Egypt’s Revolution Is Far from Finished
Aiman high-fives and shakes my hand as he tells me how he was shot in the side in Tahrir Square during last year’s January revolution. We’re standing on the corner of Mohammed Mahmoud Street, a block back from Tahrir Square, where protesters are milling around a small bonfire of refuse and pitching the occasional molotov cocktail up into the scorched exterior of a school building that’s been under occupation for the past 24 hours by state security forces. Soldiers lob chairs, concrete blocks, and even a Venetian blind down onto the gathering below. A field hospital has sprung up on the corner and demonstrators—mostly young men—in trademark eye-patches and Guy Fawkes masks mill about, variously ticking with adrenaline, indignation, and impotent rage.
The somewhat nebulous demonstration, now in its third day, has been staged on Mohamed Mahmoud Street to mark the anniversary of the eponymous battles that took place here last November, when more than 40 people were killed and scores seriously injured. In one of the bloodiest incidents since the fall of Mubarak, riot police and state security unleashed tear-gas and “eye-snipers” on crowds protesting the impunity of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for killings during the January revolution.
Commentators have been quick to once more diagnose Egypt with revolution after Cairo’s display of all the relevant symptoms: record-scale protests, chants of “leave, leave” and a presidential palace under siege by demonstrators. Banners in Tahrir Square proclaimed “Checkmate to the king,” while jubilant tweets declared “Happy second revolution” as hundreds of thousands turned out to protest current president Mohamed Morsi—a member of the Muslim Brotherhood—broadly expanding his own powers and proposing a new constitutionthat opponents claim would help to impose Islamist law on the country.
Morsi’s amendment came after international acclaim at his successful brokering of a ceasefire in Gaza several days before. But within hours of his announcement, the president was denounced as autocratic, dictatorial and “pharaonic.” Deeming it the “Revolution Protection Law,” Morsi has defended his new powers as a safeguard for Egypt’s nascent democracy against the influence of former regime elements and insisted that they are “temporary but necessary to complete the democratic transition.”
The president has since scrambled to calm the rising tide of dissent by rushing through a draft constitution to be put to popular referendum on December 15. In a tenuous grab at credibility, he also scrapped his new powers, instead awarding the military the power to arrest civilians. However, with at least six deaths and hundreds of casualties in protests so far, these hasty efforts are unlikely to appease protesters or those in the government and judicial system who oppose Morsi’s plans.