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The pharoah's last curse


Egyptians in Cairo's Tahrir Square. There are now demands to base the country's new constitution on Islamic law, or the Sharia.

On a cold winter's night, a young woman from Egypt fights back tears in a London cafe. Nearly two years after the Arab Spring, Sara Abdel Ghany, one of the revolutionaries at Tahrir Square, received a call from her family back home in Egypt, informing her that all perpetrators of the so-called 'Battle of The Camels' had been let off the hook.

Ghany, a human rights activist from Cairo currently in London for further studies, recalls the day pro-Mubarak thugs rode their camels straight through protesters at Tahrir Square during the famous 18-day sit-in that finally ousted the Egyptian dictator. "It was one of the most brutal days of the revolution, " says Ghany, as she talks bitterly of how all 24 former officials accused of orchestrating that particular bout of violence have now been acquitted by an Egyptian court under the new regime.

This is one of countless crimes committed by both Mubarak's regime and the army that have gone unpunished under the new government run by the Muslim Brotherhood. Take for instance the manner in which the army subjected women prisoners to sexual violence under the guise of forced "virginity tests". Samira Ibrahim, a young marketing manager who braved the barbarism, later sued the military. Yet while she made it to Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people, a military tribunal acquitted the doctor accused of violating her.

For Ghany, the new regime has begun to appear like the old regime with a beard. She even boycotted the recent presidential elections, convinced the army was incapable of holding fair elections. She is one of many who believe in rumours of a clandestine deal between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In fact with the revolution's candidates getting eliminated in the first round of those elections, voters were forced to choose between Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. One young Egyptian says she voted for Morsi simply because the other option involved voting for Mubarak's man.

And while the revolution called for an end to police violence under Mubarak, many Egyptians weren't prepared for the brutality that followed. Asser Hussein was injured by both Mubarak's regime and the army, which took charge of the country soon after. During the Arab Spring, Hussein was a political science student. Today, his life revolves around physiotherapy and medication after a fractured skull caused by an army bullet.

Hussein was also arrested during one of many demonstrations after the Tahrir Square revolt, and thrown into a military prison. A photograph shows injury marks on his back after his release. But what he calls his "second and killing injury" took place in November last year, during the iconic Mahmoud Street massacre, where he was shot at, and had his skull fractured close to his brain. Hussein insists though that the regime has not broken his spirit.

While the struggle took a lot out of Egyptians, it gave them much in return. Many talk of a new sense of confidence and a sudden belief that the impossible was well within reach. Students were emboldened to hold demonstrations against fee hikes. Bus-drivers took to the streets demanding better pay.

Before the Arab Spring hit Cairo, being Egyptian meant little to Wessam Abdrabo. It was around the sixth day of the revolution that it struck her that something big was really happening. People were standing still at Tahrir Square, ready to die for a cause. It was only after Mubarak stepped down that Abdrabo actively joined the revolution. She would visit Tahrir every Friday for demonstrations, and has helped organise protests through online social media.

Many talk of the utopian 18-days spent at Tahrir Square, where Egyptians of every took care of each other, brought food and drinks to pass around, printed banners free of cost, protected each other from the police and set up tents to provide medical care to the wounded. There was even a mini art gallery, where artists painted the revolution. "Young football fans would form the first line of defence between the people and the police. During prayer time, Christians would form a chain around Muslims to ensure they weren't attacked while praying, " recalls Ghany.

Nihal Elbanna, 24, says that while sexual harassment on the street is rampant in Cairo, during the revolution, there were hardly any instances of men groping women in the crowd. While Elbanna loved the spontaneity of the revolution, she now regrets its lack of organisation. She feels that while people asked for several broad, over-arching demands, there needed to be a better strategy on how to achieve specific aims. She is now the youngest member of the newly formed Egyptian Social Democratic Party, whose prime concern, at the moment, is constitutional reforms and the drafting of a progressive constitution. The party was one of many whose petitions resulted in the removal of the first constitutional assembly. The assembly, according to Elbanna, was full of "hardcore regressive people, trying to draft stupid laws. "

Many like Abdrabo feel that while the revolution started as a massive collective movement, the way forward involves smaller groups - fighting for individual demands. "I haven't seen any large demonstration for the last six months, " she says, adding that people were sick of the violence that accompanied the revolution. She also believes that counter-revolutionary forces have done their best to divide protesters along sectarian lines.

Some feel another large revolution is the only way forward. Ghany and Hussein say the biggest mistake that the people of Egypt made was to leave Tahrir Square after Mubarak's defeat. Hussein feels protestors should have stayed on till their demands were met, as the people's power lay in their collective action, and once they stopped coming to the Square in huge numbers, they lost their strength.

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