It depends, of course, on whom you ask.
Members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are uniformly pleased. They were persecuted for decades and now are running the country — an outcome that may be less of a prize that it initially appears, given the economic mess that Egypt is in. One senior Muslim Brotherhood member told me that Khairat el-Shater, the party’s first choice as candidate for president, looked visibly relieved when he learned the High Election Commission had rejected his candidacy.
I met Tamar Ommar, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood supporter and member of its youth committee, at a government-sponsored celebration in the courtyard of Cairo’s Saladin Citadel, an imposing fortress that towers over the city. They were marking the anniversary of Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem some 800 years ago. Khaled Mashal, head of Hamas’s political bureau, was a guest of honour.
Ommar, gregarious and cheerful, was thrilled to be in the Citadel. His uncle, he said, had been held in its prison, along with many other Muslim Brotherhood members. Ommar had been imprisoned, “a little time.” His longest stint in jail was 55 days.
“Oppressive regimes, they imprisoned my brothers here, and their blood was spilled here. So I feel proud to stand here. Their spirits are here,” he says.
How did the revolution change Egypt? The words quickly tumble out of his mouth: “We’re feeling freedom. We’re moving in freedom. We live freedom.”
Liberals, leftists and secularists are not so buoyant. Though many welcomed the Muslim Brotherhood into the official political arena, few had risked their lives in Tahrir Square with dreams of living in a country governed by Islamists. The optimistic among them — and there are many — stress that a revolution does not end after 18 days, that Egyptians have broken through the fear barrier and will not surrender their rights and freedoms again, neither to a secular nor a religious dictatorship.
Mahmoud Salem, author of the widely read and irreverent “Rantings of a Sandmonkey” blog, was a prominent activist during the Tahrir Square uprising and was almost lynched by a pro-Hosni Mubarak mob of thugs. The revolution, he says, has been a “dismal failure.”
“What changed in the revolution is that a party in power has been replaced by the forbidden opposition, and the forbidden opposition has become the party in power and has tried to make the ex-party of power the forbidden opposition,” he says.
“I’m a Sunni Muslim male. I run this country. I have no problems. Okay? My life will not be affected. It’s the women who are walking down the streets and getting sexually harassed who are suffering. It’s the Christians, who daily deal with the idea that anyone can file against them a lawsuit for disdain for religion who are getting affected — or are immigrating or getting attacked.”
Salem allows for a bit of potential optimism. Egyptians, he says, are no longer afraid of confronting their government.
“But we still have a government that doesn’t care about the problems of the people. We still have an intelligentsia and opposition figures who can’t find their own butts with a flashlight. And we still have a political situation that looks very much like something out of Monty Python.”
More to come in the magazine.