A revolution betrayed: Living in 'Egypt's worst era'

A revolution betrayed: Living in 'Egypt's worst era'

#EgyptTurmoil

Activists and human rights defenders look back on the country’s broken path to democracy since Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow five years ago

Clockwise from top L: Activist Esraa Abdel Fattah; Gamal Eid, lawyer and director of ANHRI; activist and psychiatrist Sally Toma; lawyer Khaled Ali (MEE correspondent)
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Last update: 
Wednesday 4 July 2018 15:44 UTC

CAIRO - Esraa Abdel Fattah is sitting in a cafe in downtown Cairo, the same area where she was arrested during the April 6 protests against deposed president Hosni Mubarak in 2008.

The demonstrations, accompanied by a general strike, were aimed at expressing economic grievances against rising prices and depressed salaries.

The political activist and blogger co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement that helped spearhead Egypt’s January 2011 revolution which ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.



Egyptian political activist and blogger Esraa Abdel Fattah co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement (MEE correspondent)

Abdel Fattah, who was nominated for a Nobel prize, recalls how two years later she participated in mass protests against Mubarak’s elected successor and leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military on 3 July 2013.

Five years on, Abdel Fattah and some of Egypt’s prominent political activists and rights defenders are reflecting on the events and the route the country has taken, as well as alternative scenarios they wish could have unfolded at the time.

The counter-revolution shall be televised

On 3 July, the armed forces, led by then defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and surrounded by a host of public figures including Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt's former vice president, Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, announced in a televised statement the removal of Morsi and the suspension of the constitution.

They did not only intend to oust Morsi and the Brotherhood alone, they also intended to overturn the revolution

- Khaled Ali, rights lawyer

Sisi also appointed the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, as interim president until new elections were to be announced.

“I was participating in the demonstrations in front of al-Ittihadiya Palace when the statement was announced. I was very happy Morsi was ousted and I celebrated on the street all night with some friends,” Abdel Fattah recalls. “I was comfortable with the decision to oust Morsi but did not support the decision to appoint [Mansour] to take over the country."

Sisi’s statement was met with cheers and applause in Tahrir Square, where anti-Morsi protesters celebrated throughout the night by singing, dancing, waving the Egyptian flag and setting off fireworks. But in east Cairo, Morsi supporters broke into tears and chanted, “Down with military rule,” as they vowed to continue their sit in.



Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali during one of his trial sessions, in January 2018 (MEE correspondent)

Rights lawyer and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali says he did not celebrate the 3 July announcement, which he heard at the Socialist Popular Alliance party’s headquarters in downtown Cairo. Ali was the party’s vice president at the time.

“I was not hoping for this scene with all its connotations,” he says.

Even though I was opposed to Morsi at the time, I was not for his ousting in this way

- Sally Toma, activist and psychiatrist 

Ali says that instead, he had hoped Morsi would call for early elections or at least a popular referendum on whether or not he should finish his term.

Activist and psychiatrist Sally Toma says she was “disturbed” by the statement, especially given the presence of religious figures around Sisi, including Pope Tawadros and Azhar Sheikh el-Tayeb, as well as representatives of the Salafi Nour Party.

“Even though I was opposed to Morsi at the time, I was not for his ousting in this way,” Toma tells MEE.



Gamal Eid, lawyer and director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, on trial for a foreign funding case, April 2016 (MEE correspondent)

On his part, human rights activist and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Gamal Eid, remembers feeling anxious about Morsi’s overthrow. 

It is a military tyrannical regime that hates the January 25 revolution, democracy, the Brotherhood and justice in general

- Gamal Eid, executive director of ANHRI

“When the statement was announced, I was in my house in Maadi [a Cairo suburb]. I was watching, worried, as I was waiting for Morsi to respond to the demands of the people and hold early elections. I was hoping that this would happen because I feared that the army would take over and unfortunately this is what happened,” he says.

Ali says he saw the situation as “a quasi-revolution and quasi coup d’état, since millions took to the streets to call for Morsi’s resignation but sovereign authorities controlled the movement."

“They did not only intend to oust Morsi and the Brotherhood alone, they also intended to overturn the revolution,” Ali says.

Rabaa massacre

On 14 August 2013, more than 1,000 demonstrators were killed as security forces cleared east Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya square of protesters supporting the deposed president.

I reject what happened during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in and believe that what is happening in Egypt at the moment is the curse of the blood that was shed there 

- Sally Toma, activist and psychiatrist 

The bloodshed that occurred that day has been described as the “worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history".

“I described it as a massacre, calling its victims martyrs,” Ali recalls. “I was faced with a vicious campaign because of my position and the security forces claimed that I was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Toma, a strong critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, also spoke out against the bloodshed during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in.

“I reject what happened during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in and believe that what is happening in Egypt at the moment is the curse of the blood that was shed there,” she adds.

Against the Brotherhood and the military

Ali says he started leading protests against Morsi and that his stance towards him changed from “patience to opposition” after Morsi announced a constitutional declaration expanding his powers in November 2013. That's when Abdel Fattah says she also had a change of heart. Morsi rescinded the decree weeks later in response to widespread protests. 

I feel that we are living under Gaddafi but without the money and oil. We are living in poverty and impoverishment, oppression and tyranny.

- Gamal Eid, executive director of ANHRI

“The constitutional declaration meant he is ruling for the Brotherhood and not for Egypt,” she says.

Ali says that after Morsi was elected, he supported his decision to order Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawy’s retirement and welcomed his choice of advisors, such as Samir Morcos, a Coptic Christian scholar and writer, who resigned after the constitutional declaration.

On the other hand, Ali criticised Morsi’s “politically motivated” crackdown on some activists such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was accused of inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.



