On the day that Mubarak’s thugs charged into Tahrir Square on the backs of camels, swinging whips and chains at the protesters gathered there, Yasmine el-Baramawy was arrested by the military.
Ms Baramawy, then a 28-year-old composer and oud player, had been carrying bandages and disinfectant to treat the wounded when she was stopped on the edge of the square and driven to an officer’s club being used as a detention centre.
It was February 2, 2011. Neither Ms Baramawy nor the intelligence officer interrogating her knew that in nine days Mubarak would be overthrown but both of them sensed that something was about to change in Egypt. The officer eventually released her a few words of threat. “We’ll be back,” he said.
Seven years after the Egyptian Revolution that stunned the world, the officer’s warning has been borne out. The Mubarak regime has been replaced by a military government headed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi which is by many measures even more repressive and more authoritarian.
Mr Sisi won a second term in office this week in a barely-contested election after all his credible challengers were arrested or intimidated out of the race. His political opponents, including many of the 2011 revolutionaries, believe that it is only a matter of time before he changes the constitution to allow himself to stay in power indefinitely.
Egypt’s media has been brought to heel by the state, organised protests are forbidden, and even what little space was allowed for political intellectuals under Mubarak has been mostly closed down.
“Political life in Egypt has been murdered with a very blunt instrument and Sisi is responsible for killing it,” said Hassan Nafaa, a liberal political analyst. He argued that Egyptians are less free today than they were under Nasser in the 1960s. “Never in my 70 years have I seen the media controlled by the government as it is now.”
While Mr Sisi’s landslide election victory was no surprise – early polls indicate he received more than 90 per cent of the vote – it has prompted fresh reflections on how the revolution of 2011 led to the iron-fisted rule of 2018 and what it means for Egypt’s future.
Sitting in a downtown Cairo cafe, Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a surgeon involved in the Tahrir revolution, said he feared that the clampdown on space for peaceful political dissent would push the next generation of revolutionaries towards violence.
“We in the January 25 movement were always peaceful and this was our motto and we should stick to it. But the young people today say: ‘It didn’t do us any good’. A lot of them are from frustration being pushed towards violence,” he said.
“Our aim is to persuade the youth to stick to peaceful means because this is the only ways to tackle the regime, we just need to be creative or innovative enough.”
Dr Ghazaly Harb warned the UK and other Western countries not to convince themselves that Mr Sisi might be an authoritarian but at least he was keeping Egypt and its 90 million population stable, unlike Syria or Libya. “He is taking the country into chaos. And if Egypt erupts it will not just be us suffering but the region and the world,” he said.
Most opposition activists agree that there is little chance of another mass show of people power like in Tahrir Square anytime soon. The Egyptian security services would stamp it out long before it began, they say.
If Mr Sisi ever gives up power it is more likely to be because of maneuvering by actors within his regime, they believe. Many Egyptian democrats had pinned their hopes on the unlikely figure of Sami Anan, a former Egyptian general who planned to run against Mr Sisi for the presidency.
Although he was a figure of the military establishment, Mr Anan was seen as more tolerant than the president. He was arrested at gunpoint in January, a week after announcing his candidacy, and remains in detention today.
Mr Sisi’s defenders argue that what many see as political repression are in fact tough measures necessary to restore public order and begin reforming the country’s sclerotic economy.
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Gehad Auda, a congenial professor of political science at Helwan University, made the case for him over tea on the patio of Gezira Sporting Club, a favourite spot of the Egyptian elite.
He argued that Mr Sisi would allow political space to open up again once Egypt’s security situation was stabilised. “You start by working on a strong public order, then within framework of public order, political diversification emerges,” he said. “Once he achieves the strong state he cannot continue without democratisation and a sense of liberalisation.”
Ms Baramawy, the oud player arrested at Tahrir Square, is now 35 and performs her music widely across Egypt. She watched this week’s election with frustration, wondering why money spent on banners and polling stations for a foregone conclusion could not have been spent on education or healthcare.
But even with the Egyptian state more authoritarian than ever before, Ms Baramawy said she would never believe that the 2011 revolution was in vain. “The generations who saw the people revolting in 2011 are growing up and they learned that they can say no and they can be heard if they say no.”
She pointed to a recent video about a school where teachers took 5 Egyptian pounds (20p) from each pupil, promising to put on a Mother’s Day Party with the money. They kept it instead, a small act of corruption not uncommon in Egypt.
But the students revolted in protest, throwing stones and occupying the school courtyard to demand the money back. Ms Baramawy watched the video and swelled with pride. “These are the lessons of the revolution,” she said.