The Final Betrayal of Egypt’s Revolution

The democratic revolution in Tahrir Square awakened high hopes in Egyptians. Two years later, it ended in blood and tears.

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176544367 cropped 2

Thanassis Cambanis’s new book, Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story, follows the paths of two Egyptian activists who played prominent roles in organizing President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall four years ago this week. One is Moaz, religious but free-spirited, who grew up in the Muslim Brotherhood but firmly believed in Egypt’s future as a pluralistic and secular state. The other, Basem, is a middle-aged architect whose political awakening began in Tahrir Square.

Thanassis Cambanis’s new book, Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story, follows the paths of two Egyptian activists who played prominent roles in organizing President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall four years ago this week. One is Moaz, religious but free-spirited, who grew up in the Muslim Brotherhood but firmly believed in Egypt’s future as a pluralistic and secular state. The other, Basem, is a middle-aged architect whose political awakening began in Tahrir Square.

Ultimately the revolution brought Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi to the presidency. Though democratically elected, he soon proved arrogant and inept, prompting widespread discontent. This excerpt, which takes place in the summer of 2013, describes the moment when a broadly supported coup swept him out of power — and betrayed the promise of the revolution.

On June 30 anti-Morsi demonstrators clogged every major square in Egypt. The military made absurd claims that twenty million or even thirty million had joined the protests, a number that would have been physically impossible. But the Tammarod protest was the largest ever in Egypt, larger even than the Tahrir Square demonstrations that had toppled President Mubarak. Almost every demographic was represented, including some Salafis and religious folk who had voted for Morsi before turn­ing against him. There were tried-and-true revolutionary youth who had braved the regime’s bullets, and there were veteran reactionaries who had never displayed a trace of sympathy for the uprising. The crowds were ju­bilant and diverse, and included vast numbers of government employees and first-time demonstrators from the lower, middle, and upper classes. Revolutionary protest mania had finally reached even the pro-stability crowd and the felool [supporters of the old regime –Ed.]. Women in bouffant hairdos and pricey jewelry joined their husbands and children to demand the fall of Morsi. Some of them had complained about past protests disrupting traffic and busi­ness, but this time they were willing to make an exception. Unlike the ragtag, improvised protests of the past, Tammarod had high production values, thanks to its well-heeled backers. Everywhere were glossy signs that read “Irhal!” in Arabic and “Go Out!” in English. Military helicopters flew overhead, dumping flags on the people. Green laser pointers flickered everywhere. Men kissed policemen and danced in circles around them, welcoming them back into the fold.

Again and again when I asked people what they hoped for, I heard the same refrains: “We have to ask the army to intervene.” “The Muslim Brotherhood is brainwashed; it is not part of Egypt.” “Morsi is an idiot. Morsi is a criminal.” Several told me they hoped the Brotherhood would be outlawed once again. The demands were almost careless. “I don’t care who will lead the country. We just want Morsi to leave,” said a lady in a fine tailored dress, sipping tea on a terrace near the presidential palace on a break from chanting. Many of the first-time protesters who joined Tammarod sounded remarkably similar to the felool supporters of the Horreya Party whose revival I had attended nearly two years earlier. A po­lice officer, his white uniform freshly starched, announced that as soon as the Brotherhood was banished from the palace, the police would finally start doing their jobs again. “We can reestablish security overnight,” he said with a grin.

Basem led a march of thousands from his old parliamentary office in Shoubra to the Ittihadiya Palace. “God willing, we will liberate Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood’s occupation!” he shouted, as if Morsi and his cohorts were foreign invaders. He didn’t mind that elements of the old regime, along with the army and the police, were overtly backing the June 30 protests. To Basem, that only highlighted the justice of this latest popular revolt: it had animated the powerful and the armed and the privileged as well as the disenfranchised and dispossessed. Moaz approached the edges of the protest to get a sense of its size and composition. He saw thousands of regular people, but he also saw among them the police and bureaucrats of the old regime. A knot tightened in his stomach.

Egypt under Morsi had reached an impasse. Some of the millions who filled the streets on June 30, 2013, believed they were continuing a popular revolution that had begun two and a half years earlier. Most of them didn’t see any legal or constitutional way to thwart Morsi’s bud­ding repression and religious dictatorship. And those who could imagine other ways to challenge the despot didn’t think it was worth waiting. Basem, for instance, had come to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood was incapable of respecting freedom, the law, and anyone who opposed its project to transform Egypt into a backward caliphate. He thought any delay in stopping the Brothers could be fatal for secular Egyptian de­mocracy. Tammarod dangerously twinned two inaccurate dictums from Egypt’s revolutionary period: that vast crowds outweighed the authority of a ruler, and that the people’s will would restrain the military from resuming the history of abuse and incompetence that had continuously characterized its role in Egyptian life since 1952.

