- Middle East/North Africa
Ahmed Farag, a 25-year-old lawyer, sits in his office in a suit and tie, but underneath his desk is a backpack with jeans, a shirt and sneakers.
The extra clothes are always on hand in case a protest turns unexpectedly violent and he needs to head to the scene.
Like the thousands who have engaged in the ongoing events of the 25 January revolution over the past two years, Farag’s attempt to go back to normal life is occasionally interrupted by outbreaks of violence or renewed protests.
And as he goes about his day-to-day business, that nagging sense of unfinished business persists.
“I have my normal life, I study and work, but the revolution is always in the background ... preoccupying and upsetting me. Sometimes I can’t work because I’m always concerned, following the events and [feeling] depressed,” says Farag.
For the young people who’ve become entrenched in the continuing revolution, its presence shadows them in their daily lives — at times elating, at others dismal.
They continue to grasp on to the hope that the revolution will eventually triumph, but the frustrations of the past two years and the struggle to find a way to continue to serve the revolution have taken their toll.
“The revolution is always a priority. When there’s something that requires me to go back to the street, I have to go, regardless of whether I have work or anything else,” says Farag. “We remain suspended, unable to work and unable to continue our revolution. We don’t know what to do.”
For revolutionaries, the second anniversary of 25 January is no reason to celebrate. At best, it’s an opportunity to renew the revolutionary zeal. At worst, it is a mournful occasion.
“25 January is the anniversary of a catastrophe. This is when the bloodshed started, continued for two years and hasn’t paid off yet,” says activist Ranaa al-Dardiry.
Dardiry, a media specialist at a petroleum company, remained an independent activist until she recently joined the Dostour Party, led by reform leader and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei. She joined in hope that an organized effort and political bloc, as opposed to the standard act of revolution, can counter the ruling Muslim Brotherhood more effectively.
In the past 24 months, Egypt’s revolutionary camp has suffered losses and dealt with frustrations that at times have seemed insurmountable. It has had an undoubtedly sobering effect on revolutionaries following the initial euphoria that led many to expect immediate and drastic changes.
After fighting military rule for the first year following President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, revolutionary groups lost election after election to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has in the process won control of all branches of power.
Meanwhile, the main reform demands of the revolution remain unmet, and clashes erupt periodically, raising the death toll and the invaluable cost paid by unrelenting protesters.
Despite her dark outlook on this year’s anniversary, Dardiry still hopes that in 10 or 20 years, she will be able to celebrate 25 January as a complete and successful revolution.
Betting on the integral and irreversible change that many Egyptians have experienced, she still believes the revolution will continue and, eventually, attain the goals and aspirations of the people who bravely rose up against the system.
“My loyalty is to the blood of the martyrs. We have not yet gotten their rights, and this is why I am still fighting,” she says.
Countless citizens live with a lingering nostalgia for the early days of the revolution, which they try to relive and recreate in their street activity.
But at the same time, a sizeable percentage of the people who participated in the first days of the revolution have since turned away from it out of despair or turned against it and the accompanying complicated political developments that followed. For them, it will never be the same.
“There’s life and work, but then there is always a feeling that something is missing,” says financial adviser Hany al-Kady. “This is why I take every opportunity to go back to the street. I want to feel the spirit of the revolution again by any means.”
Like many, Kady finds solace in the company of those who maintain the revolutionary path.
“I’m going to participate in protests on the anniversary of the revolution mainly to see the faces that I love and that give me a boost of energy,” he says.
With the setbacks and hurdles the revolution has encountered, Kady says that despite his strong will to keep the spirit and continue onward, he lately finds himself with a diminished belief in the power of the revolution.
Days before the recent polarizing referendum on the divisive Constitution, which passed with the backing of Islamists, Kady says that after designing and printing flyers campaigning for a “no” vote, he decided not to distribute them.
He says he felt Islamists would have their way as they have in the past elections, despite his best efforts.
“I still have this revolutionary belief that any small thing I do will make a difference, but there are times that I find myself unable to keep going,” he says.
Dentist Ahmed Shousha has altogether stopped referring to 25 January as a revolution since, as he says, it failed to instigate radical change.
However, he still believes in the goals of what he considers a popular uprising, and continues to participate — but it’s not all confined to protests. Revolutionaries, he says, have to learn to advance their cause in their daily lives by utilizing all political tools at their disposal, including protests, but also participating in elections and organizing awareness campaigns.
“The revolutionary state has to be continuous ... we have to always be trying to advance the goals of our revolution. Even when we’re not protesting, our presence has to be felt,” he says.
While most revolutionaries are trying to find ways to incorporate the revolution into their lives and to find new ways to advance its demands, a small group insists on being active in the very epicenter of the 25 January protests: Tahrir Square.
Dozens continue to put their lives on hold and reside in tents in Tahrir in the longest running sit-in yet. Entering its second month, the sit-in’s main demand is the removal of Morsy and a return to the revolutionary road.
In this space, the disdain is palpable toward political parties and movements that have moved beyond the square.
“The parties are playing politics, [but] we are in a revolution ... [which] eradicates all that preceded it,” says activist Mahitab al-Jilany, sitting in front of her tent in Tahrir.
Jilany and others who remain in the square resent all the political developments and the gradual approach to reform politicians have adopted. They insist on the downfall of the current regime, deeming the presidential election illegitimate.
Instead, they seek a fresh start with a revolutionary presidential council accompanied by a temporary government.
“We are tired of politicians. They only look out for their own interests — we want revolution,” says Jilany. “The parties come to the square to put on a show, but we will remain here no matter how small our number gets. Our belief will help us continue.”
Striking a balance between the contradiction of the revolutionary zeal within and the revolutionary recession surrounding them is a difficult task for the proactive youth.
“The revolution has become a part of me, like a new religion. It continues in the life of people, it made me different in all aspects of my life; I carry it over to my work and my interaction with people,” says Mohamed Ali, an account manager at a dairy company.
While the current context is less than encouraging, Ali says revolutionaries don’t have the luxury of giving up.
Carrying both the sacrifices and accomplishments of the past two years, he says the fight for the revolution continues, as does his belief in the ability to induce positive change, albeit with small numbers.
“The revolutionaries don’t whine and cry over spilled milk. Those who are whining and complaining are the people who stayed home,” he says.
And while the responsibility and the so far unrealized dreams of the revolution leave his generation with a heavy burden, it is also a source of immense pride.
“I feel that my kids will not tell me, as we tell our parents, that we did nothing and let the situation get worse,” he says. “They might say that we tried and failed, but at least we didn’t stay silent.”
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's print edition.