It's an experience you don't forget watching a state beat up your friend on the internet. Five years ago, a few days after Egypt's Day of Rage on January 28, 2011, I saw a picture of her on Facebook with a gashed eye and blood dripping down her face. There was a look in her eyes that said: my country, that I love, did this to me. She looked stunned and shattered and very, very emotional. She had never protested before in her life and she had been in Tahrir Square taking to the streets alongside tens of thousands of other Egyptians because she felt it was time to take a stand against a fraternity of wealth accumulating despots with torturous tendencies that didn't seem to respect the people they ruled.
Just over two weeks later I would see photos of her and other people I knew elated in Tahrir Square after the Molotov cocktails and rubber bullets were over and President Mubarak had stepped down. A moment when it looked like the people had won and to a new generation of revolutionaries around the world, that revolutions were quick and straight forward numbers games where 'people power' would eventually trounce an intimidated state.
This euphoria soon evaporated though to reveal the musical chairs underway as although the President had resigned, his regime remained largely intact. His democratically elected successor President Morsi was removed a year into his term by the military in 2013, and Mubarak's former Director of Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance, and the former chief of Egypt's military, Abdul Fateh al-Sisi, was un-democratically elected as Egypt's next President a year later.
So in the five years since the revolution, where is my friend now? Well she's not in Egypt. Virtually none of my Egyptian friends are in Egypt. Fortunate in their levels of education, they are scattered across the Gulf, in the States, in Western Europe. Only some brave activists I know and a handful of others remain, along with the millions of other Egyptians who did not have access to good educations and for who the status quo has not changed.
The question is why has my friend left? A snap shot of just the last few days in Egypt will tell you the answer. In the run up to the anniversary of the revolution the Egyptian state has conducted massive raids and arrests of activists in the toughest security crackdown in Egypt's history'; 5,000 apartments in downtown Cairo were raided, cultural spaces have been closed, and administrators of Facebook pages arrested and accused of being members of banned political organization the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since President Sisi entered into power, scores of youth activists and people associated with NGOs and political groups have been travel banned. There have been mass arrests and long periods of pre-trial detention, and a quick look on twitter for #humanrights #Egypt will reveal quite how many trending hashtags there are for imprisoned activists - #FreeAlaa #FreeShawkan #FreeMahmoud to name a few.
547 death sentences have been handed down for political violence or activities, many to Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and as of the end of 2015, Egypt was the second largest jailor of journalists in the world after China.
In addition to this restrictive security environment, 26% of youths are unemployed and 51% are experiencing poverty. Protests taking place last November by a group of unemployed PhD and MA holders in Cairo, along with large number of Egyptian medical professionals seeking employment in Europe and elsewhere due to the collapsing state of the Egyptian healthcare system, would seem to confirm that there are few real opportunities at home.
It is therefore no real surprise that the number of Egyptians leaving the country increased by 17% in a year. These factors mean that the situation is worse in Egypt than it was during Mubarak's era and that the country is now more of a police state than it ever was before. It means that with the benefit of hindsight, we see real revolutions are not quick to achieve, and that it is not enough to simply knock the top of a regime off his perch. The foundations of that regime need to be dug up also if there is to be lasting change.
So where today is the massive rage on Egypt's streets that we saw five years ago? The answer is simple, in this frightening security environment, the people have hardly the air to breathe let alone shout.
At such an unhappy time, there might be some solace to Egypt's protestors in knowing that they were the best versions of themselves for a luminous moment that inspired the planet with the idea of what it could be, and that history will record the protestors as infinitely greater and braver than the people that ruled them before and, unfortunately, since.