CAIRO, EGYPT: About 100 people gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, not to celebrate those who instigated the revolt there five years ago that overthrew Egypt’s long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak but to praise the police who tried to stop them.
“We are here to celebrate with our brothers, fathers, and colleagues in the Egyptian police… who sacrificed their lives and blood for us,” said one of the demonstrators, 52-year-old home appliance repairman Refaat Sabry.
He wore a pin on his jacket depicting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s latest general-turned-president, whose crackdown on the youth activists who led the 2011 revolution and the religious extremists it later brought to power has dashed their hopes for a new era of political freedom.
“Continue Mr President,” said a placard held by one demonstrator, while others handed flowers to police, who have arrested thousands of government opponents under Sisi’s rule.
The blaring siren of an armoured police vehicle sounded nearby, a reminder of the street battles of 2011.
The first democratic elections held after the revolt saw the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest religious movement, emerge from the shadows to dominate both parliament and presidency.
Sisi, then the head of Egypt’s military, removed President Mohamed Mursi from power in mid-2013 and banned the Brotherhood after a turbulent period in which protests against the group had gained pace.
In the weeks that followed, hundreds of Mursi’s supporters were killed in the streets and thousands were locked up in the bloodiest crackdown in Egypt’s modern history.
Liberal and leftist activists, some of whom had supported Sisi’s move to depose the Brotherhood, found themselves on the wrong side of the new authorities, which now flag mass protests against Mursi that began on June 30 as the real revolution.
New laws were passed, curbing protests and expanding the jurisdiction of military courts.
Sisi went on to win a presidential poll with almost 98 per cent of the vote.
Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed in attacks by extremist insurgents since Mursi’s removal in 2013, including an Egyptian affiliate of Islamic State operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
The Muslim Brotherhood has distanced itself from such attacks and maintains that it is a political movement.
No Hopes, No Dreams, No Fears
There are no official celebrations to mark the uprising against Mubarak and significant protests are unlikely as security forces have detained people from administrators of Facebook pages to student activists and closed art centres and cafes where activists might gather.
Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt’s largest independent newspaper, dedicated a page to cartoons mocking the state of the revolution, and the various groups that have tried to claim it, from the Brotherhood to the police.
In one sketch, two men in winter coats walk in the rain as one says to the other “this is the Arab Spring.”
In another, an aging Muslim Brotherhood supporter yells at an impoverished youth to go and instigate a revolution so he could “ride” it.
In letters and interviews from jail, youth activists charted their journey from the hope and exuberance of the 18-day revolt of 2011 to their new battle against despair.
“I have nothing to say: no hopes, no dreams, no fears, no warnings, no insights, nothing, absolutely nothing,” Alaa Abdel Fattah, who is serving a five-year sentence for taking part in a small protest, wrote in the British Guardian newspaper.
Back in Tahrir, high-ranking police officers handed out fliers proclaiming that the police serve the people.
Roads leading to the Interior Ministry were cordoned off with police trucks and barricades.
Revolutionary graffiti daubed on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud street, the central Cairo site of violent standoffs between police and demonstrators, has been largely erased.
Yet some still believe change is possible. “Revolution is on-going, as life and dreams are on-going,” activist Mahienour El-Massry wrote, in a letter from jail.