Sally Toma is an Egyptian psychiatrist and activist (MEE correspondent)

On her part, Toma says she joined the protests against Morsi because she considered the Muslim Brotherhood “a political enemy like the military”.

“The Brotherhood [only sought] power,” she says.

We are paying for this like millions of Egyptians, but the triumph of the coup d’état in controlling the scene had catastrophic consequences aimed at punishing the people for the [revolution]

Khaled Ali, rights lawyer

While Eid says that Morsi “betrayed the revolution,” and was power hungry, he rejects the injustices perpetrated against him.

“The [Muslim Brotherhood’s] refusal to hold early presidential elections caused the military to return to power in Egypt and that is why I am in a constant state of anger and rejection for the Brotherhood and the military,” he says.

“I never trusted military rule in Egypt or anywhere else, but I was hoping that the military council would prove me wrong and hand over power to civilians, but they [followed the military route] of craving power and repressing civilians,” he adds.

Despite this, Eid says he does not regret any political stances he took, since he did not support the overthrow of Morsi in that manner. He also doesn’t regret voting for Morsi in 2012 “because it was a chance for the Muslim Brotherhood to prove that they support democracy".

Unprecedented repression

Since he became president in June 2014, Sisi has systematically cracked down on freedom of expression, civil society and the LGBT community, and he is notorious for jailing dissidents, enforced disappearances and torture of detainees.

In December 2017, Egypt was ranked the third worst jailer of journalists in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists.



Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali in November 2017 during an election conference (MEE correspondent)

Ali himself is no stranger to controversy: he spearheaded the case against the transfer of the Red Sea Islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia. He also withdrew from this year's presidential race, accusing the elections committee of violations. A few months before the race, he was sentenced to three months in prison for offending public decency. He is currently appealing the verdict.

We had never witnessed this number of political detentions, imprisonments, the open periods of pre-trial detention, freezing of funds, blocking websites and travel bans 

- Esraa Abdel Fattah, political activist and blogger

Abdel Fattah condemns the violations committed by Egypt’s justice system against members of the opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Even members of the military are not safe, she says, citing the arrest of retired army general and former presidential candidate Sami Anan and army officer Ahmed Konsowa.

“We had never witnessed this number of political detentions, imprisonments, the indefinite periods of pre-trial detention, freezing of funds, blocking websites and travel bans,” Abdel Fattah says.



Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi, wearing a red uniform, looks on from behind the defendant's bars during his trial on espionage charges at a court in Cairo on 18 June 2016 (AFP)

Abdel Fattah herself is banned from travel and her name is part of a foreign funding case raised against a number of civil society figures.

The constitutional declaration meant he is ruling for the Brotherhood and not for Egypt 

- Esraa Abdel Fattah, political activist and blogger

Despite being politically opposed to him, she criticises Morsi’s detention and the circumstances of his trial and the conditions of his imprisonment.

Morsi is being held in solitary confinement in the infamous Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo for 23 hours a day and he sleeps on a cement floor.



Osama Morsi, son of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, speaks during his trial in November 2017. He was arrested in Rabaa square in August 2013 (MEE correspondent)

“Solitary confinement is psychologically harmful for people and has to be criminalised,” she says.

In the past three years, Morsi has been permitted to see his family once, according to a panel of British parliamentarians and international lawyers who were commissioned by his family to investigate the conditions of his imprisonment.

Toma also rejects the prosecution of the Brotherhood for things she believes they did not commit.



Supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badiee during trial in November 2017 (MEE correspondent)

Alternative scenarios

Abdel Fattah says that she, among other activists and opposition groups, advocated the establishment of a civilian presidential council to rule the country for a transitional period to replace Morsi. 

The presidential council would include the head of the constitutional court, a representative of the political powers, as well as the minister of defence.

“The nominees at the time were ElBaradei, Sisi and Mansour, and there should have been a [clause] that stipulates that none of them can run for the following presidential elections.”

Still, Abdel Fattah says she does not regret participating in the 30 June protests, “but we should not have agreed to a transition period which allowed military rule to return.

“This mistake cost us a lot,” she laments.

This mistake cost us a lot

- Esraa Abdel Fattah, political activist and blogger

Ali says he was also hoping for a national coalition government to be formed by the revolutionary forces.

He insists that he does not regret the revolutionary course that has taken place from Mubarak until now.

“We are paying for this like millions of Egyptians, but the triumph of the coup d’état in controlling the scene had catastrophic consequences aimed at punishing the people for the [revolution]. When the sound of bullets [is loud], no one listens to politics. The people are living their worst conditions today."

Toma had also hoped that people would not fall for another military dictatorship. “But this did not happen as we are always able to oust but not able to fill the political void,” she tells MEE.

Bread, freedom and social justice

Eid regrets that none of his aspirations were realised. Like many Egyptians since the 2011 revolution, he has aspired for bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity.



Members of the Muslim Brotherhood are seen during a session of the trial for the Rabba square protests, in August 2017 (MEE correspondent)

“Egypt is witnessing its absolute worst era,” he says. “I feel that we are living under Gaddafi but without the money and oil. We are living in poverty and impoverishment, oppression and tyranny.

“The current regime only represents itself. It does not represent the January revolution or democracy. It is a military tyrannical regime that hates the January 25 revolution, democracy, the Brotherhood and justice in general, and it likes obedience and cheering for its mistakes and crimes.”

Toma also longs for bread, freedom and social justice.

“Our situation at the moment is much worse as I feel that June 30 was not a blow to the Brotherhood alone but a blow to January 25 too, and a step to strike against all opposition. It is a clear military coup and has changed the situation of everyone for the worst,” she says.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.