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End of Egypt's revolution?

On Friday, Tahrir Square stood relatively empty, sapped of the spirit and optimism of the 2011 revolution that made it possible for Egyptians to choose their own president for the first time in history.

world Updated: Jun 17, 2012 01:51 IST
Washington Post
Washington Post
Hindustan Times

On Friday, Tahrir Square stood relatively empty, sapped of the spirit and optimism of the 2011 revolution that made it possible for Egyptians to choose their own president for the first time in history.

Only a few bedraggled demonstrators turned out to protest the latest turn in Egypt's turbulent journey - the court-ordered dissolution of parliament. Honking cars inched past symbolic tombs honouring protesters slain by security forces. With presidential balloting to begin Saturday, people on the sweltering streets looked fatigued and numb.

Even Friday's shuttering of the Islamist-dominated parliament by Egypt's ruling military generals, who were carrying out the court ruling, did not stir much in the way of condemnation. Many of those who fought hardest for the toppling of Hosni Mubarak now appear resigned to see the old guard come back to power.

"The revolution is dead," said Omnia Nabil, 24, holding an Egyptian flag among protesters in the square outnumbered by vendors peddling revolutionary paraphernalia. Still, she added: "I will vote for the devil before I vote for the Muslim Brotherhood."

The final-round choice that Egyptians now face between the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, a conservative Islamist, and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander, would have seemed unimaginable a year ago to the revolutionaries who turned the square into a breeding ground of hope and freedom.

The Islamists were the ones who emerged victorious in parliamentary elections earlier this year, but this week's court decisions invalidated that outcome. On Friday, the generals dispatched security forces to surround the building and ordered that legislators be barred from entering, according to the website of the state-run Al Ahram newspaper. The military council itself made no official announcement of its actions.

In a statement, the Brotherhood warned that the gains of last year's revolution could be "wiped out" by the Supreme Court rulings, which it sees as aimed at blocking its political ascent. The organisation warned that Egypt appeared headed into "very difficult days that might be more dangerous than the last days of Mubarak's rule."

Other activists called for a protest march against what they called a "soft military coup". Many in Egypt still fear that mass demonstrations could come in the wake of the elections, particularly if Shafiq is elected.

But on Friday, the public mood reflected more weariness than passion after a post-revolutionary run that has divided the liberals, leftists and Islamists who in early 2011 stood together on the front lines in street fights against riot police.

In interviews, voters such as Nabil said that while Shafiq, Mubarak's last appointed prime minister, may be a military crony, they see him as more palatable than Morsi, whose once-repressed Brotherhood has been criticised by secularists for riding the revolution to power.

Mohamed Abu Hamed Shaheen, a revolutionary turned politician, feels the same way even though he lost his seat in parliament with Friday's dissolution. He said he was happy with the court's decision because the Islamist-dominated body did not represent all Egyptians.

During the turmoil of 2011, Shaheen spent every night in Tahrir Square, and he didn't shower for days. He was pelted with stones the day men on camels and horses led a crowd of pro-Mubarak thugs into this square.

Now, none of the dreams he harboured 16 months ago have come to fruition, he said. There is no constitution, parliament is dissolved and the president will either be from the Brotherhood or the old government.

But when the elections begin on Saturday, he said, he will vote for Shafiq, because Islamists cannot be trusted to make good on the demands of the revolution. "If they win, this will be Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iran," he said.

He acknowledged that some of his fellow revolutionaries call him a traitor for supporting Shafiq, instead of boycotting the process as illegitimate or voting for Morsi. He said revolutionaries had made mistakes in their dealings with military rulers because they proved unable to speak with one voice.

But he blamed some of those setbacks on the Brotherhood, which used its political savvy and prodigious organisation to become the primary opposition group negotiating with the military. "They are the reason we are where we are," he said.

Voting begins
In an atmosphere clouded by part confusion and part despair, Egyptians flocked to the polling booths on Saturday to choose between an Islamist and a Mubarak-era leader as their next president.

With the ruling military council reasserting its control over the legislative process by moving to formally dissolve the recently-elected Parliament in line with a court order, there is much uncertainty around the political future.

Polls opened early in the day, and will be open till Sunday evening, in a run-off that comes after a polarising first round that saw a close fight between Morsi, Shafiq and the Leftist candidate Hamdeen Shabahi.

First Published: Jun 16, 2012 23:22 IST