Three years since the Mubarak dictatorship fell, the great hopes of the revolutionary moment have been dashed. What was seen as the first step toward democracy in the Arab world's largest country has instead led toward military coup, political chaos, and extreme polarization. The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which won all the elections after 2011, has been outlawed. The military is running the country and army chief Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has emerged as the front runner to be Egypt's next president. Reporters, political activists and human rights activists have been jailed. Economic free fall has left millions much worse off. Perhaps most important, the broadly expressed sentiment that it was time for democratic institutions to blossom has completely fractured.
Louisa Loveluck sat down in Cairo with five Egyptians who supported the uprising against Mubarak and now have sharply different views about how to set the country to rights. Their opinions on what's needed now make clear the depth of the challenge facing Egypt. The other four interviews are linked at the left of this page.
THE BROTHERHOOD STUDENT
Revolution has permeated Layla's life since she sat down for the entrance exam that secured her a place at Al Azhar University. That was on Jan. 25, 2011, the day protests against Mubarak broke out; and in the three years since, the 19-year-old has become entangled in politics while studying at the ancient Islamic university. Today, she's a central figure in the pro-Morsi protests on campus.
She recalls that she and most of her friends didn't expect the Jan. 25 protests to amount to much. But after finishing her exam, she received a call from her cousin – and couldn't hear her for the chants demanding revolution in the background. Layla (an alias, as the Egyptian military has been jailing many Muslim Brotherhood activists) rushed to join the swelling protests.
The years since have been an education in realpolitik. She ruefully recalls cheering for the police in 2011 – not imagining that in short order the military would be back in charge and the police would be throwing hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood and other activists in jail and opening fire on protests. "We were so naive back then," she says with a wry laugh.
She has lost 10 friends to violence since Egypt's coup in July 2013. Most of them died on Aug. 14, when soldiers and riot police killed nearly a thousand Morsi supporters at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adaweya Square.
Layla says she is determined to fight back, and now helps organize near-daily protests on Al Azhar's campus, calling for the reinstatement of Morsi.
While in the first two months of 2011, the protesters – secular, socialist, Muslim Brotherhood– were in it together, Layla says she recognizes that her fight is isolated now. "Straight after the speech [signalling Morsi's ouster], I opened my door to find the street full of people celebrating. Even the doormen were congratulating each other." The Muslim Brotherhood's position has grown only more tenuous. On Christmas Day, the Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organization. In the eyes of the government, Layla and her friends are now criminals.
But she is determined to carry on. "I know that this is a fight we can win. Otherwise, I'd never have started in the first place."