One year ago, it was the scene of jubilant celebrations. Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square brimmed with Egyptians rejoicing at the election of President Mohammed Morsi and expecting him to deliver on his promises.
One year on a potent mixture of crises has left its mark on a deeply polarized country and the euphoria many once felt has turned to discontent. Now, as millions of disillusioned and angered Egyptians have taken to the streets to call for Morsi to step down and the military has threatened to intervene, many say nothing has changed.
"He has done nothing," said Alaa Abdel Aziz, who came to Tahrir Square to protest with her family. "And now, all of Egypt is divided. It was never like this before."
A year into Morsi's presidency, many say daily life has grown more difficult. Food prices are rising, electricity cuts are commonplace, and the country's economy is in tatters. A recent fuel crisis has exacerbated the situation. Lines of cars at fueling stations snake down streets. In the scorching summer heat, tempers have raged, and police on occasion have had to intervene to prevent fights. Last week a man was shot dead at a gas station dispute in Cairo.
"We have problems with gas shortages, with electricity cuts. Business is hard, it's very hard," said Akram Karam, the owner of a souvenir and perfume shop just minutes from Tahrir Square. In a country where tourists once flocked by the millions, continued unrest has scared away tourism and investors.
"He's (Morsi - the ed.) not looking to help the Egyptian people. He just cares about the Muslim Brotherhood. He is the same as Mubarak, and we have no freedom," Karam added.
More of the same?
Others say abuse and repression that was a hallmark of the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak has continued.
"All this rejection is the result of his own actions," said Wael Eskander, an activist who came to protests at the Presidential Palace calling for Morsi to step down. "The police have been extremely brutal, more so even than under Mubarak, he hasn't respected minority rights, he has been very sectarian. He has alienated everyone."
Unlike ever before, discontent has spread across all sectors of society. A recent poll by Zogby Research Services put Morsi's approval rate at only 28 percent, a meager half of what it was when he was elected. But while the president's popularity appears to be waning, Egypt's weak and fragmented opposition parties have not fared much better. The same poll revealed only 34 percent of Egyptians approved of Morsi's opponents, leaving few options.
The government has conceded that it has made mistakes, but says the challenges were expected. When Morsi was elected he inherited a failing state, the result of years of corruption. And complicating its attempts for national consensus, says the government, has been the opposition's repeated rejection of calls for talks.
For Morsi's supporters on the ground, the president remains Egypt's only legitimate leader, having risen to power through free and fair elections. They too have taken to the streets in large numbers ready to fiercely defend their leader. They believe Egypt has become better, and, rather than seeking Morsi's ouster, they say critics should take their fight to the polls.
And while critics have accused Morsi of polarizing the country and alienating all those outside his Islamist base, the government and his supporters dismissed this claim.
"At the end of the day, it was very easy for all of us in different segments of the population to agree on what we don't want, to oust someone like Mubarak, whereas it was much more difficult for us to agree on what we do want, and that has kept the public polarized," said Gehad El Haddad, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. "Egyptians have never been faced with the power of choice before. With choice comes the responsibility that you have to be informed."
So as protests have erupted across the country, expectations for what will come next remain mixed.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition block that has backed protests, urged all citizens and revolutionary forces to maintain peaceful protests "in all the squares and streets and villages and hamlets of the country, and not to deal with the Brotherhood government until the last of this dictatorial regime falls."
As numbers at anti-Morsi protests surpassed expectations in a country otherwise overcome with discontent, many say the euphoria felt during the early days of the revolution has been reignited.
"We won't leave until he leaves," chanted protesters in Tahrir Square as others beat drums and waved flags.
But underpinning that euphoria was also a foreboding fear of what may come. Some say that while they oppose Morsi, overthrowing him could set a dangerous precedent that would lead to future instability. And the fear of violence that reigned in the lead up to yesterday's protests has continued to loom amid a rash of clashes outside the capital as well as at the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Compounding fears of uncertainty in a post-Morsi Egypt has been the inclusion of supporters of the old regime in anti-Morsi demonstrations. An increasing chorus has also called for the return of the military who ruled Egypt with a heavy hand for more than a year following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
Now, as the military has warned it will intervene if the government and its opposition do not meet "the will of the people" within 48 hours, celebrations have erupted in the streets. Morsi, meanwhile, has rejected the army's ultimatum saying it will only sow chaos. Now, his supporters have also taken to the streets in protest.
Military takes sides
Meanwhile, military helicopters have been flying over Tahrir Square draping Egyptian flags beneath them. Protesters are carrying banners reading "The people and the army are one hand." For many of those protesting, the military is seen as the only savior.
"That is the fault of the opposition, they didn't give the Egyptian people an alternative," said Eskander. "But they are criminals, they killed us and tortured us, and I don't want anything to do with the military."
Eskander, who vehemently opposes Morsi, says he can understand the protesters but says that there must be a revolutionary alternative.
Others warn of forgetting the military's past role. "It's like everyone was sleeping for the past two years," said Mena Ezzat, a dentist who was in Tahrir Square when news of the military's statement broke. "It's like they've completely forgotten."
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