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6 Years After Mubarak, Crackdown On Dissent Continues In Egypt


In Egypt, it's the anniversary of the revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The largely peaceful protests ended 30 years of Mubarak's repression. But there is still little freedom, and few celebrate the date. NPR's Jane Arraf went to Alexandria, Egypt, and found a mother who lost her son in that uprising six years ago.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Huda Saad turns the pages of a book of martyrs, 313 of the more than 800 Egyptians killed by security forces during the revolution.

HUDA SAAD: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Her son is number 34. Ahmed Adel Ahmed al-Sayed was 18 years old. He was an assistant chef at a beachfront hotel in this Mediterranean city. For years, Egyptians had put up with oppression and poverty and police brutality.

Ahmed was one of those who went out in the streets in protest in 2011 after police beat to death another 18-year-old in Alexandria. Saad's only son was wounded when security forces opened fire on the protesters. He died in hospital.

SAAD: (Through interpreter) The officer saw him and shot him in the chest. The bullet went out of his back. The cheapest thing in Egypt is a human life.

ARRAF: Saad's apartment is up eight flights of unfinished, unlit concrete stairs. But inside, the apartment is immaculate. She and her husband used government compensation for Ahmed's killing to help fix it up.

SAAD: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Thank you.

She brightens up as she takes me into another room to show me a collage of photographs of Ahmed. He's a baby in the first. In the last, surrounded by pictures of white doves, he has his arms outstretched on the beach. Saad says the revolution had to happen, but the freedom was short lived.

SAAD: (Through interpreter) Maybe in the days of the revolution, we could talk, and we could go where we wanted. But Egypt now is a country without freedom or justice.

ARRAF: Outside, the streetcar rumbles by the historic mosque where Ahmed was protesting. The square is empty except for vendors trying to sell prayer beads and people rushing to get home. The protesters wanted fair elections, jobs, freedom of speech and an end to corruption. Most Egyptians feel they haven't gotten any of that yet.

The Islamist government elected after Mubarak was overthrown was itself toppled in 2013 after more protests and a military coup. Egypt's current president is a former general, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. His government has banned demonstrations and jailed thousands of political prisoners. Human rights groups complain his government still receives billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. and other countries.

Near Alexandria's ancient citadel, kids run along the promenade. Families and young people stroll by. There's a group of guys hanging out on the rocks. They're all second-year engineering students. I ask them if they'll celebrate.

AHMED: There's no reason to celebrate here.

ARRAF: That's Ahmed. No one wants to give his last name. His classmate Islam says the revolution was started by young people their age and then hijacked by officials. They all say no one will take the risk of demonstrating now.

HASSAN: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Down the walkway, Hassan is renting out bikes for kids. There are more Syrians on the windy beach than tourists, refugees from a war that Egyptians see as a cautionary tale. And that's another reason why there are no demonstrations. It could be worse, Hassan says. We're still better off than other countries. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Alexandria, Egypt.


Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.