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Three Years after Revolution, Egypt Still Divided

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January 22, 2014

The revolution that ousted Egypt's Hosni Mubarak after decades in power began with a large protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square, on Jan. 25, 2011. Three years later, the landscape looks, to many people, not much different.

Mubarak is no longer the leader of the country. He stepped down as president on Feb. 11, 2011, and is in a military hospital, awaiting a retrial, his ill health a constant reminder of his advanced years. He is 86.

The protests that overpowered Mubarak's influence were largely driven by a combination of Islamists, like the members of the long-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and unaffiliated youths, who saw an opportunity to change their country's political landscape in the wake of related revolutions in neighboring countries, notably Tunisia. Both the Brotherhood and large amounts of the country's otherwise affiliated young voters approved of the country's 2012 constitution and subsequent election of Mohamed Morsi as President and of an Islamist majority in Parliament. But the judiciary, filled with Mubarak appointments, has been a powerful check on the expansion of the Islamist agenda.

Egyptians, young and old, tired of Morsi's inability to solve the country's problems and ended up supporting the army action that included the dissolving of Parliament and the removal of Morsi as leader of the country. Support for the army's actions, notably those of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has been widespread among the general population but not among the Brotherhood or other Islamist organizations. The interim government, led by interim President Adly Mansour, has tacitly approved of a large-scale crackdown on the Brotherhood; the crackdown has resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of arrests. Morsi himself awaits charges in three separate trials.

Now that a new consitution has been approved, the political landscape shifts to presidential and parliamentary elections. Sisi is widely expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency, and that election is expected to take place first, followed by parliamentary elections.

One key element of discord remains, across most of the population, however, and that is a recent law outlawing unapproved political protests. The youth movement that supported the ouster of Mubarak also supported the outster of Morsi but has voiced considerable alarm at the protest law.

Large numbers of young voters refused to cast their ballots in the two-day referendum. The constitution was overwhelmingly approved by the people who did vote, but that was only 38.6 percent of the nearly 53 million voters. Election officials said that the low turnout among young voters was because of a clash with exams. Youth leaders say otherwise, especially in the wake of the arrest of many prominent youth leaders for violating the protest law. Even during the referendum, people gathered to voice dissent for the draft constitution, which includes protections for freedom of speech and political association, were ordered to leave or were arrested. People who have taken to social media to criticize the judiciary have found themselves facing charges of the same "insulting the judiciary" charge for which Morsi will soon stand trial.

The new constitution does more to protect the rights of women and religious minorities (most notably, Coptic Christians), two clear contrasts with the Islamist-approved constitution that Morsi oversaw, but the protest law is a clear sign of worry for a large part of the population, as are the parts of the constitution that give the military a large role in its own oversight.

For many observers, the landscape has changed fundamentally; for others, some things are still prohibited.

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