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 COFFEE-SHOP OWNER
For Nour al-Deen, who lives in Cairo's working-class Shubra District, Egypt's revolution was something to watch from the sidelines. "I didn't participate because I couldn't," he says, sitting in his family-run coffee shop. "I have supported my family since I was a child. Now I am married with two daughters, and I can't afford to miss a day's work. That was the case with many around here."
That is not to say that Mr. Deen didn't support the demands of the revolution, immortalized in the famous chant demanding "bread, freedom, and social justice."
"I hoped for complete change," he remembers. "I wanted justice and equality. I wanted a standard of living that made things feel a bit easier."
But his hopes were dashed during former President Mohamed Morsi's year in office. "His year was a bad year," says Deen. In the months immediately following President Hosni Mubarak's downfall, the Muslim Brotherhood had promised it would not run a candidate for president, insisting it wasn't power hungry. Deen blames Mr. Morsi's poor record on the movement's last-minute change of heart. "He failed because the Brotherhood weren't ready. Now, we are suffering."
Deen's income has halved since the uprising, with more and more Egyptians finding it difficult to come up with the 30 or so cents he charges for a cup of tea. "Providing food, buying the things that we require every day … it's harder now," he says, summing up the fruits of Egypt's revolution. "I just want to be able to provide for my family. I just want to control my life."
Deen says he now understands that the January 2011 uprising was a mistake because it was leaderless and led to chaos. He, like many working-class Egyptians, sees only one way forward: the elevation of Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the head of the current interim military regime, to the presidency. "He's a strict man and Egypt needs a powerful figure," Deen explains. "The people love him."