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Egypt teeters between winning back revolution and total chaos

With so many factions bumping elbows on the streets of Cairo, can Egyptian youth take back their revolution? VO's Cairo correspondent reports.

A throng of Egyptians take to the streets of Cairo to protest a constitution that many have said is illegal (Gigi Ibrahim/ Flickr).

CAIRO, EGYPT -- The second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on January 25th marked the beginning of renewed violent clashes between protestors and the police and military forces.

With a death toll of over 60 civilians and hundreds of more injured by the publication of this article, the new government is once again facing criticism for its part in the violence.

The implementation of emergency law, increased military power and continuing police brutality echo the all too familiar policy of the previous regime. Two years on, and protestors are clearly frustrated that while so much has changed, so little is different. As hundreds gather to protest the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, hundreds of others gather at the iconic Tahrir square to protest sexual harassment. Meanwhile several Islamist groups that include the Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, have demanded the the Ministry of Interior criminalize protests that oppose state interests.

The rapid and seemingly disjointed events have left many confused and concerned. The question for many now, is whether these events are the spark of a revived revolution, or whether these they mark something significantly different, a turn for the worst.

Since the 2011 protests tat ousted three-decade dictator Hosni Mubarak, there has been sporadic bursts of activity, but protests were unpredictable and inconsistent. The demands seem to be unchanging, improved living standards, political freedom and of course, the request for dignity. There are calls for retribution for the martyrs of the revolution, as well as for legitimate and fair trials and punishment for members of the old regime. In reaction to the violence, curfews were imposed and ignored, security measures have been enforced but failed, and hopes for national dialogue seem bleak. With the Central Bank announcing the foreign reserves to be at a 15 year low of around $14 billion, and with the controversial IMF loan looming, popular movement at this time could prove to be powerful.

Political debate relays a growing polarization amongst Egyptians, further aggravated by these worsening economic conditions. Perhaps most worrying is that once again, Egypt’s president seems to be disconnected from the population. From his Twitter messages to his Mubarak-esque speech last month, many feel that President Muhammad Morsi has only added to the anger, especially when addressing, or rather not addressing, issues of the youth.

A revolution that was once said to be initiated by people of all walks of life seems now to be driven by the youth. On Tuesday, a group of Egyptian youth gathered at the South Sinai Governorate headquarters, burning tired to protest corruption and unemployment, two issues that undeniably linked. A generation that is arguably more politically aware is also aware of issues with employment and institutional problems that run from healthcare to education to almost any public service.

Another issue adding to the difficulty of the situation is the fragile opposition that for the most part, remains fragmented. The most popular group, the liberal-leaning National Salvation Front seems to be built on weak alliances and faulty presumptions about their opponents in the Muslim Brothehood. While building on revolutionary dialogue, the Front has been criticized for underestimating the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity -- for failing to understand the complex reasons of why people support the Brotherhood. The exclusionary nature of most opposition groups make them an unrealistic option to turn to at the current time.

It's difficult to see clearly through the chaos. It could be that the revolutionary discourse has changed, focusing more on the breakdown and rebuilding of institutions, rather than on structural reform, a undoubtably messier task. For now the chaos only seems to build on itself, and the state continues to claim the ambiguous ‘third party’ responsible for any wrong-doing, not accepting responsibility for their failure to protect citizens, regardless of political affliation.

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