The next day, July 1, the defense minister issued an ultimatum to President Morsi: Address the demands of the protesters, or else the mili­tary would issue a road map for a “transition to democracy.” The ultima­tum didn’t come from the young Tammarod leaders or from the civilian politicians on the June 30 Committee. It came from General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who theo­retically served at the pleasure of the elected president to whom he was giving forty-eight hours notice. Until now the general had been almost a complete unknown, but now he appeared on television in oversized aviator sunglasses, looking every bit the military strongman. Basem was euphoric. He believed that el-Sisi and the other generals were bowing to the will of the crowds on the street. It never occurred to him that the military might have promoted the Tammarod protests behind the scenes in order to step into the breach and assume direct power once more.

The Brothers had initiated their own counterprotest at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Nasr City, a quiet neighborhood of middle-class gov­ernment employees that wasn’t a natural Brotherhood stronghold. The men and women in Rabaa were incredulous. They supported a leader who, for all his shortcomings, was the country’s legally elected civilian president, a man who had been in power for only a year, and who had contended the entire time with obstruction or outright rebellion from the most important branches of the government that he supposedly di­rected. Morsi’s supporters reflected the president’s cloistered worldview. They saw none of the Brotherhood’s guilt, only the hypocrisy of its crit­ics. They didn’t recognize or acknowledge that the Brotherhood had trampled on pluralism, ignored the rights of secular Egyptians, and also displayed contempt for justice, accountability, and rule of law. Now, as the confrontation climaxed, they also hinted at violence.

“There will be an Islamic revolution,” a man from the Gamaa Islamiya told me. He was a forty-nine-year-old construction worker named Taha Sayed Ali, wearing a hard hat and carrying a wooden pole. “I am not here for Morsi, I am here for legitimacy,” he said. “If they threaten our legitimacy, everybody will pay.”

Everyone was waiting for Morsi’s response. As soon as General el-Sisi had imposed a deadline, Moaz understood that a military coup was under way. He saw only one way out: for Morsi to fire the insubordinate defense minister but at the same time admit his own mistakes and resign, effective once a new parliament was seated. But he knew firsthand the arrogance of the Brothers. He spent the day phoning every Brotherhood official he knew.

“What’s your plan?” he asked. “Your time in power is finished. Find a way to avert a coup.”

“God is with us,” one assured him. “Things will be fine.”

After midnight, Morsi finally came on television. He rasped and ranted and shouted about his legitimacy. He didn’t relent an inch. It was the speech of a man who planned to go down fighting. It was a speech that comforted the men and women in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square who expected martyrdom. Moaz watched at a Brotherhood hospital with one of Morsi’s advisers.

“It’s all over,” the adviser said. “There might have been a way out, but not after this speech.”

“You know how a chicken keeps running around after you cut off its head?” Moaz remarked. “Morsi is like that.”

After that, the coup proceeded clinically. The deadline passed, and Morsi had not stepped aside, so the military took charge. Soldiers ar­rested the president and took him to the presidential guard barracks. One by one, senior Brotherhood leaders were also taken into custody. Brotherhood television stations went off the air. Late in the afternoon of Wednesday, July 3, el-Sisi appeared on television, in uniform, sedately presenting his road map, flanked by leaders who should have had every reason to stand against the military and for the revolution: the Coptic pope, the sheikh of Al-Azhar [a prominent Sunni mosque and university –Ed.], and Mohamed ElBaradei. The top judge from the Supreme Constitutional Court would serve as a figurehead in­terim president. A new constitution would be written, and then a parlia­ment and president elected. It was the original order of operations that ElBaradei had sought after January 25, along with Basem, Moaz, and many other activists. This time it came with a military guarantee that religious forces would be kept in check.

