The post-revolution period has been frustrating for Egyptians seeking real political change. The rare victories in the political twists and turns of the last year and a half have never been complete, and the defeats have been many.
The latest incident to rouse the anger of revolution supporters was the ruling handed down by an Egyptian court sentencing overthrown president Hosni Mubarak to life in prison. He was found guilty of allowing security forces to kill protesters, even if it was not proven he gave the orders to do so.
The former president was acquitted of corruption charges, and so were his sons Gamal and Alaa, though they still remain in prison on charges of stock market fraud. Habib El-Adly, Mubarak’s Interior Minister was also given a life sentence for his role in the killing, but several of his top aids were acquitted.
On Friday, protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the January 25th revolution, to express their outrage and demand justice.
“It’s like there was never a revolution,” said a young worshiper at a church near Tahrir Square.
The anger inside the square itself was palpable. Angry chants calling for the downfall of the military regime rang out. By evening the square had once again become revolutionary territory but was not as crowded as past protests, perhaps a sign of the growing fatigue among supporters of the revolution. As always, the crowd reflected the diversity of Egyptian society and political currents, from liberal coalitions to the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, all expressed dismay at the ruling.
Egyptian activists expressed fears that Mubarak will be released on appeal.
“We all believe it's a silly story,” says an activist who works with liberal political parties. “Mubarak and Adly will appeal to be free soon. What makes us very angry is that all Adly's assistants are free now. That means the old regime of oppression was not thrown down.”
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One protester wore a t-shirt bearing the pictures of the citizens killed during the revolution. “We want to bring them back, not the former regime,” he says.
The court ruling comes on the heels of the official announcement of the winners of May’s presidential elections, with the Muslim Brotherhood party’s candidate Mohamed Moursi and Ahmed Shafiq, a minister under Mubarak, to compete in the run off. Shafiq is accused of being ‘fulul’ or a remnant of the former regime. While Muslim Brotherhood supporters are content their candidate surprisingly made it to the final round, many Egyptians are shocked that they must now choose between ‘fulul’ and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The revolution was hoped to place control of the country in the hands of the people, but there is a sentiment that all decisions, and some believe even the elections results, are still being determined by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is overseeing the transitional period.
“The ruling wasn’t real,” said the young church-goer, who identified himself as Mukhlis. “The future isn’t clear, it’s vague, because there are people arranging everything.”
Egyptians are divided, with some glad to see Mubarak escape the death sentence and looking to the military and Shafiq to restore stability. Even in Tahrir, a symbol of unity, there were sharp divisions. Different groups gathered to great presidential candidates who arrived at the square in the evening, including Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nassarist, and Moursi.
Mukhlis pointed out that half the protesters in Tahrir were supporters of Islamist groups, who, he claims, are only looking out for their own interests.
Amid political division, shocking election results and the armed forces apparent attempts to preserve much of their political influence, there is a consensus among many political currents that any real gains will be long-term.
“There will still be a heavy price to pay before we achieve democracy,” stated another activist.
Amid their dismay, advocates of change and democracy are digging in for the long haul.