CAIRO — It was this same time last year: Egyptians were enthusiastic about how they would lead their country forward. Parties were established to compete in what they hoped would be a fair race for the new parliament. Millions avoided any confrontations with the ruling military. “The people and the army are one hand,” chanted people in Tahrir Square.
But on Monday, the Liberation Square — “Tahrir” — was empty with the exception of a few hundred celebrating what they think is the revolution’s victory — Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi claiming Hosni Mubarak’s seat.
Yet where are the rest of the Egyptians? They are exhausted!
“Those people in the square now dancing for Morsi are immature,” said Om Ahmed, 40. “How is he different than anyone? He is a puppet for the military council and even if he has full power, what guarantees did he submit to believe that he wants to help us out? God help our future generations.”
If last year the ruling military, headed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), had issued a constitutional declaration giving itself far-reaching powers, as it did this week, Cairo’s streets and those of other Egyptian cities would be filled with people calling on them to leave. But no one has done that yet.
As a new president is about to be inaugurated, the military has made it clear it will continue to rule the country’s resources. But there have barely been any talks on how any ruler would help people have “Dignity, Freedom and Bread,” the same demands that have been called for since the 1952 revolution. The people are becoming poorer day after day and the politicians are fighting over power.
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Despite going far beyond their comfort zones in this uprising, revolting against tyranny and corruption, the Egyptian citizen is forced to live in similarly poor conditions while his or her dignity is ignored by ruling elites. There is neither a proper education system nor health system in a country whose inflation is always rising. The average Egyptian cannot have a proper living standard and must face life with poor health.
Tragedy it is! If you walk the streets of Cairo at 2 a.m., you will be devastated by the homeless old men, women and children of all ages subject to all kinds of street brutality. Many feed themselves by searching the garbage for food remnants. But Egyptian rulers and its political elite have spoken little about these people.
Reporting on Cairo, I have written about plans for big economic investments and public confrontations about the country’s identity, but what would that mean for a family of seven or more who lives in a one-bedroom apartment? Nothing! Such is Egyptian politics today.
So as those few hundred were dancing and honking noisily in Tahrir Square, millions of cars have passed by the square silently throughout the day. None have cared to celebrate. The downtown shopkeepers looked on from a distance as well.
“What exactly are they celebrating for?” one asked another.
A fully veiled women walked up to two unveiled young girls wearing makeup and proclaimed, “Morsi wins!”
They looked up at her and grimaced, quite aware of the Muslim Brotherhood’s conservatism on female dress. “Welcome, then,” they replied as they left in despair.
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Egypt now seems far from being a democratic country ruled by an empowered civilian. The ruling military’s latest decrees have moved that back into the dreams of Egyptians. Yet the political elite, including the 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood, still seem to think that massive protests in Tahrir Square can actually move the country forward. The question is: Why weren’t the angry millions who gathered last November successful in removing the military from power?
It is difficult not to question the intelligence of the politicians in Egypt as they face a deeply rooted military state without having learned from the past several months. The ruling military has managed to trick them many times, and yet no matter what they have insisted on staying close to SCAF and widening the gap between themselves and the street.
An Arab proverb says, “The believer is not bitten from the same hole twice.”
One would expect that the Brotherhood, always speaking classical Arabic and reciting the Koran, should have known that. But somehow the military now holds more power than they could have imagined. Turbulence is expected in this country, even if Morsi is officially announced the winner on Thursday. Yet so far Egyptians seem to be too worn out to react en masse.
As two men walk the street downtown, one says, “I am telling you the next president will be a puppet or who might rent a kiosk next to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces building.”
“Are you sure?” replied the other.
“Yes” he said.
The other replied, “Then why did they waste our lives for a year and a half?”