A revolutionary activist isolated, but still committed

Sally Toma was in the forefront of protests against Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in 2011. She still hopes for fundamental change, but says activists like her have been sidelined. 

Tom Dale
‘Everyone has let [us] down for a seat or a constitution. Now their masks have fallen.’ – Sally Toma

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.


When millions took to the streets on June 30, 2013, Sally Toma cried. Four days earlier, the 34-year-old activist had warned on her Facebook page that mass mobilization against Morsi would lead to a coup. "It was clear to me what a setback this would be," she says. "And as I watched all those people on the streets, I was full of fear."

Ms. Toma has been at the forefront of Egypt's revolutionary battle from Day 1. In the run-up to the 2011 demonstrations, she distributed promotional fliers around the city. "At that point, we thought it would just be an anti-torture, anti-police state event," she says. "But as the date grew closer and events in [Tunisia] turned into a revolution, we started to call this our revolution. The old leftists in our movement mocked us, but we carried on."

Three years later she is still fighting, but she and her fellow revolutionaries feel isolated. Many have been killed. Yet more have grown weary, or have thrown their lots in with the Muslim Brotherhood or the military. The former, she says, care only about power. The latter she will never forgive for their brutality on Oct. 9, 2011. That night, the Army turned its guns on a peaceful protest of largely Coptic Christians, killing 28.

She responded by founding Kazeboon (Liars), a group that holds public screenings of military and Brotherhood abuses captured on film. "I knew it was time to go out and broadcast these lies in the streets," she remembers. "We were isolated in Tahrir Square. We had to spread the message again."

But message is one thing, organized politics something else. "We believe in no one anymore," she says. "Everyone has let [us] down for a seat or a constitution. Now their masks have fallen."

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