to see if I could chat with them and tag along with them for a while. Mostly, they were young, politically unaffiliated and had voted for Morsi against Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq in the 2012 presidential runoffs. Mostly, they talked angrily about how the Muslim Brotherhood had betrayed the revolution.

I have been wondering for some time now what they feel about the political context that they worked hard to usher in. Six months on and with the third anniversary of January 25, I called them up and met with the one who answered his phone — Mostafa Fouad, a 20-year-old student of Arabic at Cairo University.

Mostafa and other friends from university had spent most evenings gathering signatures in the month leading up to the June 30 mass protests that ultimately led to Morsi’s removal. They were all in the final year of high school when January 25 2011 kicked off, and then met at university. They have been involved in politics together since then.

As I went to meet him, I was curious about what he would say. In the past six months of polarization, there have been enough surprises to know better than to second-guess people’s positions.

We are looking for somewhere to sit and he says, “Where were you on June 30? I tried calling you, it was a glorious day.”

This suggests to me that a certain narrative is forthcoming, but then he surprises me, saying, “Hassan Shahin, Mahmoud Badr, Mohamed Abdel Aziz — we no longer have anything to do with them.”

Mada Masr: Why?

Mostafa Fouad: They only express their personal opinions. We had agreed that we did not want to appear in the picture, but they put themselves right in the middle of it.

A lot of us split from Tamarod. I personally lost faith about half-way through Ramadan.

MM: Why did you not want to appear in the picture?

MF: Politics is not for us. There is no such thing as clean politics and dirty politics — politics is a dirty game.

For the past three years, social justice has been the most important issue. But for all the parties — all of them, even the ones that say they are revolutionary — they always say, “Now isn’t the time.”

Everyone is trying to realize their own political agendas. I don’t have confidence in politicians, the media, [Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-]Sisi, Tamarod, any of the political parties or movements. I have faith only in myself and my friends.

MM: So what now, after June 30?

MF: The Brotherhood used the name of religion, and now the government does the same thing, but in the name of security.

A government comes in after two revolutions and brings in a Protest Law banning demonstrations? So, you’ve fixed everything? Workers have their rights, and farmers, and you’ve dealt with unemployment?

Ok, so there is security and I can walk home at 2 am safely. But so what, if I don’t have my rights?

If people feel their rights are on the way to being fixed, there won’t be demonstrations. That’s the way to get stability.

MM: So was June 30, or the result of June 30, a blow to the revolution?

MF: The media has proved that June 30 was against January 25. The media with money keeps people in ignorance.

And the Egyptian people hate lying in the name of religion. Their hatred of the Brotherhood has made them forget everything — [the battle of] Mohamed Mahmoud, the Cabinet clashes, everything. And so they are cheering the return of military rule.

Rabea [al-Adaweya] wasn’t a dispersal, it was a massacre. Sure some were armed, but lots of people were killed, women and children too. If it was a dispersal gas and water cannons would have been used. People were shot at from planes and the tops of buildings. Hundreds were killed in hours. That’s called a massacre.

Students are demonstrating at universities and they’re being killed and arrested. And not just Brotherhood — a friend got arrested last week from his house, I have no idea why. Now people get arrested and others applaud.

MM: So do you regret taking part in June 30?

MF: My only regret is trusting people who were just after their own agendas.

MM: Who?

MF: Sisi, those people at the top of Tamarod.

If you do politics all the time, you get tired and disgusted. I have to concentrate on my studies and have fun also. But you always come back to it. When I was collecting signatures in the City of the Dead — we went to all kinds of areas — I remember this man who said he wants a “good life.” I understood those two words to mean three things — not to be humiliated, to earn a decent living, and education and health for his family. The man gave a look that moved me. I took a picture of his signed form and I’ve kept it. It’s a reminder…

I didn’t vote in the referendum.

MM: Why not?

MF: Why should I?

There are millions of unemployed young people. Even if you realize a minimum wage of LE1,200, why should some earn LE1,200 while others are earning millions? The government leaves people to earn their millions and can’t fix tourism or the economy.

What about someone on a daily wage of LE100? What if he gets sick or dies? How will his family eat? There should be state support for him. But he is left to live like this, while there is corruption and bribery everywhere. And then you are surprised when people become criminals — well, you made them that way. 

The older generations, maybe they feel they haven’t got so much of their lives left. We’re thinking about our futures. But their silence kills us.

Of course there is a generational conflict in this society.

The rulers want the people to be ignorant, and when young people have good and innovative ideas they are ignored. They want us ignorant, they don’t want the country to progress. Take graduates of engineering. Their skills and talents aren’t used. A country like Egypt could actually have good industry and export industrial goods.

MM: So what about the government response to young people not participating?

MF: It’s a government of old people. They need the youth. Sixty percent of this county is young. So they panicked. They need us symbolically, but also practically. How can their projects survive if we are 60 percent of the country and there is no support coming from us?

The boycott was the first slap in the face of this government.

But they just meet with “youth representatives.” That’s theater for the media. People can only speak in their own name. Maybe they represent their movement, but nothing more. The point is no one represents the youth.

Just address our demands.

MM: That will take time…

MF: We know that social justice can’t happen tomorrow or right away. What we want is a time schedule that you answer to, to see positive steps on the way to achievement. They always accuse us of impatience, but we know that you can’t do all that much in four years, and if you do the groundwork according to a timetable, we will give you another four years.

I agree that Egypt needs a strong leader. A strong leader is someone who can admit mistakes. 

Naira Antoun 

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