What next for Egypt revolution and transition to democracy?
- 26 July 2011
- From the section Middle East
CAIRO - The protestors are back in Tahrir Square, and as this city swelters in an Egyptian summer, tempers are short.
For three days running that we have gone into the cradle of this country's democracy movement, and we have witnessed fights. On one occasion our cameraman came briefly under attack.
Having quit the square several months ago, people reoccupied it on 8 July 2011.
Some claim that Egypt's revolution has stalled, others that it has come off the rails completely and a 'Second Revolution' is now under way.
The protestors have set up a tented encampment, with different pitches speaking for various campaigns.
There are some women arguing that civilians should not be tried in military courts, others who seek justice for those killed in January's revolution, or who plead for the rights of the Coptic Christian minority. There are also people there who are mentally ill, or from the margins of society.
Many different voices can be heard, and of course people often disagree. It might be compared to a kind of Arab speaker's corner, except that there are certainly some views that would be beyond the pale here, and that the disagreements between speakers can turn violent.
When we tried to speak to Khalid, a young activist who was among more than 100 people wounded on Saturday night when protestors marching towards the military headquarters were set upon by knife-wielding attackers wearing civilian clothes, things soon got heated.
Shouting men dragged him away, saying that we journalists were only there to cast the protestors in a bad light and with tensions rising, we left.
The following day we managed to interview Khalid, and the mood was much more benign. He spoke about infiltration in the square by thieves and agents provocateurs. Khalid insisted that state TV had misrepresented him and his fellow protestors as, "crooks and gays".
From the way he referred to homosexuals, it was evident that he regarded this as a slur. So it is clear that there are some limits to free speech in the square - solidarity missions from the people of Israel or the gay liberation movement would, to put it mildly, be running great risks if they attempted to pitch tents here.
Fellow journalists reported tensions even during the early days of the revolution. But one gets the sense talking to people around the city that the decision to reoccupy the square has undermined the original coalition of groups that brought down President Hosni Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood reversed a decision to rejoin the protest and has now gone. As some of the more radical pro-democracy groups have adopted slogans urging the military to give up power immediately, transferring it to a civilian transitional authority, other fissures have opened with parties or groups who believe the army is still the best qualified institution to run the country until elections are held.
Of course, the emergence of these differences needs to be kept in perspective. Several Egyptians have told me that the process of change underway here compares very favourably with what has happened in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
Outside the world of the square and political activism there are many who despair at the sight of the renewed protests. They believe that unrest is killing the economy. The plight of poverty stricken Egyptians was an important factor in fuelling the revolution, yet growth has now dwindled from 5% to 1%.
Where do these increasingly ill tempered differences leave the revolution and transition to democracy? That is a subject that we will be exploring in a forthcoming Newsnight report (to be broadcast next week) that we are now compiling.
It is clear though that reality is biting, views diverging without a presidential bogeyman in power, and even the renewal of a permanent protest in Tahrir Square has become controversial.