© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Egyptian pro-democracy supporters gather in Cairo’s Tahrir Square
By Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad CAIRO (Reuters) – Ten years ago, protesters took to the streets of Egypt, emboldened by the success of the Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia. Some young activists formed the Youth Revolution Coalition to unite the various threads of the uprising and give the protesters occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo a coherent voice. They demanded freedom, dignity, democracy and social justice amid battles with police and state-hired thugs, and on February 11 President Hosni Mubarak resigned. But the coalition became fragmented when faced with two much more established forces: the Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power in subsequent elections, and the army that toppled it in 2013. Egypt now faces a different picture. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who became president in 2014 after leading the ouster of Mohamed Mursi from the Brotherhood, has overseen an offensive that activists consider the toughest in decades. Sisi says in response that it has brought stability, allowing the country to emerge from the turmoil that followed 2011. Officials did not respond to a request for additional comment. Sisi has called the uprising a “great revolution” and blamed it for sparking economic upheaval and security problems. Tahrir Square has been redesigned and a new capital is being built in the desert. Some former senior members of the coalition are in prison, some are in exile. One is a pro-Sisi member of parliament. Here are some of their stories: ISLAM LOTFY A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood student division when the uprising began, Islam Lotfy was fired from the movement later that year when the younger members parted ways with the more hesitant senior leadership. Lotfy, 42, left Egypt in 2013 amid an offensive against those associated with the Brotherhood, and now works in the London television production. Egypt has put him on a terrorist list and frozen his assets. Many of his former political associates are in jail, he says. “We are personally in a difficult position but we will continue to fight,” he said. “My mother has dementia and is very old, and I did not have the opportunity to be with her or to visit her.” It marks the 10th anniversary of the uprising by reaching out to other activists outside of Egypt “and trying to build a real political movement.” “What we are asking for does not disappear because we are not here or because we are in prisons or because we are in exile.” BASSEM KAMEL Bassem Kamel was active in liberal opposition politics in Mubarak’s last years in power. After the uprising, he co-founded the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and was elected a member of a short-lived parliament. In June 2013 he was among the organizers of protests against the Brotherhood. His optimism about the fall of Mursi quickly turned to concern that the military was bypassing civilians. Now 51, he remains the deputy head of his party, which won seven seats in parliament by joining an electoral list led by a strongly pro-Sisi party. But he didn’t take a seat, dividing his time between party activities and the interior decorating company he owns in Cairo. “There is no political life, really. There is a very, very limited scope for political or partisan activity, and that’s why I’m there,” he said during an interview in his office. “Change must come from cumulative work and organization, from long-term persistence.” SALLY TOMA Dr. Sally Toma recalls being kicked out of Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011 and watched in amazement as protesters moved to claim her three days later. Representative of Egypt’s Coptic Christians in the coalition, he continued to protest until 2013, campaigning against the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. “Agreeing to overthrow a regime is one thing and then agreeing on how to build is another, and there was a counterrevolution working against it from the beginning,” he said in an interview. Now 42 and a practicing psychiatrist, he says most of his peers are in detention or exile and those who remain are trying to survive the trauma of the past decade. An informal network from the “revolutionary camp” works quietly on human rights issues, he says. Toma says he still knows people who profess attachment to lifting and its goals. “Revolutions do not happen just like that and die. The seeds are there and you find them in the strangest places.” TAREK EL-KHOULY Lawyer Tarek el-Khouly blames the Brotherhood for undermining the uprising by trying to impose Islamic rule. He backed the overthrow of Mursi in 2013, seeing it as an extension and “correction” of 2011. Khouly, 35, was re-elected last year to a second five-year term in parliament after joining the Pro-Sisi Nation’s Future party. . “Ten years ago, I was among the thousands of young people who participated in this great revolution that asked for bread, freedom and social justice. I think we are in the middle of the road,” he said in an interview. Post-2013 security measures were needed to prevent attacks by militants, and those jailed for social media posts were inciting crime, he said. Tens of thousands of civil society organizations may operate in Egypt, he added, praising the government‘s efforts to improve living conditions and saying that parliament was gaining strength as an expression of popular will. SHADY EL-GHAZALY HARB A surgeon active in opposition politics before the uprising, Shady el-Ghazaly Harb was imprisoned between 2018 and 2020 on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist organization, allegations frequently leveled at opposition figures. Harb, 42, believes he was arrested due to social media posts critical of government policies. He has returned to his clinic in Cairo, but is still suspended from a job as a university professor. “I completely moved away from political participation not only because of the risk of prison, but because the political climate and the political field are not encouraging any political participation,” he said. The priority now is to press for the detainees to be released. But he believes that the ideas of the uprising have endured, both in the protests in Sudan, Algeria and Lebanon, and in Egypt itself. “It changed the collective consciousness of a nation of 100 million,” he said.