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With Unity in Egypt Now Fractured, ‘Second Wave’ of Revolution Underway

August 17, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
As former President Hosni Mubarak stands trial, Egypt's revolutionaries are increasingly divided over how to shape their new political structure. Margaret Warner discusses what's next for Egyptians and their "second wave" of revolution with GlobalPost's Charles Sennott, who returned to Tahrir Square last month.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: a reporter’s return to Cairo after the Egyptian revolution.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Charles Sennott, founding editor of the online news site GlobalPost, was among dozens of Western journalists in Egypt during the February uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Reporting for a FRONTLINE documentary, Sennott spent days in Tahrir Square talking with the protesters, from the young Facebook crowd to members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In July, Sennott returned to Cairo as a second wave of Tahrir Square protests was under way, mostly directed at the Military Council that’s now running the country.

He has written a piece, with accompanying video, for GlobalPost and FRONTLINE’s website. And he joins us now.

And, Charlie, welcome back.

CHARLES SENNOTT, GlobalPost: Thanks.

MARGARET WARNER: So, you went back five months after Mubarak was ousted. You went back to the square. What did you go looking for, and what did you find?

CHARLES SENNOTT: We went looking for the same people we had gotten to know in the square during the revolution.

And they were from all walks of Egyptian life, Muslim Brotherhood. You had Coptic Christians, secular activists from the April 6 movement. But we basically wanted to check in with them and see where this revolution had come after six months.

And what we found was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fractured movements, a lot of splintered parties, and a sense that the unity of Tahrir Square had — had disappeared.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, in fact, we hear that sentiment expressed by a young man, one of your young activist connections, Mohammed Abbas, who was from a work — is from a working-class Muslim Brotherhood-connected family. And let’s listen.

MOHAMMED ABBAS, Egyptian activist: We have terrible problems, a lot of problems. But now we haven’t one hand that were Tahrir last time.

CHARLES SENNOTT: What do you gain by taking Tahrir back? How does that push the revolution forward?

MOHAMMED ABBAS: It makes us remember why we’re here. The revolution is almost stolen by — we don’t know by whom, but its achievements have not satisfied us till now.

MARGARET WARNER: Why is he so disillusioned?

CHARLES SENNOTT: Yes.

What you’re seeing there is Mohammed Abbas, who was really one of the inspirational members of the youth movement, of the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s now been removed from the Muslim Brotherhood because he joined a party that didn’t meet the approval of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many of his friends who he got to know who come from these different places in Egyptian society have sort of splintered off and gone in different directions. The unity of the revolution has now left them all headed in very different directions.

And you’re right. You could really feel that despondence. It’s also coming right off of renewed protests. Suddenly, in early July, the protests erupted anew. Al-Ahram has called it the second wave of the revolution, where the demands were basically put forward once again to go back to the beginning to say, this is really about police brutality and this regime.

MARGARET WARNER: Right.

And we have a clip that shows this. Now, this is Gigi Ibrahim, who is an Egyptian-American sort of made famous in the FRONTLINE documentary. She ended up on the cover of TIME magazine. And she sounds really angry. We have got a clip of that.

GIGI IBRAHIM, Egyptian activist: Last night was really about the treatment of police that hasn’t changed since the revolution.

And this was one of the main, main things that made the revolution happen to begin with, the tortures in prison. Let’s remember Khaled Said. Nobody is — has been really sentenced in accountability of any torture case or any kind of killings of the martyrs since the revolution.

This is exactly the same reasons that we started this revolution calling for accountability and to stop police brutality and to stop torture and to stop the treatment, the brutal treatment and ruthless treatment of the police with citizens on the street.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, they are furious because they don’t feel, what, the people — police and security people who were responsible for the killing of protesters have been punished.

CHARLES SENNOTT: That’s correct.

They’re really saying, let’s go back to the beginning, where this revolution began on Jan.25, known as Police Day, a day when you’re supposed to honor the police in Egypt. But it was a joke to the Egyptian people, that, really, this police force was seen as very brutal and corrupt.

So they were saying, look, we have had 840 people, unarmed protesters, who were killed during these demonstrators, and virtually none of the police had been brought to justice.

