Elsewhere in the city, in an apartment in Janklis District, Ahmad Galal, a fine arts student, sits with his friend, Mustafa Sakr, a commerce student, and helps a colleague with her sketching. A revolutionary socialist, he reflects the views of many more liberal activists in Egypt today.
“It’s a mess,” he said.
Asked who he believed was responsible for the killings last week, he said: “Of course it was the military.”
He believes both the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have “played dirty” during the hoped-for transition to civilian rule, directing most of his contempt at a Brotherhood he believes has done deals with the generals.
“I must say I’m not optimistic, but I think the elections will take place as planned. People had huge hopes and nothing has come of it,” he said.
In Alexandria, I talked to nationalists, the Brotherhood and even a human rights activist with a lingering respect for Mubarak — although she was quick to insist that she opposed him.
Perhaps what was most striking in these conversations was not the different accusations leveled by all sides — sometimes fantastical, sometimes only too credible — but how, in 14 months of revolution, Egypt’s politics has become contaminated with an all-pervading sense of distrust. It is precisely this, many Egyptians say, that has been the military’s intention — to spread distrust and division and deliberately foster the sense of crisis predicted by Mubarak himself not long before his fall — that what would follow him is “chaos.”
Whether you believe that claim or not — and there appears to be some evidence for it — something else important has changed since Mubarak’s fall. The revolutionary spaces in Cairo in particular, such as Tahrir Square, have not remained above the factionalizing influence of politics.
Friday’s demonstration in Tahrir seemed more like a Brotherhood rally rather than a protest against the midweek deaths at the defense ministry, designed to rebuild the party’s standing in face of the accusations leveled against it, and to show — as someone said to me — that it “stands with the people.”
Every other baseball cap bore the Brotherhood’s crest — as did green-paper solar pith helmets and plastic badges bearing the image of Morsi. In the square, Midhat Ramadan, a secondary school teacher from Mansour, said that in not confronting the violence against protesters late last year, his movement made a mistake that might have damaged its standing.
“Yes. It was wrong for us to remain silent. We had to change tactics — which is why we have come to the square again,” he said.
It is a reflection both of the new weakness afflicting a Brotherhood that not so many months ago appeared unstoppable, and the new uncertainties afflicting Egypt’s politics. Whatever happens in the next three weeks and in the months that follow, Ahmad Galal is right. It will be very messy.