Three years later, new red lines to cross in Egypt

It was Feb. 2. The now infamous “Day of the Camel,” when pro-Mubarak thugs stormed Tahrir Square - but you would not have guessed it earlier on in the day. Three years later, how things change - how people’s positions alternate - and how things stay exactly the same.

Maybe there will be people who go today that want to express their love, admiration, and adoration of the general who would be president. It wouldn’t surprise me. I certainly don’t remember that being an outcome anyone in Tahrir Square would have argued for on Jan. 25. What I do remember, however, were a few arguments that people had as they queued up. Some people who supported Hosni Mubarak were queuing up.

They weren’t fights, there weren’t fisticuffs aplenty - there were just people arguing about what they wanted for the future. It strikes me that if today, people were queuing up, and wanted to criticize the powers that be, there would soon be accusations of ‘treason’ and ‘traitor’ being thrown about – if not immediate violence.

Nowhere to be found

I walk into the square. I must have been searched about four times. All of the searches were respectful, and highly apologetic about the need to search me. They were civilians. The police were nowhere to be found – because they’d been beaten. On Jan. 28, they had been beaten.

Maybe there will be people who go today that want to express their love, admiration, and adoration of the general who would be president. It wouldn’t surprise me. I certainly don’t remember that being an outcome anyone in Tahrir Square would have argued for on Jan. 25

H.A. Hellyer


Of course, it is a little different today. To the point where a revolutionary uprising that began on “Police Day” to protest the police is being applauded by the head of the ministry of the interior. The police now speak of the “rift” between the “people” and the police being mended. I could have sworn that hundreds upon hundreds of people have died as a result of excessive force utilised by the police in the past three years. I must have just not been paying attention.

I walk past the security lines, and into the square. A group of Azhari imams stand between the government administration building, and the Omar Makram mosque on the edge of Tahrir, all supplicating for the success of the revolution in unison. A few meters beyond the small crowd around them, I saw Nawal Saadawi, the secular feminist, engaging in discussions with a number of people at the base of a statue. No arguments. Today, I wonder what happened to those imams. Some of them, I suppose, might have became “merchants of religion” – those who peddle spirituality for political purposes. Did they do so for the Islamists, or for their opponents backing the military? The cheap antics of selling religion, three years later, is an equal opportunity enterprise.

Revolution, baby

I didn’t see Amr when I was in the square that day. I know he was there for at least part of the time. I was on the phone with him on Feb. 12, exchanging congratulations on the end of Mubarak’s tenure. I certainly would not have dreamt that three short years later, Amr Hamzawy would be under a travel ban, being investigated for “insulting the judiciary,” because he dared criticize the verdict in the NGO trial that took place a year ago. Three years ago, he was being touted as a minister in the post-Mubarak government. Today, he’s being considered a scoundrel and a traitor – because he insists on human rights for all, including his political opponents. Revolution, baby.

I didn’t see either of the two Emads there that day either. I know Shaykh Emad Effat was there, though, who would later become known as the “Shaykh of the Revolution.” He died later that day. He was killed in clashes outside of the Cabinet with the military police. Shortly after the ouster of Mursi, history began to be rewritten, and it was said that the Muslim Brotherhood had killed him.

Of course, the Brotherhood were not even at the clashes – they had avoided disagreements with the military entirely, being far more concerned with the road-map they believed would give them power. Indeed, many who were there felt ashamed they’d ever given the Brotherhood the benefit of the doubt, as the Brotherhood blamed “foreign elements” for the clashes that were bent on “delaying the parliamentary elections.”

I’m not sure if the other Emad, Dr. Emad Shahin, whose academic career included posts at Harvard and Notre Dame, was there that day. He was based abroad at the time, but supported the Jan. 25 revolution, and eventually returned to Egypt to take a post as professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo (not exactly well known as a hotbed of political radicalism). This professor (who ironically serves in the same faculty that the present foreign minister was actually dean until quite recently), has now been accused of espionage. I suspect there is as much likelihood of Emad Shahin being a spy as there is a finger-puppet being guilty of supporting terrorism. Oh, snap.


There were so many people there that day. I do wonder how many of them stayed the course of the revolution of ‘bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity’. How many decided to embrace a type of ultra-nationalist fascism. How many opted for a power-hungry neo-religious sectarianism, and sold the revolution for power. How many of them said they were “liberals,” but really, they meant they enjoyed non-conservative lifestyles.

Those that did stay the course – three years on, they’re not thinking, “so, did we win?” They’re thinking, “Hmm: so, where are those red  lines now? And what do we do about them, considering pretty much everyone is against us for different reasons?” A friend of mine in the human rights community answered: 

“I know where the red line is... I crossed it a long time ago. What they seem to be doing is draw a red line and when we all normalize to that red line, they draw a new one… I have decided to be colour-blind for a while. You draw a line and all I can think is – cool, another one for me to cross.” 

I’d think they should be scared. But it strikes me – they’re just really angry.

Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and ISPU, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.