Ben Gittleson, A11

Last summer Cairo taxi drivers always peppered me with the same few questions right off the bat: Where are you from? How do you know Arabic? And, what do you think of the revolution? Back then, four or five months after a popular uprising toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak and only a few weeks after I arrived in Egypt, the expected answer to that last query was always, “Halwa,” or “beautiful.”

Now, nearly one year later, the usual response is just the opposite—or a “halwa” with caveats. During the heady days of Tahrir Square, Egyptians did not realize their actions would cause their economy to crash, the country’s crime rate to rise, and an army once seen as the people’s savior to bungle a transition to civilian rule. After occasional clashes in and around Tahrir, the iconic epicenter of the uprising, and a never-ending wave of strikes and sit-ins that many Egyptians see as a threat to stability, some have come to view Tahrir and its young activists as enemies of the state. Most people just want to get back to work and feel safe in their country.

Photos: Ben Gittleson, A11

I came to Cairo for a year-long Arabic language fellowship at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad, with an eye toward ultimately transitioning into a career in journalism. I expected a society transformed by change, but as the seasons turned I came face to face with many Egyptians pondering whether the “January 25th Revolution” was worth it.

Millions of voters casting their ballots in parliamentary elections in November convinced many Egyptians that it was. A 60-year-old man named Essam happily told me it was his first time voting. He hoped the Muslim Brotherhood’s party would win—they did, overwhelmingly—but added that it did not really matter. “Because if they don’t live up to their promises,” he explained, “we can replace them a few years later!”

Egyptians finally have a voice, and they know they can take down a dictator if need be. During an internship at Al Jazeera English’s Cairo bureau and in my own freelance reporting, I have met many people who for the first time in their lives feel like their leaders must take their opinions into account. And that should give us hope about the future of Egypt.

By Ben Gittleson, A11

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