As the first anniversary of the start of the Egyptian revolution draws near, the words “January 25th” are on just about everybody’s lips here. There are constant protests and marches in Cairo. Each day seems to bring word of some new campaign aimed at harnessing the protest movement’s energy heading into the 25th. Today’s was “Protect Your Revolution,” a campaign launched by revolutionary icon and former Google executive Wael Ghonim to reclaim the legacy of the 2011 uprising. Overall, there’s no clear sense of what’s going to go down in two weeks’ time, but the almost unanimous sentiment is that, whatever it is, it’s going to be big.
In reality, it’s almost impossible to say. The rallies, frequent as they are, tend to draw no more than a couple hundred. Tonight I attended one along Talaat Harb Street, ostensibly against the military trials. The protesters, who numbered I’d estimate somewhere between 100 and 150, definitely had the mechanics of protest down. During a stop in Talaat Harb Square, just down the street from Tahrir, organizers projected footage of the military beating defenseless protesters, including the so-called “blue bra girl” during December’s unrest outside the cabinet building, onto the base of the statue of Talaat Harb himself that presides over the middle of the square. Resting on his cap, a bullhorn blared dark Arabian themes. This is all part of a recent initiative by several activist groups to expose SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) lies about recent violence by bringing the unvarnished evidence to public spaces. The tactic has enjoyed mixed success. In some less sympathetic parts of town, pro-military demonstrators have torn down projector screens and chased away activists.
All in all, tonight’s march probably goes down as a success. The crowd chanted loudly and tirelessly. Shopkeepers and passerby in Downtown Cairo paused to watch the demonstration and footage projected onto Talaat Harb’s statue. The demonstrators, seemingly wary of pissing off Cairo’s fickle taxi drivers, even managed to contain the congestion they caused, simultaneously directing traffic as they marched and cordoning off about a third of the road for cars and motorcycles with a thin piece of rope that ran nearly the length of the parade.
After about an hour and a half, the march climaxed in front of the Supreme Court with chants of “Tantawi burnt my country. Tantawi stole my sons away” and “Erhal!” (Leave!), the same cry that echoed around Tahrir last winter against Hosni Mubarak.
But if the protest movement is going to realize its loftier goals—the field marshal’s downfall and true civilian rule—it’s a long way from achieving critical mass. The military seems more than content for now to pull the strings from behind the scenes—and its barricades just off Tahrir. Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood indicated today that it would accept the military’s timetable to hold onto executive power for another six months. Unless January 25 sets off something truly seismic and unexpected, the chances of it being one giant exercise in futility, at least for those who hope it’ll catalyzes transformative change, are high.
That said, things could still explode at literally any moment. There is without question more than enough discontent coursing through the population—particularly over the economy—to bring down the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood and everyone else with a claim to power in one fell swoop. Over the weekend, I was talking to an activist who’s now been jailed at least a couple times in the last year. Unlike many of his peers, he wasn’t confident January 25 would amount to all that much. But, he said, “January 26, January 27, next month. That’s when I think something will happen—right when we don’t expect it.”
With all that’s happened in the last year, who would bet against him?