National Geographic : 2012 May
• revolution only as an opportunity to grab what they want or to make wage and contract de- mands. Unlike Eastern European countries that broke free of communism, Egypt is not part of a wider region with a history of democratic prac- tice. "Arabs won't easily accept democracy," Saleh says, "partly because it is against the rule of the father in his family or the chief in his tribe. If a father says, 'Don't play,' you don't play. He is a dictator. How can you change the mentality of the Egyptian in such a short time?" Such talk of a static mentality seems cynical at best. Yet it's a recurrent theme, at least in the Egypt that exists beyond Tahrir. It's an argu- ment made by those, like Saleh, who support the ideals of the revolution but remain cautious and also by those who want to justify autocratic rule. Taken together, the doubts raise many questions: How strong and deep is Egypt's revolutionary spirit? Are we seeing one revolution with shared goals or many competing revolutions? Is it pos- sible that Egypt will revert to strongman rule--- initially less corrupt than Mubarak's nal years and with some super cial freedoms, but funda- mentally the same? AN ISLAMIST VISION Mohammed Nasser, a young man I met in Tahrir at the height of the protests, in February 2011, is a Sala st, one of those who see the early gen- erations of the Prophet Muhammad's followers, the salaf (forefathers), as representing a golden era that should be emulated. ( e Sala sts did surprisingly well in Egypt's 2011-12 parliamen- tary elections, winning nearly 25 percent of the seats.) Nasser has a long, wispy beard, a shaved upper lip in the manner common among the Sala sts, and gentle eyes. When I rst met him, he was an unemployed university graduate with a wife and newborn child. He had traveled to Cairo without enough money for the return fare and subsisted there for many days largely on bread and dates. When I call him on his cell phone months later, Nasser says I'm welcome to visit him at his home in the Nile Delta near Zagazig. Khaled and I arrive bearing bags of fresh fruit, and at rst Nasser wants me to put them back in the car, saying he can't accept such a gi . He relents, then invites us into the sitting room of his small apartment. Nasser's wife, who in public wears the billowing black dress and full veil called the niqab, never appears from the kitchen. She doesn't see men in her home who are not part of her family, and when she has female guests over, "THE POLITICAL LIFE IN EGYPT HAS NOT CHANGED ENOUGH TO SAY MUBARAK WILL BE THE LAST PHARAOH. WE'RE ON THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY, BUT WE'RE STILL NOT THERE." AHMED SALEH the men in the apartment must retreat to other places. We are joined by Nasser's brother-in-law, a bearded English teacher named Abdel Halim Gamal Eddin. Nasser asks if I'd be more comfortable eating from the co ee table or seated on the carpeted oor, which is customary. I opt for the oor. e food is placed between us: tender beef, which we pull from the bone with our ngers, as well as rice, soup, and fatta, an Egyptian casserole of toasted bread and vegetables cooked in meat stock. When Nasser thinks I am not taking enough meat, he hands me a chunk and insists I take more. I ask whether the revolution has yet had any impact, good or bad, on Nasser's circum- stances. Despite a university degree, Nasser has never landed a salaried job. He earns about 500 pounds ($83) a month laying oor tile. Like so many other Egyptians, he is part of the country's vast informal economy, employed day to day, depending on the availability of work. But he didn't participate in Tahrir because he was frus- trated by his financial prospects, he says. "It wasn't a revolution of the poor. It was a revolu- tion against injustice."