After the spring, the thaw: Egypt

The year of revolution: In the second part of our series, Alastair Beach looks back at the sense of euphoria and then disillusionment that swept Cairo

A week ago last Saturday, as scores of protesters fled across the Nile away from a charging squadron of khaki-clad military policemen, the Arab Spring seemed to have come full circle in faintly Orwellian fashion.

"Where are the stones?" cried one young man, desperately searching for something to hurl at the oncoming police as he addressed dozens of protesters retreating from Tahrir Square. "There are no stones here."

Almost 11 months previously, I had walked in the opposite direction over the very same bridge as the first waves of Egypt's popular uprising came crashing into downtown Cairo.

Tens of protesters had turned into hundreds, then thousands, as the Egyptian street began to boil with a kind of intensity unknown during the time of Hosni Mubarak, the ailing pharaoh of a once-great but now stagnating Arab power.

Back then it was the hated central security forces which had been the target of the protesters' stones.

On the night of January 28, after breaking police lines near the enormous bronze lions guarding the eastern end of Qasr el-Nil Bridge, the revolution's shock troops – brave, young die-hards crucial to Egypt's uprising – were battling for control of Tahrir Square. I squatted down behind a plastic road barrier which had been hauled to the front line by a group of activists.

Beside me, perhaps only 50 yards from the central security forces, a middle-aged woman, clad in a traditional black, full-length abaya, stood ramrod-straight, fearlessly shaking her fist and screaming at the baton-waving police.

It was a profound image: an average woman, possibly a mother, who like hundreds of thousands of others had lost her fear and was now wrenching Egypt's future away from the control of a corrupt and crumbling autocracy. Two weeks later, when Hosni Mubarak fell, it seemed like she had won.

Fast forward nearly a year and the picture appears much murkier. This time, the activists streaming across Qasr el-Nil Bridge were fighting the military, not the central security forces. For many, the ruling generals who took power in February have betrayed the revolution like the power-hungry Napoleon in Orwell's Animal Farm.

In the early days of the uprising, when protesters shouted "The army and people on one hand", they really meant it.

But then so too did the sloganeers earlier this month, when they responded to yet more deaths at the hands of the government with a cry of "The people want the execution of the Field Marshal". Such is the difference 11 months can make to the sound of the Arab street.

In the weeks after the military announced in a televised statement that it would be overseeing a transition to civilian rule, numerous opposition figures and political groups talked about their hopes and fears for the future.

Most, from the influential Muslim Brotherhood to the newly sprouting liberal forces, appeared hopeful that the military could be trusted.

When it was clear that the original six-month timetable was optimistic, the impression of an army as irreproachable arbiter barely lost its sheen. By the time Hosni Mubarak appeared in his courtroom cage in August, it seemed that the generals and the people were still on the same hand.

Yet many were pricking their ears to some uncomfortable background mood music. The use of the military court system to process thousands of civilians pointed to an army unwilling to jettison its authoritarian ways. The transitional timetable was repeatedly shredded and then revised, until Egyptians were told that they might not get to vote for a new president until 2013.

An announcement in September that the generals would retain the much-hated Mubarak-era Emergency Law was followed the next month by a deadly attack on mostly Christian demonstrators in central Cairo. Activists had clapped the armoured personnel carriers when they restored order in January; now they saw TV pictures of them ploughing into crowds of civilians.

All of this formed a prelude to the November riots, when dozens of people were killed in outbreaks of violence across the country just days before Egypt's historic elections.

Though the military has now promised a presidential poll before the end of June, it is impossible to tell which way the wind is blowing. The Muslim Brotherhood is not the bogeyman so often depicted in the West. Far more startling for Egypt's Christians and secularists has been the success of the ultra-conservative Al-Nour Party.

From its opening chapter, the Arab Spring has defied the analysis of political soothsayers. Only a fool would place a bet on what will happen next.

Timeline: Egyptian uprising

25 January 2011 – Thousands of people march through central Cairo calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

28 January – After the death of more than 20 protesters, President Mubarak sacks his government.

11 February – Mubarak resigns and hands power over to the military. He flees to the coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

20 March – More than 75 per cent of voters back a move to amend Egypt's constitution, paving the way for elections later in the year.

13 April – Mubarak and his sons are detained over corruption and their role in the crackdown.

3 August – Mubarak appears in the dock, wheeled into an iron cage in the Cairo courtroom on a hospital bed.

28 November – Following months of delays and continued clashes between protesters and security forces, Egyptians head to the polls.

14 December – After the Muslim Brotherhood took 47 per cent of the seats in November's election, the second of three rounds of voting begins.

After the spring, the thaw: Tunisia. The year of revolution: In the second part of our series, Rachel Shabi sees grounds for cautious optimism in the new Tunisia

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US