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Egypt's Military Government Quiets Revolutionaries


A year has passed since the revolution in Egypt began. Suddenly young people there, like this protestor in Cairo's Tahrir Square, could envision a different future for Egypt.

SAKHI SAHER: So now we're going to witness a new country with new order, with new politeness amongst the people, and no one throwing garbage in the streets. It's going to be a new start, a new beginning.

MONTAGNE: That was Sakhi Saher talking to NPR on the day that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is back in Cairo with the story of what happened to the young revolutionaries who toppled a dictator.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: It's cold and windy on this winter evening in Cairo. About 100 activists huddle together on a main road in a central neighborhood as the infamously heavy traffic here crawls by. These are the vestiges of the young revolutionaries who took over Tahrir Square last January.

It hasn't been an easy year. Instead of protesting Mubarak, they are now denouncing the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military junta that runs Egypt. They say the generals are simply an extension of the Mubarak regime, not interested in real democracy.

SALLY TOUMA: We're going to use some video just to show their lies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Activist Sally Touma says their new project is called Kazeboon, or Liars. They set up impromptu screenings in neighborhoods across the city of mini-films showing the violent crackdown on protestors in recent months. At least 80 people have been killed since Mubarak's ouster, and many more arrested. Touma says the generals have tried to demonize the protestors and so they are moving out of the iconic Tahrir Square, taking their case to the people.

SALLY TOUMA: You need to come out of Tahrir because they have isolated you, and they have created a sort of division, just by spreading rumors maybe against the protestors, so it is important for us to come to the neighborhoods and say no, we are the same people; we are the same, nothing has changed. It's not that we are thugs this time, we are still the same people believing in the revolution and continuing it.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: The group starts to move and winds its way through the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood, chanting freedom, freedom. As they pass, a group of men rail at them furiously.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One man says the country is in a very bad place. Another nods and says I don't want there to constantly be a fuss in the square. I want the country to be stable. They should go home, he says.

It's no small irony that one year after the Egyptian revolution began, the very people who started it, are now viewed with suspicion. And one of the main reasons, activists allege, are comments like these...

GENERAL HASSAN AL-ROWENY: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Hassan al-Roweny, one of the generals in the ruling junta, speaking with Al-Jazeera. he's alleging that the April 6th Movement - one of the main youth groups that helped kick-start the uprising last year - is destabilizing the country and its members are trained by foreign agents.

Moshirah Ahmed is one of the founders of April 6th.

MOSHIRAH AHMED: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says the government needs to give a face to the opposition so it can use it as a scarecrow to frighten people, she says. The government says it's either us or them, stability or instability. They did this to the Muslim Brotherhood before the revolution, she says. And now we are the face of the so-called evil opposition.

But the generals aren't the only problem. The revolutionaries have also squabbled among themselves and struggled to come up with a clear message. Liberal groups allied with them were decimated in the recent parliamentary elections.

WAEL GHONIM: I think this has been one of our biggest problems in the past. We cannot focus on what matters. What matters is the complete transfer of power in a democratic way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's former Google executive and revolutionary Wael Ghonim in an interview with NPR.

GHONIM: People, they are scared, they want stability. They don't want to see the country in chaos. And I think this is the message we have to work on. This is the messaging part that revolutionaries have to work on, because we do not want to see our country in chaos. We want to see our country stable, but at the same time, not at the price of democracy.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: But at the demonstration, Sally Touma says the fight for Egypt is far from over.

TOUMA: It will take years, the revolution has taken years. I don't know why we give up so quickly. It depends when you feel things are changing and it's over, you know? It is a war, it's a battle, and we will continue. They will kill us, they will imprison us, they'll do whatever, but the end, you are a freedom fighter and you'll continue to fight 'til freedom.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Cairo.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.