The Tammarod crowd went wild. Fireworks, screaming, dancing, mob euphoria. Hundreds of green laser pointers followed the choppers overhead, draping them in an eerie green glow. At the moment of the coup, only a few Morsi critics still had the presence of mind to realize that a crime had been committed against democracy in the name of revo­lution, and the vast majority of them were ex-Islamists. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the ex-Brother and presidential candidate, had supported Tammarod but instantly decried military rule, in any form. So did the young ex-Brothers in al-Tayyar al-Masry [a more liberal political party, formed by an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing -Ed.]. And so did Moaz. Perhaps their history made them sympathetic to the Islamist movement they had left, or perhaps their religious convictions reminded them to concentrate on the injustice in play. But their voices were lonely. Around them Egypt celebrated, while the deep state swiftly encircled the Brotherhood and began to dismantle it.

The next day, Basem strolled down Shoubra’s central avenue. Every­where there were victory parties in the street. Ultras beat oversized drums and sang football songs. Men and women stopped Basem to kiss him or shake his hand. His phone rang nonstop with calls from well-wishers. There were no speeches, and it was a few days before the street would be plastered with banners of el-Sisi beside his model: Nasser.

Only one man in the entire crowd wasn’t grinning. I’d seen him be­fore; he was one of the activists at Tahrir who had gradually drifted away from the scene. “Don’t celebrate too much,” he muttered in the direction of the celebrants, although only I could hear him. “This scar on my face: I got it from the SCAF, during the cabinet clashes. I don’t forget.”

A woman stopped Basem and gripped his elbow. “Thank God the Brotherhood is gone,” she said. She told him she looked forward to vot­ing for him again the next time he ran for parliament.

“Thank you,” Basem said. He smiled. “Long live Egypt.”

Basem didn’t think it was right to pursue all members of the Brother­hood and all its media outlets; he thought it would be enough to arrest those who had committed crimes. “We must do everything according to the law,” he cautioned his constituents.

“What do you think?” he asked, turning to me. “Was it a revolution, what happened on June 30, or was it a coup?”

“Whether you support or not, it’s a coup,” I said. “There can’t be any debate about that.” I was wrong; the semantic debate raged for months, be­cause supporters of el-Sisi and the military’s status as final arbiter couldn’t countenance the unvarnished truth that military rule was inimical to de­mocracy. So they had to hide it in circumlocutions. Basem didn’t mind one silly term that was making the rounds: “popularly legitimate coup.”

“It’s a revolution, not a coup,” Basem replied. “The military didn’t remove him. The people asked Morsi to go, and he said no. Only Morsi’s people think it’s a coup. He lost his legitimacy.”

He explained that legitimacy came from the people and could be passed like a baton. The people had withdrawn this coveted legitimacy from Morsi, Basem went on, and had bestowed it upon the June 30 Revolution. “We have returned to square zero of our revolution, to start it again in the right way.”

“What about the Islamists?” I asked.

“If we make a new country without including them in the system, it will be a great way to make sure this country collapses,” Basem said. He was sure the Muslim Brotherhood would be integrated into the new system, one way or another

“Aren’t you worried about the military’s power?” I asked. “You saw what they did the last time.”

“They’ve had this power the whole time,” Basem said. “We need a long time to change the mentality of the military and the people.”

“How can you trust the military now?” I asked.

“There is no guarantee,” Basem answered with his habitual ambiguity. “The guarantee is the people. El-Sisi said he will not enter politics or take charge. People learned very well the lesson from the SCAF the first time. We will be in the streets again if el-Sisi tries to take charge.”

He turned out to be right. A few weeks later, when the general de­cided that he did, in fact, want to run Egypt, people flooded the streets. But they didn’t come out to oppose him; they wanted to say thank you.

Now there was a sad echo of the days of Tahrir in the people’s lockstep unanimity. All Egypt spoke in one voice about restoration, thanking el-Sisi and the great military in ever more hysterical and fawning tones. Private television and newspapers followed the script set by state media. El-Sisi had instantaneously been crowned the savior, and every guest on every show implored the general to do the nation a favor and deign to serve as its next president. Only in one isolated square, behind barricades, did supporters of the Brotherhood maintain a world apart, preparing for martyrdom in the name of legitimacy.

“If Sisi has an army, Morsi has an army too,” warned a burly professor of statistics. “We will apply legitimacy even if it is with our own blood. We will not move even if we are killed here.”

“They are brainwashed,” a man beside the professor added. “They believe everything they hear on state media.”

He was right that the anti-Morsi mania sounded like the bleating of brainwashed fools, but so did the menacing rhetoric in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Uncritical adulation of the army was just as bad as uncritical adulation of the Brotherhood.

