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Egypt three years on: Division, anger and no way out

Mohamed Morsi divided a nation before being toppled three years ago today, but for many Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has fared no better
Five years of revolution and counter revolution, and Egypt is as divided as ever (AFP)

CAIRO - Imagine breaking through a wall to escape your captors, only to crash into something much stronger on the other side. That, says Aya, is how the spiral of Egypt's recent past feels.

“It’s hard to explain and it’s hard to deal with,” she told Middle East Eye“There is trauma. The country just hasn’t recovered.”

Egypt has since 2011 been convulsed in revolution and counter-revolution; from the fall of Hosni Mubarak's military dictatorship, through the mass protests against his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi on 30 June 2013, to the army coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi four days later.

The hopes of the so-called Arab Spring gave way to repression, division and, greatest of all, a sense that nothing will get better.

And for Aya, whose father was exiled as a Brotherhood member after the fall of Morsi, there is no way out. Whatever the failings of Morsi, she believes the protests against him “were planned and organised 100 per cent [to serve] the military”. 

She remembers "disturbing and depressing" nights of “dark streets, fights, and people breaking down” near her home in Ittahadeya, near the presidential palace and one of the major protest sites.

“It is still isn’t over. That’s why it’s hard to look back while we’re still living its consequences ... we’re living its consequences every day,” Aya said.

Indeed, in the three years since the army reasserted its power, Sisi, who officially took power as president in 2014, is now leading a country “that remains in a human rights crisis,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Mass trials, thousands of people sentenced to death, the suppression of free speech and protest, a growing insurgency in Sinai by Islamic State sympathisers, and a military back in power labelling all opposition enemies of the state or "terrorists".

Salma, another Cairene, contemplates those dark nights three years ago and what followed with a shudder.

“The worst thing [after 30 June] was when people were getting killed,” she said. "For me it was not about Morsi leaving, but about the military coming back with a stronger grip.”

"Rabaa was the biggest shock," she said, in reference to the killing of hundreds of Morsi supporters in Rabaa square on 14 August, 2013.

"That they kill 10 or 20 people in the streets, that always happened," she said. "But with Rabaa, there was so much disbelief and depression."

Since then “it only gets worse and worse”.

An Egyptian military helicopter flies over supporters of Mohammad Morsi Cairo 2013 (AFP)

Ahmad first took to the streets on the "Friday of anger" against Mubarak in 2011, then protested against the rule of Morsi, and once again against the army after his removal.

"Naturally I protested against the Muslim Brotherhood because it was clear there was a deal between them and the military that made them [betray] the revolution,” he said.

But he saw something different on those fateful nights three years ago. “People that were with us were new faces, and that was because the media was mobilising,” he said, adding that the remnants of the old regime, the felool, were also “sending people”.

Ahmad lost a friend to the carnage of the protests - Gaber Salah, an activist known as Gika, was shot dead by police.

The 30 June protests for Ahmad meant fighting with the people who chanted and stood with the police, the very same people who killed Gika.

“We clashed with them, but we couldn’t do anything to stop it.

“I remember that I and a number of my friends were not celebrating like everyone else,” he said. The day was a gateway for what was to be “the worst period that Egypt has ever been through, without a doubt.”

Not all of Egypt is opposed to Sisi's removal of Morsi, nor his strong-man leadership.

Norma, an elementary school teacher who supported ousting Morsi and Sisi’s run for the presidency, said the military’s work ethic was providing a boost for economic development, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s politics had been damaging to people's perceptions of religion.

“The military is successful in its implementation of projects; when they take on something, they get it done … they will improve Egypt's infrastructure,” she told MEE.

Government supporters continue to celebrate Sisi's actions, with 30 June now publicly spoken of as a “revolution” and officially a public holiday.

The latest celebrations took place on Thursday in various squares across the country, with songs that praise the military.

Police forces took part in and “protected” the demonstrations, in stark contrast to their violent confrontations with anti-regime demonstrations.

For Ahmad, that is a symbol of Sisi's Egypt. "You are facing the strongest force in the country, a force that is clenching your soul with its fists.”

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