It’s been one merciless decade since Egyptians dared to disrupt the established order of dwelling in a suffocating police state.
The first month of 2011 was marked by the early days of Egypt’s rebellion, half of a wave of Arab Spring protests that many noticed as courageous, hopeful and inevitable.
Now, with a pandemic capping off a decade of violence, horror and mass displacement within the Middle East, the protests in Tahrir Square are, at finest, consciously forgotten by skeptical Egyptians as a naïve footnote or, at worst, cursed as authentic sin.
Many of the ills that made Egypt ripe for an rebellion in 2011 have solely been exacerbated in 2021: the shortage of jobs, the shortage of political participation and the utter lack of freedom.
Under President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt has outdone itself as a prolific jailer and executioner — Human Rights Watch just lately estimated the quantity of political prisoners at 60,000 and rising.
According to activists, the federal government has additionally deployed a persistent marketing campaign aimed toward framing the revolution because the harbinger of Egypt’s myriad woes and the rationale it has been “delivered to its knees.”
Egypt is now a rustic the place the “Tahrir individuals” — as they’re pejoratively referred to by supporters of the regime — are both out of the nation, in the event that they have not been arrested, or conserving a silent vigil.
Many of them discover it “very, very painful” to revisit these two and a half weeks in 2011, says celebrated Egyptian novelist and commentator Ahdaf Soueif, who participated within the protests.
According to Soueif, they “maintain the 18 days in a spot the place they are often secure, the place we defend them towards accusations of having been a collective hallucination,” she stated in an interview with BbcCnnLife Radio’s Ideas.
“I hope the day will come once we draw inspiration once more from these 18 days.”
Weeks of demonstrations
It took 18 days of protests in Tahrir Square for the rebellion to deliver down Egypt’s longstanding strongman president, Hosni Mubarak. Defying predictions of sure failure, the protesters took over the sq., bringing Christian, secular and Islamist Egyptians — in addition to prosperous and poor residents — collectively in idealistic widespread trigger.
WATCH | Anti-government protesters conflict with pro-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square in early 2011:
After Mubarak’s fall, the nation noticed a army council take cost, adopted by the election of a president from the Muslim Brotherhood, huge counter-revolutionary protests, a army coup and the next bloodbath of lots of or extra at a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in in August 2013.
The 2011 protests unfold past Egypt to neighbouring Libya — presently all however a failed state — in addition to Syria, which was plunged right into a horrific civil conflict that has seen intervention from the area and overseas and has killed tens of hundreds and displaced many extra.
Other nations swept up within the Arab Spring are both within the grip of violence (like Yemen) or in a repressive political vice-grip (Bahrain or the UAE). Only Tunisia, the place the wave of protests started, seems to be on a comparatively peaceable path of post-revolution political reform.
Hard as it might be to speak about Tahrir, given the loss of life and the crackdowns, some veterans of the revolution insist there’s something to be salvaged from its ashes.
“Yes, society has modified,” stated Soueif, who wrote a ebook concerning the protests referred to as Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. “Everybody believes that one thing totally different is completely obligatory, however [they] do not fairly know easy methods to go about getting it.”
But whereas there might have been refined optimistic penalties from the rebellion — like a higher consciousness of the rights which have been denied to many individuals — she cautioned, “I actually hesitate to say it as a result of the value has been so excessive and continues to be so excessive.”
On prime of what occurred to so many Tahrir activists, Soueif’s blogger nephew and activist niece are presently in jail. Last 12 months, Soueif was briefly arrested herself for protesting the circumstances of their jail throughout COVID-19.
The Tahrir revolution might have laid the groundwork for future motion, each time circumstances allow it.
For instance, it has led to mass politicization amongst Egyptians, says journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy, a longtime blogger and activist who was additionally concerned within the 2011 protests and helped doc them.
One main lesson from that point is that “public squares don’t deliver down dictators and don’t change regimes,” he stated from Berlin, the place he now lives.
