The second anniversary of Egypt’s January 25th revolution is hardly an occasion to celebrate for many of the activists who led the protests resulting in the fall of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, many of them are currently thronging the streets of Cairo from Tahrir Square to the areas near the presidential palace in the Heliopolis district. The sense of unity that brought together a broad swathe of the population two years ago has given way to deep political and social polarization — with many frustrated at the pace of reform and the sense that the revolution was co-opted by Islamists. The first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has faced mounting opposition from a coalition of liberals and secularists who maintain that the demands of the revolution have not yet been met and who criticize his party for its perceived campaign of Islamization in the country.
The opposition’s grievances with the current government are shared by many in Egypt: the soaring price of food, gas, and other necessities has compounded the serious economic hardships facing many in a country where more than a quarter of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line. A string of recent transport disasters has also contributed to the sense that the government has been ineffective in protecting the population. Many revolutionaries also criticize the Morsi administration for failing to reform the powerful police force allegedly responsible for a multitude of human rights abuses (not to mention the immensely unpopular attempt to quash the revolution and preserve the Mubarak regime in 2011). This — along with the perceived impunity of corrupt officials — has remained among the biggest issues for opponents of the government. However, it was Morsi’s November decision to grant himself near-unlimited powers and the subsequent constitutional referendum (which passed a constitution that critics say gives the president too much power and does not sufficiently protect human rights) that truly galvanized revolutionaries into a cohesive opposition.
As widely shared as the opposition’s criticisms may be, one of the biggest challenges facing them is the desire for a return to normalcy. The perception among Egyptians that continued protests will only lead to more instability (and more hardship) is prevalent. The Muslim Brotherhood is tapping into this sentiment for their own celebration of the revolution, a campaign they are calling “Together We Build Egypt.” They plan to deliver assistance to the poor and plant a million trees in a clever strategy to contrast their own desire for “stability” (critics would call it a lack of tolerance for dissent) with the protests planned by the opposition in Tahrir Square and around the country. The timing of the announcement suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood is doing some savvy positioning of its party ahead of the parliamentary elections coming in March or April. The results of the elections will have a significant impact on the dynamics of governance in Egypt and — should the FJP be successful — could result in almost unchecked Muslim Brotherhood rule.
It is this prospect that has various opposition factions scrambling to unify in order to have the best chance of challenging the FJP at the ballot. Though perhaps not as PR-savvy as the Brotherhood, the opposition, organized primarily under the Baradei-supported National Salvation Front umbrella, has the opportunity to use the anniversary of the revolution to harness public goodwill for their cause ahead of the election. Though whether the Egyptian public is too disillusioned to buy into the idea of real, revolutionary change a second time around remains to be seen.