The struggle to save Egypt's revolution

Morsi poster in barbed wire barricade at Republican Guard barracks in Cairo (9 July 2013)

There was a time in Egypt when many hailed "one hand", one square, one people rising up to make their own history.

That one-ness is no more.

In Egypt today, a people pulls apart, two public spaces in Cairo are seething, and many hands are now said to be at work.

In the iconic Tahrir Square, where protesters played a key role in ousting President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, "one hand" now includes the army which ousted the elected President Mohammed Morsi last week.

In this famous gathering space, green laser lights and fireworks are now on sale to celebrate what banners emphatically proclaim was "not a coup" but the biggest demonstration in Egypt's history to put democracy back on track.

Adly Mansour's transition timeline

  • Panel formed within 15 days to review constitution
  • Constitutional amendments to be finalised and put to referendum in four months
  • Parliamentary elections to be held by early 2014
  • Presidential elections to be called once new parliament convenes

In eastern Cairo, in tented encampments plastered with Morsi photographs around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, people are selling thick bamboo sticks which they insist are for self-defence against soldiers and police.

A widening array of makeshift stalls are also selling hot and cold drinks, hats for protection against a scorching sun, and food of all sorts to cater to a fast-growing community of protesters, mainly Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who say they are not leaving until their elected president is reinstated.

About a kilometre away, there is a tense stand-off around the Republican Guard Officers' Club. More than 50 people were killed and hundreds injured there on Monday, when soldiers and police opened fire at dawn just before morning prayers.

There is no agreement on what happened there either.

Army spokesman Col Ahmed Ali told a news conference that security forces had no choice but to open fire. "We had to respond," he insisted, giving details of "snipers behind buildings" and "armed groups attacking the area" as well as security forces.

Dialogue 'impossible'

When that press conference was being broadcast live on Egyptian and international media, the large crowds milling around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque chanting angry slogans against a "massacre" did not pay attention.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Nasr City: "Protesters say they are not going anywhere until Mohammed Morsi is reinstated"

I asked a spokesman for what is called the Legitimacy Coalition, Ahmad al-Nashar, whether they would consider this detailed account by the security forces.

"Definitely not," he declared. "We were there. We have our own films that show they opened fire on civilians who were praying."

In a sense, what matters most now is not what happened but what people believe. It is what drives a deepening sense of anger and injustice in two rival camps.

And the battles over what should happen next are just as difficult, and dangerous.

Talks behind closed doors also suffered a major setback with this latest violence. The Salafist Nour party, the second largest Islamist force, also condemned "a massacre" and pulled out of protracted negotiations over a new caretaker prime minister and cabinet.

The presence of Islamists alongside an array of more liberal forces had strengthened the argument that this was a popular move against an increasingly unpopular president.

Injured man in Nasr City, Cairo

Calls for reconciliation are echoing in a flurry of statements, everywhere from the army, to the liberal National Salvation Front, to the influential Al-Azhar mosque.

But Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad, one of its few leading members who has not been detained, told the BBC dialogue was impossible while Mohammad Morsi was detained, and deposed.

'He failed us'

There was never a true meeting of minds among the diverse forces who came together to end decades of authoritarian rule in 2011. Now, even meetings seem impossible.

There is a struggle to claim the mantle of a revolution that has made for awkward bedfellows.

In Tahrir Square this week, I saw two policemen in sparkling white uniforms, smiling and at ease, in the front row next to the stage where nationalistic songs were blasting from speakers.

That would have been unthinkable in 2011 when the police were widely reviled, and forced to retreat, even from the streets.

And there are also warnings of counter-revolution too with elements of the former Mubarak regime accused of cloaking themselves in the symbols of the revolution to return to their power and privileges.

"It's a public space so it can be used by anyone," remarked Egyptian journalist and author of Liberation Square Ashraf Khalil, as we stood on the edge of a huge exuberant crowd.