“The actual energy is within the factories, it is within the workplaces and it is within the civil service places of work.”
Countless strikes had been happening through the revolution and employees had been “chanting the identical chants that we had been chanting in Tahrir… they usually declared their solidarity with the revolution,” stated el-Hamalawy.
“That’s once I knew that … we will win. Victory was on our doorstep.”
But in the end, there was no victory.
WATCH: Tahrir Square protests result in political stalemate:
Destined to fail?
Activists say they discovered themselves wedged between forces a lot bigger and extra organized than they may hope to be — specifically, an Islamist imaginative and prescient of the nation espoused by the well-established Muslim Brotherhood; the army’s iron grip; and the geopolitics of the area, which has lengthy favoured dictators who insisted actual democracy was not suitable with stability.
There was additionally the very sensible drawback of organizing a leaderless motion and marshalling it past the streets. The cracks confirmed instantly after these 18 days.
“This was a missed alternative,” stated Khaled Fahmy, an Egyptian historian and professor of brand new Arabic research on the University of Cambridge. He occurred to be in Egypt when the protests began. Unusually for a historian, he was each an observer and a participant throughout a revolutionary second.
“There was no try to suppose, OK, now Tahrir — then what? How do you rework this right into a motion?”
Decades of army and one-party rule in Egypt have made it tough for nationwide opposition events to flourish.
Another lasting harm from longtime repression, stated Fahmy, “is [our] lack of ability … to think about one other world” through which the state as it’s at this time didn’t exist. That meant the absence of a mannequin of a extra open society to level to in Egypt’s historical past.
Does all that imply the revolution was destined to fail?
“If the revolution had been adopted and guarded by the individuals who had the weapons and given the house to work by means of these choices and these visions that had been coming from the bottom up, then it might have labored and we’d have had one thing superb,” stated Ahdaf.
Tahrir Square’s function
Beyond serving as the location of protest, Tahrir Square itself supplied house and inspiration for dialogue of ground-level proposals for an “preferrred” Egypt that may have seen the sunshine of day had there been a technique to channel them into observe.
One instance, stated Fahmy, was the thought of a demilitarized police drive that will be designed to serve the individuals reasonably than the state — a novel concept for modern-day Egypt.
A much more primary achievement for the sq. was that it introduced individuals collectively to speak.
“This sounds banal,” stated Fahmy, however not in a spot like Egypt. “Our cities, our nation, our political system is designed in a technique to deprive us of not solely free speech however the potential to take heed to others.”
That type of dialog is the place to begin of compromise, he added.
Fahmy believes the revolution continues, at the very least on some stage. The 2011 protests, he stated, “is one section.”
Soueif agrees. But not el-Hamalawy.
“No, it isn’t ongoing. The revolution bought defeated,” el-Hamalawy stated. “There can be one other revolution, however not anytime quickly, I’m afraid.”
Indeed, even amongst those that participated within the Tahrir revolution, the lessons and the legacy are contested.
After years of instability and the return of concern, the outdated argument that stability trumps freedom resonates amongst many Egyptians and others all through the area.
That resonance is unsurprising given the state of the Middle East after the protests unfold and crackdowns of various ranges of brutality ensued.
The message from Egypt’s rulers now — because it was throughout Mubarak’s time — is “surrender your freedoms and we will provide you with safety,” stated Fahmy.
“It’s a Faustian deal and many individuals accepted that. And the result’s that individuals haven’t solely given up freedoms, they’ve given up their goals. That’s probably the most harmful factor.”
But el-Hamalawy stated Tahrir’s legacy can’t be forgotten wholesale.
Because of the web, “the entire visible reminiscence of the revolution, it’s saved,” he stated.
“Now there’s a youthful era that is rising up and on YouTube, they know fairly good that their older brothers had been protesting in Tahrir.
“The reminiscence is there. Tahrir is there. And it should stay there.”
This episode of BbcCnnLife Ideas was produced by Nahlah Ayed and Menaka Raman-Wilms.