Saturday, February 9, 2013

Meet Omar, the face of Egypt's 'unfinished revolution'

Two years after nationwide protests forced President Hosni Mubarak from office, NBC News catches up with Omar Sedky who explains why his country's revolution hasn't met the expectations of many Egyptians.
By Yuka Tachibana, Producer, NBC News

CAIRO, Egypt -- Two years ago, chants of "Irhal! Irhal! (Leave!, Leave!)" resonated through Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt's fledgling revolution.

Longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak listened. And on Feb. 11, 2011, thousands of joyful Egyptians poured onto the streets to cheer his resignation in anticipation of an exciting future.

Newly liberated Egypt must work hard to “make magic happen,” protester Omar Sedky told NBC News just hours after Mubarak's downfall.

The usually mild-mannered businessman is still shouting today.

“The revolution is still going,” Sedky said when NBC News caught up with him in front of the presidential palace ahead of Monday’s two-year anniversary of Mubarak’s downfall.

NBC's Ron Allen reconnects with protester Omar Sedky and his family, who, despite their euphoria, remain focused on the task at hand: rebuilding their nation.

Since the heady days in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak's fall, political division has dimmed much of the optimism, but there is still the sense of a work in progress.

“I’m not disappointed,” said the 33-year-old digital media worker. “There are ups and downs…but each time I get disappointed I stick to what I believe in.”

So what has changed?

“At least I can write blogs, I can Tweet without the fear of having the state police running after me,” Sedky said.

But with greater political freedom has come a degree of instability. Elections last year ended in a narrow victory for Islamist Mohammed Morsi over a former general, and tensions remain between Islamists and secular rivals.

There are concerns that hardline Islamists are taking over Morsi's government, and many Egyptians don't want to live under the strict rule that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party might impose.

Despite the end of the military state, Egypt’s police were last month accused of a return to Mubarak-era abuses after a video showed riot police stripping and beating a middle-aged man.

And a series of missteps by Morsi -- including a bid to grab sweeping powers even before the dust had settled on the country’s constitution -- have brought protesters back onto the streets.

Some of them -- including Sedky -- were among those originally demonstrating in the run-up Mubarak’s downfall.

"Freedom is about what you want and being heard and being assessed, and this is not shown from this government,” he said. “So, it’s like a time bomb… it’s going to explode.”

The number of protesters is smaller than two years ago, but it is the level of violence which has many people here worried -- more than 60 people died in January alone in clashes across the country.

Related pictures: Tempers flare in Egypt

The turmoil has kept foreign investors at bay, leaving the economy in a tailspin, while ordinary Egyptians fear for their safety on the streets.

Sedky said the country’s instability would end “when we have a proper constitution, when we have a parliament that reflects the actual Egyptians, not just the wing that [Islamists] represent.”

Crowds in Tahrir Square erupted in jubilant cheers on Friday after Vice President Suleiman, appearing briefly on Egypt state TV, announced that President Mubarak has stepped down from presidency. NBC's Brian Williams, Richard Engel and Ron Allen report.

“We're going to celebrate when I find this government empowers women, when I see that police are not attacking civilians due to political pressure. This is when I celebrate but until then, I will be marching on the streets. I will be protesting until this happens."

It’s a distinctly less optimistic tone than the one he struck right after Mubarak fled from power.

Back then, NBC News shared tea and cakes with him at his home in Cairo with his family including father Hussein, mother Moushira and younger brother, Tarek.

All were savoring the new political dawn that millions of Egyptians had long awaited.

But even then, Sedky had acknowledged the enormity of Egypt’s task ahead: “We don't have a magic wand -- we have to work hard to make magic happen to real life,” he said then.

These days Sedky is a member of the Positive Movement, a secular and liberal non-governmental organization founded soon after the revolution, which encourages Egyptians to become more engaged in their country’s political transition. But while the last two years of turmoil and disappointment have dampened his euphoria, he holds on to hope.

“I have faith that we’re going to build this country properly again," he said.

Within minutes of speaking with Sedky, a previously peaceful protest turned ugly. Some protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the presidential palace, which was met with teargas and water canons from the police. The grounds of the palace were set alight. At least one protester was shot and killed.

Another long night began for what many like Sedky call their "unfinished revolution."
Ahmed Youssef / EPA
Eighteen days of popular protest culminated in the downfall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011.

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