Activists keep pressing for democracy in Egypt even after military takes control

CAIRO - The Obama administration announced it would complete the sale of 10 Apache attack helicopters to the military dictatorship in Egypt.

It's a reward for Egypt keeping its peace agreement with Israel.

But this is the same dictatorship that overthrew Egypt's only democratically elected government.

In Cairo, CBS News caught up with some of the diehard activists who are still pressing for democracy.

They were among the first wave of protesters in Tahrir Square three years ago, using social media to spread their call for freedom, helping to overthrow a 30-year dictatorship.

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Egypt's 30-year dictatorship was overthrown only to have the military take over and crack down on dissent
CBS News

We first met Sherief Gaber at a protest in late 2011. He had returned from studying in the U.S. to join the revolution.

"The bravery of the people around me is really what drove me," Gaber said. "I mean, I was coming back and feeling actually quite disorientated but seeing all of these other people around me doing what they were doing, standing up the way they were, is what actually gave me heart."

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Sherief Gaber
CBS News
But the triumph in Tahrir Square was short-lived. Liberal activists were pushed aside when the Muslim Brotherhood swept the elections, and then again as the military overthrew that government, launching a crackdown on any form of dissent.

"I have a lot of friends who have been arrested," Gaber said.

Why were they arrested?

"Any number of different reasons," he said. "For being in protests, for being accused of organizing protests. You know, I've had friends accused of being part of terrorist organizations, I've had friends accused of possessing weapons."

Authorities say that they're fighting a war on terror, and that strong measures are necessary.

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Activists say a long view is needed, arguing democracy will need time to root
CBS News
But activist Khaled Abdullah believes that an authoritarian regime can never bring stability.

"You don't have any ideas to offer people, you don't have any hope to offer people," Abdullah said. "You don't have anything other than guns and a discourse of hatred."

"That's where we are now," he said.

But neither is willing to give up on democracy.

"Look at any major movement in history," Abdullah said. "From the civil rights movement to the abolition of slavery to the right to vote to the right for women to vote, none of these processes began and ended in three years. They took decades."

For Egypt's fledgling democracy, the struggle has just begun.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News

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