Two years later, Egyptians' euphoria over Mubarak's fall a distant memory

Some protesters demanded President Morsi's ouster as they clashed with police on the anniversary of Mubarak's fall. Deepening economic woes and violence have marred Morsi's short tenure.

Khalil Hamra/AP
An Egyptian protester covers his face as he stands during clashes with riot police, not seen, near the presidential palace in Cairo, Monday.

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Protesters demanding the resignation of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi clashed with police yesterday on the second anniversary of the overthrow of autocratic former leader Hosni Mubarak.

“The people want to bring down the regime,” protesters chanted outside the presidential palace yesterday, where police used water hoses and tear gas to break up the small crowds, reports the Associated Press. Demonstrators were also present in other symbolic places across the city: outside the chief prosecutor's office, where protesters called for justice for those who were killed by security forces during the 2011 uprisings to oust Mr. Mubarak; and in Tahrir Square, the main rallying point for Egyptians during the 18 days of protest that eventually led to Mubarak’s resignation after 30 years in power.

For the next 17 months, Egypt was led by a military council, under which violence continued. Last June, The Muslim Brotherhood’s President Morsi won Egypt’s first free and fair elections.

But democracy has not reaped the peace, security, or economic stability many called for during the uprisings two years ago, The Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy reports in a recent in-depth report:

Today, all that euphoria seems almost a quaint memory. Months of resistance to Morsi's rule culminated in late January with furious protesters and angry mobs doing battle with government forces across much of the country: in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square; at a nearby luxury hotel; and in the gritty port cities of Suez, Ismailiya, and Port Said along the Suez Canal, Egypt's economic lifeline.

In the canal zone, Morsi was forced to declare a state of emergency, and called the military out into the streets, granting them the sort of arrest and prosecution powers that Mr. Mubarak's state not long ago was using to control the Brothers. The violence has had an anarchic edge, fueled by defiance against a state that Morsi now symbolizes but without any core political message beyond calls for justice for the martyrs.

"Mubarak with a beard," says Mohamed al-Mesri, a young protester in Cairo, of Morsi.

All this has no doubt shaken Morsi's confidence and that of anyone around him who expected the Brotherhood to ease comfortably into power and set about the business of achieving its long-held dream: to mold Egypt into a state that looks to the Quran rather than modern history in crafting its laws and institutions.

Yesterday, Ahmed Mohamed, an engineering student who had joined protesters outside the presidential palace, told the AP, "[o]f course I feel disappointed. Every day it's getting worse. The economy is even worse and all government institutions are collapsing. Morsi won't even acknowledge this."

Mubarak was sentenced to life in jail last year for the role he played in the death of protesters during the 2011 uprisings. Two years later, some opposition party members are calling for Morsi to stand trial for the deaths of some 60 people killed when antigovernment demonstrations broke out in January, reports Reuters. The public prosecutor has said there is no evidence to tie Morsi to those deaths.

Amid yesterday’s violence, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali spoke on state TV late last night. "Violence will burn the fingers of those who call for it and use it.... The presidency supports the continuation of peaceful protests and freedom of expression but any attempt to veer off peaceful protesting will be dealt with firmly,” Mr. Ali said, according to Reuters.

Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, wrote in an opinion for the Wall Street Journal that during his decades of autocratic rule, "a toxic brew poisoned the life of Egypt – a mix of anti-modernism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Zionism."

Yet it is only against the backdrop of the sordid political landscape of today's Egypt—the hooliganism of the young, the lawlessness, the fault line between a feeble secular camp and a cynical Muslim Brotherhood bent on monopolizing political power—that the true work of the Mubarak tyranny can be fully appreciated. The "deep state" he presided over—a Ministry of Interior with nearly two million functionaries, a police force that ran amok—is Mubarak's true legacy.

The disorder today in Egypt's streets is taken by some as proof that the despot knew what he was doing, and that Egyptians are innately given to tyranny. But that view misses the damage that this man and his greedy family and retainers inflicted on a nation of more than 80 million people that once had nobler ideas of its place in the world….

The economy is wrecked and the government has run down its foreign reserves as it attempts to maintain a system of costly subsidies. A $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan was tentatively agreed on, but the government was unwilling to put through the austerity measures required by the loan. Only the remittances of Egyptians abroad, an impressive total of $19 billion in 2012, averted catastrophe. The ruling bargain that had the Egyptians give up their freedom for bread, and for the handouts of the state, still obtains. The old regime fell, but its ways endure.

Egypt’s Ahram online has a series of first-person “untold stories” from the 2011 revolution, and the BBC has put together a mosaic of voices on “life since Mubarak” to commemorate the two-year anniversary.

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