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Egypt's Unfinished Revolution: Revisiting Tahrir Square

A return to Cairo as Egypt begins the daunting work of building a new nation.


The April 6 Movement, which was widely credited for igniting the revolution through its social networking, seems isolated and fractured. In the FRONTLINE film Revolution in Cairo that aired in February, we focused on Ahmed Maher, the founder and leader of the April 6 Movement and a key organizer of the very first days of the revolt.

Maher had suffered imprisonment and beating at the hands of the police in the months before the 'January 25 Revolution.' But the bald, quiet civil engineer with two young children persevered. In retrospect, he quite literally "engineered" the revolution by understanding the structural weaknesses in the system and finding a way to erect a new opposition through Facebook and his Twitter account and his cell phone, which was — and still is — perpetually glued to his ear.

Maher bristles at the notion that what happened in Egypt was the first "Facebook revolution."


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As Maher spoke, you could see the strain of the movement. He looked tired and stressed and he spoke of a growing sense that the movement is struggling to affect change, not play politics. Maher was criticized when it was reported in a Council on Foreign Relations blog that he accepted an offer from a Beverly Hills public relations firm to represent the movement pro bono. He and his wife have a newborn who arrived just after the revolution, their second child, and he said he was struggling to balance his family, his work as an engineer with his dedication to being an activist.


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On the day after the big demonstrations in Tahrir Square on the evening of June 28, we found online activist Gigi Ibrahim. We weren't surprised to learn that she had once again played a role in calling people into the streets through Twitter and Facebook.

Ibrahim is Egyptian but grew up in Orange County, California, where she went to high school after her father brought the family for his career. She was featured in the FRONTLINE segment "Gigi's Revolution" and since then became something of a revolutionary celebrity. She appeared in Vogue and on the cover of Time magazine as one of the young faces of the revolution, and was interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Ibrahim was obsessively working her Blackberry just as she had in January and February — only now the screen was cracked and she was struggling to see the Twitter feeds she is following. (She prefers the Blackberry to an iPhone or Nokia because the Blackberry has longer battery life and she can bring spare batteries.) She was in the middle of the action, finding video footage shot from a cell phone of police using a taser on the family member of a ‘martyr.’ She brought the video to Al Jazeera's offices around the corner.


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Although they once shared common cause, Gigi Ibrahim's Twitterati and the Muslim Brotherhood of Essam El-Erian now seem on different paths. El-Erian is a leader of the long outlawed movement who is now launching a candidacy for the parliamentary election under the Brothers' new Freedom and Justice Party. He said that many protesters have gotten out of step with more mainstream culture — which also wants change, but moves slowly.


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I asked El-Erian about allegations among protesters that the old guard of the Muslim Brotherhood was slowing down the pace of change by siding with the military. He was indignant about the question, saying, "We are the victims of the police for more than 60 years ... And we cannot be opposite of the people. We are the people."

The Brotherhood clearly has wide appeal in Egypt's largely traditional society. But there is a youth movement within the Muslim Brotherhood that has grown impatient with the old guard, like El-Erian.