MARGARET WARNER: So, do you think the army was hearing the Gigi Ibrahims and all those people when they did actually put — started Hosni Mubarak being tried and his chief of the interior?

CHARLES SENNOTT: I think it’s a great question.

And I think, yes, I think they did hear the demonstrations rising up again. And I think that’s why Al-Ahram called this the second wave of the revolution, that what you — what you had was a revolution going adrift. The military was quite pleased with that, delayed the elections. Let’s just back to life.

And I think most of the Egyptian people desire that. They want a return to normalcy. They want to get back to business. Tourism is a $12 billion industry in Egypt. They want that back.

But the protesters were saying, we can’t go back to status quo. And that small reminder of putting thousands of people back in the street, I think the military heard that and has now made some movements. Now, is it enough? Will it last? What will happen with the elections? All of these questions are very much in the air right now in Egypt.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, after hearing these angry or disillusioned young people, there’s also another clip I thought we could play from Ahmed Maher, another major figure. Wasn’t he a founder of the April 6 movement?

CHARLES SENNOTT: He was.

MARGARET WARNER: And he seems to have a sense of perspective, maybe because he’s older. Let’s listen.

AHMED MAHER, Egyptian activist (through translator): It’s natural that, after any revolution, there be a transitional phase. I think that, in Egypt specifically, there has been a period of imbalance. This is perfectly normal, but with the presence of a youth force monitoring and pushing for democratization, it will surely succeed, no matter how long.

MARGARET WARNER: What does he mean, there will be balance? What is he talking about?

CHARLES SENNOTT: Ahmed Maher is an engineer by trade, civil engineer.

And you’re right. He’s very calm. He’s wise. He’s very stepped-back, unlike much of the Twitterati, as they’re called, the people who are online activists.

MARGARET WARNER: The Gigi Ibrahims.

CHARLES SENNOTT: The Gigi Ibrahims, who are sort of all over the map.

He see this is as a structural movement, almost like engineering, in the revolution. And he says, you know, you have to be patient with this.

Can he convince them of that? I don’t know. But I think what he means by — by “It’s natural” is that revolutions produce chaos. Out of that chaos how has to emerge a new democracy. How that’s going to happen, very much an open question. Ahmed Maher is also reflective, because April 6 movement is not a political party. They have fractured into political elements, but they’re actually a social movement and much more about social engineering than they are about revolution.

MARGARET WARNER: So, as you left, Charlie, what was your conclusion about the protest movement itself? You said it’s fractured. Has it lost its sense of purpose? Has it lost its — its esprit?

I mean, you have one scene in your piece, which I commend to our viewers, in which you talk about one of these protests you went to that didn’t — definitely didn’t have the energy of February and — January and February.

CHARLES SENNOTT: I think Egyptians are tired. I think they have been through a lot.

This revolution was an extraordinary event, as you know. We both covered it together. I think what you see in Egypt now is fatigue, but not a loss of hope, a sense of determination that there’s a lot of work to do, and a feeling that there’s not a lot of organization or coordination to get that done. The political parties haven’t formed. The elections are looming.

MARGARET WARNER: In November?

CHARLES SENNOTT: In November. And it looks like the Muslim Brotherhood, its new political party, stands poised to take about 30 percent of the vote, by — that’s a modest estimate.

The Salafists could take 10 percent.

MARGARET WARNER: They’re the very rigid…

CHARLES SENNOTT: The very rigid, sort of…

MARGARET WARNER: … Islamists.

CHARLES SENNOTT: … puritanical Islamists.

And then you have other parties like the NDP, the National Democratic Party, which was Mubarak’s party, which has fractured, but still represents business interests and new formulas. It’s — it’s a puzzle that hasn’t come together, but I wouldn’t say that the leaders of this revolution have lost hope.

I think what they’re looking for now is coordination. And they’re going to have to pull back to their corners and organize and really effect change.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. No one is going to give that to them. They have to give it to themselves.

All right.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Exactly.

MARGARET WARNER: Charlie Sennott, thank you. Thank you very much.

CHARLES SENNOTT: Thank you. Thanks, Margaret.