Exactly one year ago today, I stood in front of the Lawyers Syndicate in downtown Cairo and watched as a few thousand protesters suddenly streamed into the area from the north, overwhelmed Egypt’s notoriously violent riot police, and pushed onward towards Tahrir Square. That mile-long march, which culminated with the protesters bursting through a human chain of officers and seizing the Square, was the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever witnessed, and it remains so.
December 2 was supposed to be “Heroes of Mohamed Mahmoud Friday” in Cairo. The previous week, around 40 people had been killed by security forces while demonstrating in Tahrir Square, with the worst violence occurring on adjacent Mohamed Mahmoud Street. To memorialize the dead, Egypt’s youth activists had called for a million-man march, complete with parachute-sized Egyptian flags to convey their spirit and mock coffins to convey their sadness. Yet, for the second time in five days, the call for a million protesters to show up in Tahrir Square yielded just hundreds.
Alexandria, Egypt—Parliamentarians’ offices typically feature self-flattering photos and patriotic paraphernalia, so I was taken aback by the décor of recently elected Muslim Brotherhood MP Saber Abouel Fotouh’s Alexandria headquarters.
Giza, Egypt—In this city’s lower-income neighborhood of Talbiya, situated just across the Nile from Cairo, women carry piles of pita on their heads through narrow, dirt-paved roads, squeezing past donkey-pulled carts. Amid the fuel fumes, and fly-swarmed food stands, there’s also a health clinic. It’s run by Hesham Abouel Nasr, a henna-bearded television preacher who also happens to be the local secretary-general for the Salafist—that is to say, Islamic fundamentalist—Nour Party.
Fayoum, Egypt—The big story from Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first round of which concluded on Tuesday, will likely be the Muslim Brotherhood’s impressive victory.
Cairo—As expected, many things went wrong on the first day of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections. Ballots arrived late at approximately 900 polling stations and, in a few cases, angry voters held judicial monitors hostage after their ballots failed to arrive. Meanwhile, candidates nationwide scrambled to correct their campaign literature when they found that their numerical ballot placements did not match the numberings that had been announced prior to the election.
The diplomatic documents had barely stopped drifting down from the Israeli Embassy in Egypt when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof referenced the root causes of the attack, as he saw them: “Attacking the Israeli embassy doesn’t help Gazans, doesn’t bring back the dead,” he tweeted.
The 9/11 attacks catalyzed a tremendous shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East. Rather than prioritizing petrol, Washington targeted terrorist organizations, dethroned a dictator, and lobbied throughout the region for liberalization. Yet despite the billions of dollars spent policing Baghdad and protecting Benghazi, the unpopularity of the United States in the Arab world continues to be fueled by the belief that Islamist terrorists had nothing to do with 9/11, with many claiming the attacks were an American, Israeli, or joint American-Israeli conspiracy.
The trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is being hailed as a landmark moment in Arab, if not world, history. And, in a certain sense, it is. The image of the once indomitable dictator wheeled into a courtroom on a gurney, flanked by the sons who might have been his heirs, but are now his co-defendants, affirms the primary achievement of Egypt’s revolt: namely, Mubarak’s ouster. For many Egyptians, the January uprising was always about ending Mubarak’s stifling 30-year rule and preventing him from pharaonically installing his son Gamal as his successor.
Last Saturday in Cairo, Coptic Christians protesting the latest in a series of church burnings were attacked. According to reports, a mob of thugs swarmed the downtown protest area, lobbing gasoline bombs and rushing the demonstrators. Riot police stood by, then left to call the military. An hour later, when soldiers finally arrived, over 80 people had already been injured.