But in Tahrir I also met Egyptians who had come to the square for the very first time because they felt so strongly that Mohammed Morsi's rule had betrayed any hope for democracy in Egypt.

"I came to help my country Egypt," Amr, a lecturer and veterinarian told me.

Army jets create an Egyptian flag in the sky The military has been trailing the colours of the Egyptian flag through the skies of the capital

His friend next to him, who voted for Mohammed Morsi, chimed in: "He failed us. I came here to support the revolution."

But it is not just the revolution which is now in danger.

In an interview just hours before this latest tragic shooting, Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was already emphasising that "the most pressing concern for us is for violence to stop, order to be restored, and for security forces to avoid excessive use of force".

But now the Muslim Brotherhood publicly calls for Egyptians to rise up "against those trying to steal their revolution with tanks", and there are dark warnings of vigilante groups, criminal mobs, and more extreme Islamist groupings who never truly trusted the slogan "democracy is the answer".

In the midst of the mounting tension, there is still one thing which unites all squares, and most forces. Wherever crowds gather, a human canvas is dotted with Egypt's distinctive tricolour flag.

Egypt's air force has been flying the flag too - literally. Plumes of red, black and white smoke have been streaking from jets screeching across the skies above Tahrir and Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

But as a people pull apart, fear grows not just about saving a revolution, but a country too.

Lyse Doucet Article written by Lyse Doucet Lyse Doucet Chief international correspondent

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    This is a lesson to the Egyptian parties to pursue the democratic rules and manners when a president is democratically ellected all parties should congratulate, cooperate, assist, advise, etc. rather than to obstruct, undermine, isolate, fail, etc. Now the revolution got stolen by the previous corrupt regime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    When the performance of a democratically elected president is not good enough to some of the public, the president can be replaced through the constitutional and legal procedure by another democratically elected president, not through a military coup and not by the previous regime that had been deposed by the revolution. Egyptians did not want a military coup or the previous corrupt regime.


  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    131That's right, Moslem Brotherhood was at war with the Egyptian army using terrorists to assassinate their own soldiers.Don't think the army didn't know and understand this.After 30 million protestors in Cairo, demonstrations all over Egypt, and an economy that was collapsing through sheer incompetence the Army could wait no longer, it had to act.This is not the US Army.You shoot they shoot back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    What is really a joke is that the Turkish government is criticizing the Egyptian army for backing the EGYPTIAN people against the failure of the MORSI government that failed to unite the country and the 25revelation and failed to bring efficient governors and government and even failed to protect the soldiers life's in SINAI and covered the TERRORISTS. Who killed the EGYPTIAN soldiers !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    USA ambassador in EGYPT supported the brother hood group against the Egyptians dreams of Democracy by American tax players money . The Ambassador hardly understand the Egyptian culture and thinks that Egypt is like PAKISTAN this is an illusion And an ignorant approach we request her to stop offending Egyptian people

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    ref #128

    We don't need Wikileaks they have no moral code just a narcistic desire to promote themselves and if someone dies or the fight against terrorism is hurt they could care less. Like Anomous they see themselves above the law. As far as your Israel shot, Israel desires to live in peace, islamists desire genocide of Israel

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    This is when we need Wikileaks. Anyone who supposes the US is not playing its only card in Egypt with the army is innocent indeed. The US has proven it does not trust its own citizens let alone the 'democratic process' as it has unfolded in Egypt. Egypt truely is on a knifes edge of civil war. Mubarak was a US stooge that thought it had bought Morsi as well. Israel lurks in the shadows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    What seemed to some a relative bright spot in the Islamic world, Turkey is backsliding into an Islamic state. Is it headed towards Sharia law? This was not the vision of its founder Ataturk. Turkey's economic success is at risk if it does. Even Turkey wasn't truly a democracy. You could be imprisoned, maybe worse for saying the Armenians were victims of Turkey's genocide around WWI.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.


    Hats off to your cynicism (?).

