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Project September 17, 2012

Egypt: The Country Outside the Square



It has been almost two years since Egyptians ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, and the country remains deeply divided across various lines. To reflect on the Egyptian uprising is to celebrate a popular awakening, but also to acknowledge an increasingly difficult chasm between the uprising and democracy—not to mention the disparate demands and ideals of a country of 80 million people.

Since the heady days of revolt, many have largely focused on the now famed Tahrir Square as a bellwether for where the country is going and as a way to gauge the pulse of a nation. Egypt's de-facto military leaders, the Supreme Council, repeatedly (and perhaps correctly) insisted during violent flashpoints that protesters in Tahrir, who strongly urged an end to military rule, didn't reflect the will of the nation. But since then, few have been able to agree upon just what that will is. There's a long road ahead in Egypt—one that may lead outside the square and might not even run through it.

Of late, while the country's unemployment rises and the economy sinks, the Egyptian government's tepid response to recent violence at the U.S. embassy underscores a complicated relationship and yet more divides. Hinting at Egypt's tenuous state, President Obama deemed the country not an enemy, but not an ally. Egypt still lingers in a perpetual gray zone, submerged in an identity crisis with no constitution or parliament.

Many believe Egypt's first Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has been handed a toy gun to address Egypt's challenges. Others have become skeptical of Morsi's new administration, composed of several appointees from the Muslim Brotherhood who have yet to issue substantial reforms. Despite a significant shuffle in the country's omnipotent military council, there's a looming power struggle between the military and the Brotherhood—one of which pivots on who will write the constitution and just how much oversight Egypt's future government will have over the military and its sizeable budget.

On some Fridays, chants with an array of demands can still be heard from Tahrir Square, but the "silent majority" of Egyptians, as some analysts have deemed them, have often gone unnoticed. Yet they are just as influential and decisive in the country's transitional period and future.

Who is the oft ill-defined and unknown majority outside of the visible epicenter of Tahrir? And more tellingly, outside of Cairo where three-quarters of the population live? What do they want and what does "revolution" mean to them? Their stories, indicative of a more multifaceted and complex Egypt that extends outside a square, can no longer be ignored. For they will also decide on what a new Egypt looks like.


teal halftone illustration of praying hands