Egypt after Mubarak

"An Era in which Freedom and Human Rights are Respected"

After the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, there are plans to hold elections in Egypt within six months. The people of Cairo are proud of what their protests have achieved and at the same time exhausted by the experience. Khalid El Kaoutit reports

from Cairo

Alaa Khaled and a group of young Egyptians (photo: Khalid El Kaoutit)
Visions of a new and free Egypt: poet Alaa Khaled chats to a group of young students in the café "Al-Horreya" about what lies ahead for their country

​​Normality is slowly being restored to downtown Cairo. In a café called "Al-Horreya" (Freedom) not far from Tahrir Square, a group of young Egyptians meets the poet and journalist Alaa Khaled. He has come to Cairo from the port city of Alexandria to form his own impressions of the situation. Outside, people are sweeping the roads and pavements; piles of rubbish have accumulated over the past two weeks. Others march through the streets in an expression of their joy at the departure of Mubarak.

In the "Al-Horreya", an old man with a short white beard and traditional jellabiya is cleaning the floor in one corner, unnoticed by others. He's preparing to set up his shoe-cleaning station there again.

Foreign journalists, workers, young Egyptians and families with small children sit at the small white tables. They greet each other politely, smiling at each other upon making eye contact. The word "mabrouk", or "congratulations" is on everyone's lips; congratulations that the former dictator has at last resigned his post; congratulations for the collective effort that forced him out.

Dawn of a new era

Alaa Khaled is the publisher of an arts and culture magazine. Today, he is here to discuss the next edition with the students. He'd also like a few of them to contribute pieces to the magazine. "You should write whatever you like. Please feel completely free to do that," he tells the gathering. After years of one-party rule, his words sound like the beginning of a new era to the students. "An era in which freedom and human rights are respected," says one.

Demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square (photo: Khalid El Kaoutit)
"Stop press: The people have toppled the regime!" Anti-Mubarak demonstrators in Tahrir Square on 12 February 2011

​​22-year-old Youmna laughs as she holds up the current edition of Al-Ahram, Egypt's largest daily newspaper. Up to now, the paper was regarded as the mouthpiece of the governing NDP. On the first page, the headline reads: "The people have toppled the regime." All those present agree that this is already a sign of media freedom.

They should write about their experiences during the revolution, recommends Alaa Khaled, so that those who were killed in the fight for freedom are not forgotten. "To preserve this freedom, that's our task at this stage," says Khaled.

Those present quickly turn to the subject of the role of the military in this transitional phase. "The military must talk to all strands of the opposition movement, as well youth representatives, regardless of whether the current government remains in power or a new one is formed," says one of the young men at the table.

No fear of the military

Youmna was on Tahrir Square right from day one of the protests. She returned again and again until Mubarak announced he would be standing down. She saw how the police fired on people and saw demonstrators lying dead on the ground. She knows what the Egyptian people are capable of, she stresses, and that's why she's not afraid of Egypt becoming a military dictatorship. If the army decides to go against the will of the people, then "we'll go back onto the streets. It's as simple as that," she says, picking up her glass of tea.

Alaa Khaled shares Youmna's view. "The military should rule the country in the interim phase, so that a new constitution can be hammered out and elections organised," he says, "This is the only way to clear a path for change."

Young people celebrating the end of the Mubarak era (photo: DW)
A time to celebrate: young demonstrators celebrate the news that Hosni Mubarak is no longer their president on 11 February 2011

​​However, considering the fact that some political forces wanted to prevent a modernisation of the country, he is curious to see exactly what changes will be introduced. "There'll be some serious debate, in any case," he says. "That's what democracy is all about," responds one of those present, a woman wearing a headscarf. The others nod in agreement.

Would help from the West be welcome?

More and more people are arriving at café "Al-Horreya". Some are taking a break from the huge clean-up operation outside. A group of young girls set aside their rubber gloves and brooms as they sit down. As she does so, one calls out revolutionary slogans and cracks jokes about the deposed president, who turned down an exile offer from Germany. That would have been a great present from Chancellor Angela Merkel to Egypt, says one of the other girls. "But it's too late now. We don't expect anything of the West any more."

Alaa Khaled, on the other hand, expects the West to help the new Egypt set up a functioning democracy. "Then again this is a new era," he says. "Today the West isn't just negotiating with one man, but 80 million Egyptians." And after the elections, the West must recognise the outcome, says Khaled: "Even if the alternative is Islamist," a group he'd personally never vote for. "European governments and the US should simply continue to support us, just as they did during the Mubarak era," says one of those present. "We can certainly handle the rest on our own."

Alaa Khaled asks the young people how they see their own future in the new Egypt. "I want to get some sleep first," is Youmna's answer, before adding: "I think it's high time I fell in love and got married." Everyone laughs. This idea also appeals to the other young women. "But," one of them says, "he must have been at the demos right from the start, otherwise he doesn't stand a chance."

Khalid El Kaoutit

© Deutsche Welle 2010

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/

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