Amid lights and shadows, Egypt marks five years since the Arab Spring
According to the spokesman of the Catholic Church, the government is trying to revive the country’s fortunes through agriculture and industry with timing and foreign investment as key factors. Whilst minorities and women enjoy greater freedom, youth movements remain critical. For them, the revolution’s ideals have been betrayed. For the leader of the Maspero movement, it is necessary to counter “those who propagate hatred."
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Five years after the Egyptian Revolution broke out, the country is trying with difficulty to put behind this troubled time in its history and start over.
The past five years have been a time of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorist attacks, economic crisis, unemployment, and internal security problems. For optimists, in particular Christians, it is now possible to look forward to more freedom for minorities, greater participation for women in public life, and more government investments in industry and agriculture to breathe new life into the nation. For critics, the situation has deteriorated in terms of both civil rights and the economy.
The Egyptian Revolution – which was part of the larger wave of protest that swept across the Middle East and North Africa that came to be known as the Arab Spring – began on 25 January 2011 as mass acts of civil disobedience, demonstrations and uprisings. Eventually though, the broadly based and peaceful movement against President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule turned violent with scores of victims among demonstrators and police.
For Egypt, the Arab Spring meant the rise to power of the radical extremist Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi, and constant violence against liberals and Christians. However, Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, remained in power only until 3 July 3 2013, when he was deposed by a military coup. Today the country is led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
For Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, "after five years, we still experience a lot of turmoil; freedom and justice have not yet been fully implemented." Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman said that "the country is moving very slowly; problems remain; and the current leadership will have to work hard to repair the damage caused by the Muslim Brotherhood, who left a nation in crisis." What is more, events in neighbouring countries like Syria, Libya, and Sudan "do not help our recovery."
For the spokesman of the Egyptian Church, "the economy is the number one problem" and the active presence of extremist groups - Islamic State, al-Qaida, the Brotherhood - makes the situation worse. Still, the country "must remain open to investment from abroad", from China and Russia for example, "even if that will take a lot of time, and time is the first thing needed for recovery."
Meanwhile, the current leaders "are focusing on industry and the agricultural sector, because tourism is still very weak" and unemployment, especially among young people, is high. On the plus side that could favour investments in Egypt.
At the same time, "Christians, and other minorities enjoy greater freedom, and women's participation has increased,” Fr Rafic explained. “These are small signs of change that confirm the country is on the path of growth and transformation.”
However, not everyone is so optimistic about rights and the economy. For Mina Thabet, 30, a researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, and a former leader of the Maspero Youth Union, “What is left of the Arab spring are the sacrifices made by a generation that tried to do something for our country by focusing on human capital and the ideals of justice and freedom. Now the situation is worse than before.”
Established in October 2011 in the wake of the massacre of Copts in front of the Maspero TV building, the Christian-based organisation has thousands of supporters. Along with other groups, it took part in the ‘Tamarod’ (Arabic for rebellion) movement that saw a groundswell of public support (30 million according to some accounts) at the end of June 2013 that contributed to President Morsi’s downfall.
"The government has restricted freedoms and put controls in place on every aspect of public life. We instead were hoping and struggled for ideals like equality, justice, and a free nation,” Thabet said. “There is no political representation, only limitations and restrictions on the rights of assembly, and free expression. Even Tahrir Square (symbol of the anti-Mubarak protests of 2011] is off-limits."
Still, faced with such a critical situation, the Maspero Youth Union leader wants people "to come to Egypt, to see our beauty, our history, support the tourism industry", which is "one of the main resources of the country."
In the background Islamic extremist groups, including Daesh (also known as Islamic State), continue their attacks. Only yesterday, at least nine people, including six police officers, were killed in a bomb blast during a raid on a militant hideout in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.
For Thabet, "Action is needed against Muslim religious leaders and imams who use violent words to push extremist ideas. What we need to do is promote coexistence, and counter those who propagate hatred."