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2 Years After Mubarak Ousted, Egyptians Struggle to Keep Hope

  • Elizabeth Arrott

An Egyptian protester shouts anti-government slogans during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, February 8, 2013.

An Egyptian protester shouts anti-government slogans during a protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, February 8, 2013.

There has been so much change in Egypt in the past two years, it is sometimes hard to remember how little there was for so long. Hosni Mubarak's near 30-year rule was a weight that seemed, to many, impossible to lift.

The region's aging rulers had been the same for decades. A reminder of the way things were came last week. At a conference in Cairo, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, referring to Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, let slip the name “Hosni” before hastily correcting himself.

Such stagnancy made the 18 days of uprising two years ago all the more extraordinary. And when, on February 11, 2011, Mubarak stepped down, protesters on Tahrir Square and across the country were delirious about the possibilities ahead.

Today, that air of promise, for some, has disappeared. One young woman walking through Tahrir summed up her disappointment.

"I think nothing changed. Mubarak go and Morsi came. He didn't do anything for the people in Egypt," she said.

Tahrir remains a focal point of protest, only now the signs denounce Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from which he comes. They protest an economy in shambles, a leadership they accuse of self-serving interests and a general failure to live up to the ideals of the revolution.

Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo believes the situation will likely get worse before it gets better. But he couches it in historical terms.

"We have to remember that, naturally, following any revolution, the government is weak, the economy is weak, security is weak and the president is weak,” he said.

If it is a question of patience, the patrons of a cafe overlooking Tahrir seem to have plenty. A timeless calm of hours whiled away with cups of coffee and puffs on water pipes offers a counterpoint to the unrest and unease that make the headlines.

With the battered tents of protesters on the square just meters away, Mohamed Yasso, a middle-aged printer, gives credit to both the past and the future.

Mubarak had his achievements as a military man, he reflects, though Yasso faults him in later years for letting the economy slide. He says the ex-president's seeming preoccupation with having his son take over proved a tipping point. The revolution, the printer says, was inevitable.

As for the present problems, Yasso counsels patience and hard work, both on the part of the people and the leadership. The government, he says, needs to channel the energy of the young men on the streets.

Yasso says the young need housing and jobs. He says they need hope -- hope for education, health care, marriage. “Every youth,” Yasso says, “should feel there is hope.”

For many of the young, the hope brought two years ago by revolution is being sorely tested.

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