A Revolution Reborn?

Ahmed sits down on a sofa in my flat and smiles nervously.  He has never met me before and yet here he is, dropping by to say hello.  Ahmed was shot 4 times during the initial revolutions last year – one in the hand, two in his right leg and one bullet is lodged so close to his spine no doctor will dare try to retrieve it.  He speaks of the upcoming Mubarak trial and sings the tune that everyone seemed to be singing; Mubarak would effectively get off with little more than a slap on the wrists.  Nobody believed he would get more than 5 years, pointing to the corrupt judicial system as evidence of that.  As the managing editor of Al Ahram, Hani Shukrallah, put it on twitter “…investigated by the culprits, prosecuted by the defence.  Fat chance we get a proper ruling on June 2nd”.

There was a sense of the poetic as the sentencing was outside the Police Academy (once called the Mubarak Police Academy) in an area half an hour east of Cairo called ‘New Cairo’.  I stepped out of a friend’s car and cursed as soon as my head moved from the relative cool of the back seat and fell under the intense gaze of the sun.  The heat was unrelenting and the ameliorative breeze that one usually finds in Egypt seemed to be having a lie in.  It was only 8:30am and scanning the setting, most Egyptians seemed to have been following the breeze’s example.  There were only 100 or so Egyptians braving the conditions but over 300 journalists.  It was a depressing sight but it was still quite early and I held hope that more Egyptians would arrive as the day progressed.  The journalists sat in their air-conditioned tents and watched the Egyptians like locusts, descending on anyone in a flurry of clicks and questions if they dared raise their voice about a whisper.

Thousands of riot policemen cordoned off our area to the left of the main gate, a human fence of boredom and ennui, noticeably wilting under the scorching sun.  They ease their unfortunate situation by getting ice creams.  It is a strange sight to behold; a couple of policemen eating ice creams whilst an Egyptian is railing, having tied himself in chains, in an attempt to get noticed by the press.

To the right of the main gate is an even stranger sight as 30 or so pro-Mubarak supporters sit, awaiting the final verdict.  Surrounded by the same security set up as the other area, they sit and smile, every one of them holding aloft an image of Mubarak.  One man comes over to me and opens up a photo book dedicated to Hosni Mubarak; every page filled with newspaper clippings and photos of Mubarak, the occasional heart drawn around his face.  I knew the situation was volatile as there was going to be some problems no matter what the verdict was.   The imminent clash between the two groups (and the policemen) was guaranteed as one side was bound to find the verdict either too light or too heavy.

By 10:30am the sentencing was being broadcast.  Around 400 Egyptians had now arrived in the anti-Mubarak camp and they crowded around anyone that had a radio.  The half-hearted chanting that had gone on for the preceding 2 hours turned to silence.  I strained my ears past the stillness of the crowds in an attempt to decipher what the verdict was to be.  Suddenly I hear something and then “Hosni Mubarak…” and the crowds explode in euphoria.  People scream “Allahuakhbar” and run around, ripping their t-shirts off, embracing each other, tears flowing.  Many others fall to their knees, crying over the pictures of those they had lost, perhaps feeling redemption.  My mind immediately turns to the pro-Mubarak crowd.

I make my way over to the group, about 100m away, and pass a friend who is walking back.

“Put your camera away, they’re charging some journalists with sticks”

I decide to follow his advice before proceeding.  What I see is yet more tears but for different reasons, obviously.  People are screaming “Haraam!” (Sinful) before stopping to sob, visibly shaking.  One man drops to his knees beside me with choking cries of despondency; attempts an upright stance, before bending over double and throwing up.

Then the inevitable, as the proceedings take a violent turn.  The anti-Mubarak side decide to exit their area and meet the pro-Mubarak side in the streets.  The riot police act quickly as they decide to form a human barrier across the street between them.  The odd man squeezes through and a few scuffles break out.  Suddenly one of the pro-Mubarak women, an impeccably dressed middle aged blonde walks to her car, grabs something from the back seat and starts throwing what can only be described as a small explosive at people.  The force is small but the sound is loud enough as to force everyone back.  She throws one at a passing taxi and with a loud bang, smashes the back window.  She is screaming at the top of her lungs the entire time and then ducks into her car and makes a speedy getaway.

Hosni Mubarak and his Interior Minister Habib el-Adly were sentenced to life imprisonment.  This was far better than anyone I had spoken to could have hoped for, perhaps the judiciary are not as corrupt as everyone thought.  Except the Egyptians then made sense of the rest of the ruling and the initial euphoria very quickly died down.  Everyone else on trial was acquitted.  That includes Mubarak’s two sons, several senior former interior ministers and 6 senior policemen (on grounds of lack of evidence) that have been described to me as the leaders of Mubarak’s Gestapo.

Not one hour after the initial sentencing and euphoric cheer, things turned sour as the anti-Mubarak crowd began throwing rocks into the police while cries of “Illegitimate” were screamed out. Meanwhile in Downtown Cairo, crowds began gathering in earnest in Tahrir Square to show their disgust at the ruling.

Almost the whole of Tahrir Square was packed as tens of thousands had made their way in; people began singing the revolutionary songs of 15 months ago.  There was a definite focus on Shafiq, Mubarak and the Judiciary ruling with the chants and the signs.  Most interesting of all was the distinct lack of anti-Morsi chants or signs.  Not two days before his name was being thrown about with ‘Shafiq’ and with the same hate by the protesters, but now the focus was purely on the Folol.  There were calls to cleanse the Judiciary and to finish off the old regime once and for all.  Morsi pounced on the opportunity presented to him and called on people to head to the squares to revolt again, hoping to gain the respect of some of the voters by doing so.

On twitter there was a stream of comments of a revolution ‘reborn’.  Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether there is not too much focus, yet again, on the young guard who are willing to come out and protest and too little focus on those who just want to get it over with and have that sense of normality back in their lives.

Whatever the case may be, the High Court’s ruling will have an impact on the narrative of these tumultuous times.  They attempted to hand Mubarak, the pantomime villain, on a plate in the hope that this would be enough of a compromise for the others getting off scot-free.  But the Egyptians are not so fickle as to think that Mubarak was alone in facilitating the deaths of the 850 or so protesters a year ago.  As I write, the protests continue, and Morsi must be licking his lips at the prospect of the run-offs now.

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