CAIRO â€” Men arrive at an Islamic partyâ€™s headquarters on a hot Cairo night. They hug, laugh and whisper around trays of pistachio sweets. A door closes and the haggling over Egyptâ€™s future begins.
But the young revolutionary is missing. Thirty minutes tick by; the amiable mood is cracking.â€™
Ahmed Maher hurries in, dabbing his forehead with a tissue. He sits across from Saied Abdul Azim, a cleric in an embroidered skullcap, who with a phone call can summon tens of thousands of Quran-wielding followers into the street. The old man begins: â€œLiberals see freedom as giving rights to homosexuals or for anybody to do and wear what they want, even if itâ€™s against Islam. Weâ€™ve come out to tell them we will fight this.â€
Maher twitches as if a fly has landed on him. He takes a breath and looks at Azim.
â€œIf we liberals managed to find something in common with nationalists, communists and other sects, then surely we can find common ground with Islamists,â€ he says. Maher listens for another hour to a Coptic Christian leader, a newspaper publisher, a representative of a onetime terrorist organization involved in a presidentâ€™s assassination and an envoy from the new Civilization Party, a name that evokes the splendor of Egyptâ€™s ancient past but seems a mirage in the precarious present.
Maher slips out at 1:21 a.m. and orders a coffee in an open-air cafe down the street. The 30-year-old rebel jots notes and appointments in a little black book: Watch the generals. Unify the opposition. Connect with the poor.
The leader of the April 6 Youth Movement, Maher is one of the nationâ€™s most strategically savvy activists. But he senses the young are losing the revolution they heralded. Islamists are pressing for power.