“We’ll never believe in democracy again,” the man went on, as if the abridgement of democracy rendered democracy itself repugnant. Would he blame God if someone blasphemed? I didn’t get the impression that he or many of the other men and women in Rabaa Square had ever really supported democracy that much in the first place. They were glad when the Brotherhood won power, but they displayed only the shallowest com­mitment to elections as a path to authority. They summarily dispensed with everything that actually made democracy.

The day after el-Sisi took power, Moaz visited Rabaa and its sister sit-in across town at Nahda Square for the first time. He found his old com­rades struggling to accept their precipitous fall from grace. At the square, Moaz saw the man who had presided over his expulsion hearings from the Brotherhood. Setting aside his own feelings, Moaz hugged him. The man had spent four years in prison under Mubarak, but until a few days before had been a senior adviser to the minister of health. That morning, his colleagues at the ministry had taunted him.

“Pack your bags,” they hooted. “You’re going back to prison.”

That day, a few dozen Brotherhood supporters were killed in clashes with the army at Rabaa and Nahda Squares. There wasn’t much room for maneuvering between the absolutes of the Islamists and the military. Basem’s concern with the law, and Moaz’s with civilian rule and democ­racy, were secondary niceties in this struggle. Few others cared. Ceaseless patter on TV, in newspapers, from the mouths of generals and business­men and politicians, had intensified fear. The prospect of anarchy was real. You could feel it in the snaking fuel lines, in the wild-eyed threats of the clerics, in the screaming dirges at the funerals of martyrs killed by police or in clashes between Islamist and secular protesters. The simple reactionary slogan “Stability or chaos?” spoke to a universal yearning. No one wanted to live in transition forever. Even the revolutionaries hoped that now, after two and a half years of tribulations, Egypt would be en­joying stability as well as democracy. On July 8 more than fifty Brother­hood supporters were massacred by the army outside the presidential guard barracks, where they had demanded Morsi’s release.

Now that they were on the defensive, the Brotherhood was willing at least tepidly to accept sympathy from those it had rejected. Moaz was invited onto the stage at Rabaa al-Adawiya, where he admonished the Brothers in the audience to back away from their impossible demands and seek common ground with the supporters of el-Sisi.

“People were right to protest against Morsi, because he failed. Protest is a right we won in the revolution,” Moaz said.

The crowd booed. “Don’t call him Morsi, call him President Morsi!”

Moaz continued. “You carry the historical responsibility to resolve this problem and avoid leading our country into hell.”

Afterward, he met with some of the Brothers’ top strategists, Mo­hamed el-Beltagy and the former minister of youth, Osama Yassin. “You need a new strategy,” Moaz told them. “You need to apologize to the people and clearly say that Morsi failed. You need to say that you made many mistakes and that you will work to correct those mistakes.”

Even deposed and on the run, the Brothers found it difficult to com­prehend their own responsibility for their failure. “I will take your mes­sage back to the leaders,” el-Beltagy said. “It’s worth discussing.”

Extremism was flourishing in the ranks. An old friend of Moaz’s hec­tored him. “How dare you criticize Morsi in public!” he shouted.

“You’re making a huge mistake,” Moaz said. “You should support Egypt and democracy, not Morsi.”

Each time there were clashes, the media portrayed them as Mus­lim Brotherhood terrorism or aggression against the armed forces, even though it was usually soldiers murdering unarmed Islamist civilians. At­titudes hardened. Basem blamed the continuing deaths on the intransi­gence and fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s leaders ordered their followers into clashes with the military that were certain to be fatal. Even if Basem had once fought for the Brotherhood’s legal right to continue nonviolent protests, he now felt that the Brothers were mis­using protest in an effort to drive their base into a frenzy and the nation to civil war. “They are just a mob whose goal is to occupy the country,” Basem said. “The strict security solution is the only solution.”

El-Sisi crudely stoked the fear and nationalist frenzy. He asked for a “popular mandate” to fight terrorism, in the form of mass demonstra­tions on July 26. Millions heeded the call, many of them carrying ban­ners imploring the general to run for president. “Finish your good deed!” they proclaimed. Right after the July 26 “Mandate Day” demonstrations, el-Sisi’s army tested the political tolerance for casualties, confident that the general’s public reputation was now unassailable. Soldiers made a few probing attacks on Rabaa Square, killing between 70 and 130 people. Most Egyptians cheered el-Sisi’s resolve, opening the way for a massive bloodletting.