    The problem in Syria is that there are no obvious good guys - an evil regime is fighting a rebellion that includes evil groups. No wonder Obama is sitting on the fence. Like Kissinger said about the Iran/Iraq war, the best outcome would be for both sides to lose....

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    @122 DavidinUSA

    You misquote (and reinforce) my cynicism... I said "friends/lackeys". Had to - otherwise you would probably accuse me of saying that Al Qaeda are good guys and "friends" to the USA in Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Wasn't Hitler democratically elected in Germany? I guess that shows that democratic leaders should never be opposed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Truth be told, no one in the west wanted a Sharia inspired government. However 51% of Egypt did, which makes the way ahead very difficult. The educated, moderate profesionals may end up being forced out of their own country, then what becomes of egypt? It may well end up back in the stone age, just like Afganistan did under its Taliban rulers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.


    The Egyptian military is no US "lackey". Its removal of Morsi was simply the right thing to do, to protect the country from the creeping tyranny of Morsi's jidahist ideology. Of course the US backs the good guys - why wouldn't it? This doesn't make every recipient of support a "lackey".

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    @33 readwriteandblue.

    I was being cynical and understand the limitations/impotence of the UN when it comes to "friends/lackeys" of the Big 5 - such as Al-Qaeda in Syria or the Egyptian Military

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    fredr @117
    "Plato was right"
    In 'ideal' world, maybe

    Back on Earth, fallible mortals & 'the market': no 'bucking', but also no reason to despair

    Society, the context of our individual development & freedom, is automatically democratic in agreed equal partnership. Except in abuse of the term's logic, we cannot be 'democratic' unless ALL are materially 'representative', protective of life & means

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    "Muburak has not long to live...when a right wing dictator is replaced by an islamist or a left wing dictators things are worse for the people"

    True. Although Mubarak is unlikely to live much longer, his political spirit will hopefully transmigrate into a new leader. Mubarak's legacy was awesome - peace with Israel; the jihadists under control; the people fed...a golden age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    sieuarlu @115
    'militant Islam - terrorism'

    "Militant anything" can lead to "terrorism"

    Priority for 'cause' above humanity can arise in love & illness, business & politics, conventional & asymmetric war

    Infidelity & jealousy are private
    illness or 1-3% sociopathy we may detect
    For protection of the public, we need only our freedom - to see & to act - in healthy democracy, in equal partnership

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    One hand, one square, one people, one nation, one leader. Oh, wait. Democracy? Many hands, many squares, many peoples, a divided nation, a leader popular with some, almost never a majority. Even Mr. Obama in America, elected twice by a decent margin -- at his peak in 2008 received just under 70 million votes out of an adult (over 18) population of 300 million -- less than 25%.

    Plato was right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Ahmed adel @113
    "a real revolution"
    With real grievances, and real courage

    But, "to bring democracy" takes positive understanding

    From a sufficiency of understanding, democracy needs a shared commitment to equal partnership, faith in the people - no longer corrupted by fear & greed, aggressive unions & worse gangs - liberated to work in conscience

    For "justice", ALL of goodwill must be secure

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Militant Islam I call terrorism is at war with the world including the rest of Islam.They have a vision of a world built on 7th century Arabia. They are not to be thwarted unless they are locked away or otherwise.They take any and all actions no matter how ruthless and reckless to seize power.Their model is Afghanistan under the Taleban.It was the cruelest despotism imaginable, hell on earth


Page 1 of 7



  • A man holds an ornate urnForgotten remains

    Why would relatives leave ashes in a funeral parlour for years?

  • OrangemanPunctured pride?

    How would N Ireland's Orangemen feel if Scotland left the union?

  • MarchionessThames tragedy

    Survivors and victims' families remember Marchioness disaster

  • Sheep on Achill IslandMass exodus

    Why hundreds of thousands of people have left Ireland

  • Baby boyThe baby maker

    The man who says he's responsible for a million kids

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.