Egypt has stumbled from the so-called Arab Spring's great inspiration to its lingering disappointment. The euphoric 18 days that led to Mubarak's downfall have been clouded by divisions between secularists and Islamists and by the military, which has repeatedly delayed transition to civilian rule. The generals are reviled by activists but their wide support in the provinces allows them a tight grip on the nation.
The most recent violence was sparked by an attempt by the military to consolidate its power by enshrining a larger role for itself in a new constitution. Late Saturday, amid the rising protests, the generals amended the proposals in an effort to calm activists and the Muslim Brotherhood. That kind of appeasement worked in the past, but did little to contain the outrage of the last two days.
The nation is unlikely to find respite soon. The military announced that it would not postpone elections. The voting could trigger more bloodshed and is certain to exacerbate differences between liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood, which could win at least 30% of the seats in parliament. Secularists and the military fear the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are determined to press for a government deeply rooted in sharia, or Islamic law.
But, in the short term, the parliament will ultimately be accountable to the ruling military council. A full transfer of power to civilian control is not expected until a president is elected late next year or in 2013. This scenario is certain to lead to more protests even as Egypt struggles with a downward spiraling economy and a shrinking tourism industry.
This was on the minds of many in Tahrir Square. Like Kassem, the university professor, they mirrored the Egyptians who protested last winter — not politically driven, just fed up. Kassem stood Sunday amid scorched tires and the tang of tear gas not far from a makeshift hospital in a mosque and a few tents erected in the square's central garden.
"Mubarak's thieves headed by Tantawi stole our revolution, so did groups using religion," he said. "The ruling system remains the same as it was under Mubarak, practicing the same stupidity as Mubarak's men did."