There were some final efforts to avert catastrophe. Diplomats from the United States, the European Union, and some Gulf monarchies sponsored talks between the government and the Brotherhood to find a peaceful solution. Inside the Egyptian cabinet, ElBaradei and the deputy prime minister pushed for a political compromise rather than a violent clearing of the sit-ins. But by early August, the hard-liners had won out, and the transitional government ceased any more talk of reconciliation. Instead, the government began describing Rabaa as a den of violent ter­rorists bent on overthrowing the state. Egypt wouldn’t ignore the protest or negotiate with its leaders, but would treat it as an insurgency and fight with full force.

A few days after the end of Ramadan, on August 14, the police and army closed in again on Rabaa Square. For days, el-Sisi’s government had talked of the need to clear the Brotherhood protests once and for all. The sun had not yet risen when officers drove directly into the sit-in with armored bulldozers and began firing into the crowd with tear gas, birdshot, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. The death toll was staggering and indiscriminate: children, teenage boys and girls, and the elderly fell alongside the adult men trying to protect the sit-in with their futile wooden clubs. The military had shown before that it knew how to clear a protest without killing; this time it put the police in the forefront and pursued tactics that maximized the death toll. It wanted more than to merely end the Rabaa sit-in, the final vestige of the Brotherhood’s elec­toral success; it wanted vengeance and to break the Brotherhood.

Moaz’s father pleaded with him to come home. At every major protest or massacre, Moaz had worked in the clinic treating wounded protest­ers. His political ventures didn’t always work out, but his expertise in the combat-like conditions of protest hospitals was indisputable. He had no intention of staying away from Rabaa while hundreds of people were being gunned down.

“You weren’t killed on January 25,” his father said. “You will be killed today.”

“We are trying to solve problems,” Moaz said. “You should support me.”

Rabaa was awash in blood. Tanks blocked all the main thoroughfares, but people could escape through small alleys. At the same time, the army swept through the other, smaller Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Nahda Square on the other side of the Nile. Pro-Sisi plainclothes thugs, work­ing with the police, erected checkpoints all over the city to harass anyone who looked like a Brotherhood supporter. Scattered gunshots echoed all over Cairo, even far from Rabaa and Nahda Squares.

In the wake of these massacres, Moaz felt his last hope slip away. He railed aloud against its perpetrators. “What do you think the families of the people you killed will do? Don’t you think they will kill your families? You are writing your own future. No matter how many times you hit the people, it won’t solve the problem.”

People screamed and ran away from the gas and bullets. Some took refuge in the nearby apartment buildings, hiding in garages. Moaz loaded the wounded into his car and ferried them to hospitals. One man bled to death in Moaz’s backseat. Around Rabaa Square, it seemed like ev­erything was on fire, including the field hospital. Soldiers weren’t let­ting anyone pass, even medical volunteers like Moaz. Almost twenty-four hours after they began, soldiers and police were still shooting stragglers in Rabaa. Exhausted, Moaz was crying as he drove. He could smell blood on the street. He tried to return once more to the center of Rabaa, where he knew a wounded man was trapped in a building that had once served as the sit-in’s clinic. So far, he had successfully passed through checkpoints with his pharmacist ID. A soldier pointed his rifle at Moaz and forced him from his car.

“What are you doing in a military area?”

“I am a pharmacist,” Moaz told his interrogator. “My job is to help people.”

“Go to the Iman Mosque,” the officer said. “That’s where all bodies are. We will let you pass this time, but if you appear again, there’s no say­ing what might happen to you.”

“But there’s a man in a building in Rabaa, and he has phoned me for help,” Moaz pleaded.

“No one here is alive,” the officer snapped. “Everyone is dead. If any­one is still alive, he will be dead within an hour.”

Moaz gave up and joined the effort in the Iman Mosque to identify the hundreds of corpses. The military soon attacked even there, arrest­ing the family members who had come to claim their dead. The military was sending a clear message: it would do anything, even disrespect the most basic Islamic funeral rites, to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood. The government stopped counting the dead after the number exceeded seven hundred. The Brothers estimated that more than a thousand people were killed that day, including many children of senior Brotherhood leaders, apparently singled out by snipers. Many leaders were caught, but a few escaped the country or found hiding places. From there they delivered menacing threats. Now, they vowed, Egypt would burn.

