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Egyptians see remarkable year not living up to its potential

On the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime, hundreds of thousands poured into the revolution's symbolic center, Cairo's Tahrir Square. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Temporary monuments are erected in Tahrir Square on Wednesday as thousands of Egyptians gather to mark the one year anniversary of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

 

They are scenes reminiscent of Egypt's 18-day revolution that toppled the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian, rich and poor, secular and conservative … all back in the symbolic heart of Egypt’s revolution, Tahrir Square. They are also in cities all across the country.

But the unity seen during Egypt's revolution in 2011 has been replaced by widening differences over where the country stands one year later.

The difference revolves around the transition to democracy. Is it on the right path? Led by the right people? Genuine or simply cosmetic? Actions versus promises. Accomplishments versus rhetoric.


Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that ousted Mubarak.

Some gathered in the square to celebrate that revolution. They said the past year had been one of transformation. They cited a newly elected lower house of parliament, new individual freedoms and an explosion of political parties running the gamut.

Those gathered Wednesday celebrated the accomplishments of the revolution. Those accomplishments cannot simply be dismissed. The pace of reform may be slow, but change has been tangible.

Those here commemorating the revolution argued change has been cosmetic. One regime has simply been replaced by another.

"We have changed the driver in the car, but you have not changed the car or its direction," one protester told me. "Only when the direction of the car changes will the revolution be considered successful," he added.

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Those commemorating the revolution said the anniversary should serve as a reminder of what Egyptians can accomplish when they are united. The past year has not lived up to its potential. They cited thousands of civilians in military trials as evidence that the ruling military council -- all appointed by Mubarak coincidentally -- has resorted to the same draconian measures as its predecessor. They said that in the past year, not a single senior officer of the internal security forces or minister has been convicted in the killings of around 800 protesters. So for them, Wednesday was about renewing demonstrations against the ruling military council.

The military council said it's holding the ship steady on the course to democracy. And while it has changed the timetable to elections a few times, it has done so only when events on the ground rapidly deteriorated and protests flared up. On one hand that showed it had been responsive to public sentiments and street protests; but on the other hand, it continued to act unilaterally when it came to fundamental issues concerning the process of reform. It retained exclusive power over the security services and the judiciary. It has refused to delegate powers and authority to the military-appointed prime minister or the newly elected lower house of parliament. At the same time, the military has issued a declaration of constitutional principles that many interpret as an attempt to retain powers after a new government is directly elected.

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And of course… there are the new democratic realities that have emerged in post-revolution Egypt. New political parties, but not necessarily new political voices. The loudest so far has been that of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafist movement. Between the two of them, they overwhelmingly won the majority of seats in parliament. Will their mandate from the people be seen as a direct order to challenge the military? Some argue the Islamists are content with the democratic process undertaken by the military because it has paved their way to power. They fear the two have cut backroom deals. The military will move the democratic process at a pace and under conditions favorable to Islamist parties at the expense of the lesser and weaker secular and liberal forces. In exchange, the Islamists will not mobilize their massive street support against the military or hold them accountable for past misdoings going forward.

So whether Egyptians celebrate, commemorate or reinvigorate their January 25 Revolution, one thing is for certain, it has been a remarkable year in the history of this country.

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