- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2013

On the second anniversary of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year rule, Egyptian youth who were the driving force behind that protest say Islamists hijacked their revolution, and they despair over the future of the North African nation.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis — who adhere to a puritanical interpretation of Islam — have put their interests above Egypt’s interests, said Basem Kamel, a founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party who was elected to parliament last year.

“We replaced one autocratic regime with another one,” said Shady El-Ghazaly Harb, a founding member of one of Egypt’s most influential protest groups, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition. “The revolution has not achieved any of its goals. On the contrary, it has gone totally astray.”

Today marks the second anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring protests against the Mubarak regime that ended when the president resigned 18 days later. Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist who was elected president in June, has sought to consolidate control over state institutions. His critics accuse him of monopolizing power.

Egypt’s top military council dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament in June after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that a third of the chamber’s members had been illegally elected. Fresh elections are expected in April.

“[The Islamists] have made promises and broken them shamelessly; they have used religion to manipulate people for political gains; they are turning Egyptians against each other instead of unifying them,” said Mr. Kamel. “Simply, they are killing the soul of the revolution.”

Frustration with the Brotherhood is fueled by multiple factors: Corruption is rampant, the economy is in crisis, the currency is in free fall, the political culture is unchanged, and tourism — one of Egypt’s largest sources of income — is in the doldrums.

Call for a new revolution

In December, Mr. Morsi and his supporters in the Brotherhood pushed through an Islamist-drafted constitution, despite objections from many Egyptians.

“The Muslim Brotherhood isn’t interested in democracy,” Mr. Harb, who is now a member of the Constitution Party, said in a phone interview from Cairo. “As long as we don’t have a constitution that reflects the will of the Egyptian people, the revolution has failed.”

Many Egyptians hope to resurrect the revolution on Friday. Large protests are planned in the capital Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was the nerve center of the anti-Mubarak revolution.

“The second anniversary will be a new wave of the revolution,” said Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a prominent role in the anti-Mubarak demonstrations. “The revolution isn’t finished yet.”

Mr. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of protesters during the revolution. An Egyptian court ordered a retrial earlier this month.

It’s still “the same old way of doing things, if not worse,” said Mr. Kamel. “Our revolution is far from over.”

“The first wave of the revolution was led by the middle class looking for freedom, equality, fighting corruption, and dreaming of a better future. The second wave will be led by a different class for different reasons and their demands will be urgent,” he said. “Nobody wants this to happen, but the way things are going it does seem inevitable.”

Like thousands of fellow Egyptians, Soraya Bahgat celebrated in Tahrir Square on the night of Feb. 11, 2011, after Mr. Mubarak’s decision to resign. She was full of hope for the future. Those hopes have been dashed.

“The sense of euphoria has gone,” said Miss Bahgat, who is the head of human resources at a real estate company in Cairo.

Two years ago protesters took to the streets demanding better economic conditions, freedom and social justice. “As long as these demands are not answered, the Egyptians will not rest,” said Mr. Kamel.

The ‘couch party’

The Muslim Brotherhood this week responded to the growing unrest by launching a campaign — “Together We Build Egypt” — to improve public services, provide free health care to one million people, renovate 2,000 schools and sell basic commodities at cost price.

The Brotherhood was banned in Egypt since 1954. Its members were reluctant to join in the protests in the early days of the anti-Mubarak revolution, but jumped on the bandwagon as its success became imminent.

After insisting that they would not participate in elections, the Brotherhood eventually joined the political fray and dominated parliamentary elections.

In June, Mr. Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer and the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, was elected the first Islamist head of state of the Arab world’s most-populous nation.

Before the elections, he projected himself as a moderate. He resigned from his posts in the Brotherhood, including that of chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s critics accuse it of using Islam not just to govern Egypt, but as a tool to silence its critics.

“Now the Islamists say that if we complain about them we are complaining about Islam,” Miss Bahgat said. “I am, frankly, quite concerned and disappointed that when the masks came off, the true face of the Brotherhood was quite ugly.”

Many of Miss Bahgat’s friends voted for Mr. Morsi. They regret their decision, she said.

The opposition says the Islamists must amend the constitution and share power.

“They have to understand that the Brotherhood is part of the field, but not the whole field,” said Mr. Harb.

While the Islamists have been blamed for monopolizing power, the opposition has failed to present a clear vision or broaden its support.

Many Egyptians have turned apathetic in the absence of change. Almost 70 percent of registered voters failed to turn out for the referendum on the constitution. This group is referred to in Egypt as the “couch party.”

Two years ago, Mr. Maher used a Facebook group to organize youths hungry for change. The opposition needs to do a better job organizing and have a clear plan if it hopes to be a match for the Islamists, who have strong networks and clear goals, he said.

The danger in Egypt now is that the people’s frustration could once again erupt in the kind of protests that toppled Mubarak two years ago.

“Nothing has improved for sure,” Mr. Kamel said. “People are losing hope and that is extremely dangerous.”

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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