The massacre at Rabaa would be the pivotal litmus test that separated the masses praising el-Sisi from the small community of Egyptians who decried any abuse of human beings. Some activists, such as Ahmed Maher from the April 6 Movement, had been relatively quiet about the mili­tary’s return to power in July but reacted swiftly to condemn the crime of Rabaa. Mohamed ElBaradei belatedly developed a conscience. In the wake of the violence at Rabaa, he resigned from the post of vice president that he had held for just a month. For his act of decency, ElBaradei was investigated for the criminal offense of “breaching the national trust.” In­stead of staying to challenge the increasingly fascist political atmosphere, ElBaradei chose exile. He had taken a lead role as a political enabler of el-Sisi’s rise, but he was not alone. The Social Democratic Party, the cho­sen home for many of the secular revolutionaries, wholeheartedly cast its lot with the military. Dr. Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, the leader of the Social Democrats, busily defended the massacre on television as a neces­sary evil. Ziad Bahaa el-Din, considered one of the smartest members of the party, had accepted a position as deputy prime minister in the transi­tional government and used his position to reassure foreign governments and Egyptian liberals that there was no reason to fear the military men in charge. These were the most liberal members of the mainstream political elite; their embrace of the coup and massacres paved the way for public opinion to follow.

Like many secular or liberal Egyptians, Basem was willing to blame the Brotherhood for the massacre in which so many of its members per­ished, especially when in the aftermath the Brotherhood appeared to en­dorse a jihadist insurgency in retribution. “Everyone now knows that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organization,” Basem said. “There can be no more talk about reconciliation.”

For five days, Moaz had been living out of his car, driving from mas­sacre, to clinic, to mosque, arranging clandestine meetings with friends who were on their way to prison or hoping to sneak across the border to exile. Thugs had beaten him and ripped his clothes. He was wearing a red tracksuit he had bought from a street vendor. On Saturday evening, he was stopped at yet another checkpoint, down the street from Basem’s parliamentary office in Shoubra. He shuddered with fear that he would be recognized. Suddenly Moaz realized that his time was up. He had to leave Egypt. He made it through and finally drove home. There he found his mother crying. She hadn’t seen him in almost a week.

“I was worried,” she said.

“I had no problems,” he said. “I was just keeping my friends company.”

“You’re lying,” his mother said, holding him tight. Without discussing any of the details, they agreed it was wise for him to leave the country— and to sleep in his car, far from his family, until his departure. State Se­curity knew the house on Sudan Street. On August 22, Moaz’s brothers drove him to the airport. Moaz knew, thanks to a sympathetic contact in the government, that he had not yet been placed on the no-fly list. He had packed a duffel bag with his most important tools: multiple laptops and tablet computers, a stack of external hard drives, and a bag of smartphones. The route to the airport took them past the sites of all the revolution’s triumphs and massacres. They passed the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, where so many promising revolutionary marches had begun. From an overpass, they looked down on Tahrir Square, and then a mo­ment later the Coptic Hospital and the road to the Coptic Cathedral and Ministry of Defense, where revolutionary promise had first lapsed into sectarian murder. Then the airport road passed through Nasr City, near Rabaa Square and directly in front of the presidential guard bar­racks, where Egypt’s faltering experiment with democracy had plunged to a bloody halt.

“We are living a bad dream,” Moaz said to his younger brother Bilal. Moaz was headed to Istanbul, Turkey, where he had no friends, no job, and didn’t know the language. “Where am I going?”

“For now, just focus on getting out,” Bilal said.

The security officer at the airport recognized Moaz and questioned him for an hour, but his papers were in order. As much as the officer didn’t like Moaz, he had to let him go.

Within weeks, he was joined by dozens of acquaintances and former Brotherhood comrades. Ayyash, a former web guru for the Brotherhood, also managed to slip past airport security and fly to Istanbul, where, despite his now tense relations with the movement, he took a job with a Brotherhood-linked website. He worked as well on medical relief for Syrian refugees and also applied to master’s programs, still mindful of his dream of working as a presidential adviser.

“This is our life now,” Ayyash told me over Skype. “We will wait for another chance.”

From ONCE UPON A REVOLUTION by Thanassis Cambanis. Copyright © 2015 by Thanassis Cambanis. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Ed Giles/Getty Images

Thanassis Cambanis, author of Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story and A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel, is a fellow at the Century Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @tcambanis. Twitter: @tcambanis

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