They are typical of the young Egyptians who led the charge against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and who, today, are scratching their heads wondering what happened to their people-power revolution.
Someya Adel Torky, 25, sports multi-coloured Converse All-Stars below a plain grey robe and hijab. The running shoes and her attractive young face are what stands out when you meet her – intentionally so, I’d say. She was number three on the electoral list of The Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA) and she was running hard to win. She didn’t. Her RCA took a shellacking in the first round of regional voting as the Islamist parties dominated, leaving the young liberals out in the cold.
Previously, Ms. Torky herself had been active in the Muslim Brotherhood, at least in its sisterhood side. She and other young members left the movement to form the Egyptian Current Party, a more liberal Islamist organization, and quickly joined other new liberal parties in the RCA.
Running for office turned out to be a lot harder than being a political activist.
“Protesting was all I knew,” she said in an interview in her party’s modest digs in a run-down office building near the train station in Sidi Gaber, an Alexandria suburb. “For five years I blogged everywhere I could; I participated in every protest I heard about – anything to overthrow Mubarak.”
Unlike many activists, Ms. Torky threw herself into politics once the Egyptian president was ousted, with little electoral success. With a straight face she mused that is better to win a place in people’s hearts than a place in parliament.
Wael Sayed el-Ahl, 33, owns a computer servicing business in the affluent Cairo suburb of Maadi, and makes documentary films on the side. He too had been active in the movement that started about five years ago to protest rigged elections and police brutality.
He was gassed and shot in the January 28 battle for Tahrir Square, earlier this year. Indeed, he was part of the group that repeatedly ran against the wall of riot police that had barred them from a bridge over the Nile, only to be repeatedly driven back by beatings and dense clouds of tear gas.
How did the all the effort and bravery amount to so little in the sought-after elections that followed?
“There was no follow-through,” Mr. el-Ahl says over coffee in his local Maadi hangout. “The truth is, we never expected Mubarak to fall.”
“We were a protest movement, not a political party,” he admits, “and didn’t know what to do.”
Considering the enormous consequences of these young people’s actions, it’s a serious admission to make.
But it’s not as if these young people ever held themselves out to be more than they were.
Mohamed Gamal, 31, was one of Egypt’s pre-eminent bloggers, who went by the handle “Gemyhood.” He was among the first group of activist bloggers to organize themselves. They were the first to use Twitter and Facebook to spread the word against Mr. Mubarak.
On the eve of the pivotal January 28 Day of Rage, he explained to me in an interview that theirs was “not a political movement.” It was “people power, unaffiliated people power” – that’s all.
He acknowledged that their goal had started out as advocating for democracy and political change, but it evolved into a call for the end of Hosni Mubarak once the Tunisian uprising had succeeded in helping oust that country’s authoritarian president.
Memorably, Mr. Gamal admitted he hadn’t a clue what the protesters would do if they succeeded. “We haven’t thought that far ahead,” he said. “But the Tunisians didn’t know what was going to happen when they started their protests either.”
Most tellingly, perhaps, Mr. Gamal admitted he didn’t exactly understand the forces he and his friends were messing with. “Things are now out of control,” he said.
He can say that again.