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Egypt 1st-Hand: Nine Views of a Country's Future (Bohn)

Photos: Lauren BohnWriting for The Atlantic, Lauren Bohn speaks to nine Egyptians --- from a "disaffected activist" to a young Salafi to "the hopeful graduate" to a "wary" Christian to a "liberal in crisis" --- about the country and its future:

Abdel Rahman Ayad, 25, The Disaffected Activist

[Just over] one year ago, Abdel Rahman Ayad's feet were bleeding. For 18 days, he'd make nightly treks from downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square back home to his house in Heliopolis, an affluent Cairene suburb. He protested every day, but always promised his mother he'd come home after sunset to visit her.

Ayad, 25, calls his friends "matey" -- sailor's parlance he picked up while working for a German-based shipping company that's taken him around the world. He's thoughtful, with schoolboy eyes that look eager for trouble. He likes hash and Indian food, optimally in concert. And, in natural form, he curses like a sailor.

He was born and grew up in Abu Dhabi, where his father worked in business, but decided to "get back to his roots" and moved to Egypt for college. He studied at the Maritime Academy in Alexandria and spends an average of eight months a year on a ship. He was supposed to set sail on Jan. 10 of 2011, but he decided not to go. He expected something to happen in Egypt and he wanted to be a part of it.

This year, he spent the revolutionary anniversary in Alexandria, wading through Egyptian bureaucracy, getting documents signed and certified to set sail once again. "If this were last year, I'd tell the sailing company to go fuck themselves. I was fighting for my country," he says. "This year? Man, I'm just trying to get out to the sea again."

Before the revolution, Ayad says he didn't fit in. And now, he says he still doesn't. He's "not pumped up enough to be a revolutionary." But he's not apathetic enough for the popular Hezb al Kanaba, the party of the couch. In fact, he wishes he were more indifferent. Like many, he's frustrated, if not angry, by a regime he says is still running the show. Back then, days spent in Tahrir seemed like the beginning of an exciting story, one where anything could happen. Now, he feels the square's more like a bad sequel.

"It's sad because maybe it shows the majority of Egyptian people don't deserve better, because they're not fighting for it," he says. "You can't want something for them more than they do." Still, after he larks around the world by sea, he hopes to return to Egypt. He's developed a love-hate relationship with the place he can't seem to shake. And he still has hope, he reassures me -- or perhaps himself -- every five minutes.

Ehab Mohammed, 24, The Young Salafi

Ehab was excited to find a marketing job so quickly after graduating from Cairo University. Most of his colleagues, and about one-quarter of his Egyptian counterparts, can't find any work at all. Sixty percent of Egyptians are 30 years old or younger, and at least one of every four between ages 18 and 30 are out of work. So when he landed a gig at Nourayn Media, a media company that specializes in Islamic content, he was thrilled. The soft-spoken, but not meek, self-proclaimed Salafi -- an adherent to a strict interpretation of Islam -- says he's always known Islam would be the solution for Egypt. But when he took the job pre-revolution, he never thought his mild-mannered Salafi boss would soon be the spokesperson for one of Egypt's most powerful political parties, al-Nour, which won about a quarter of the new parliament's seats.

The Nourayn Media office now shares space with the party and, on any given day, is chock-full of journalists, all trying to figure out who the Salafis are, where they come from (funded by Saudi Arabia? Qatar? Kuwait?), and what they want the new Egypt to look like (will there be beer and bikinis?).

These questions don't seem to weigh on the 24-year-old Ehab, who proudly says he could spend his days praying and "eating" books. He just finished some Marx and is now juggling two more: a book on the theory of relativity and Hadiths a collection of sayings of Prophet Mohammed.

In college, Ehab worked at a call center to help support his family. His parents died of cancer, both in the same year, leaving his uncle to raise the family.  Their home, a small uncharacteristic flat nestled in a maze of worn-down, russet-roofed buildings, houses something of a microcosm of Egyptian Islam. His uncle's a Sufi, adherents of a mystical form of Islam. Ehab's younger brother is a steadfast Muslim Brotherhood youth and his youngest brother, Ahmed, is simply "strange." Ehab clarifies, "He goes out with girls a lot. And never really prays."

"My mother, always, religious, would have loved to see us now more welcome. My father, who liked to smoke shisha, may have not. But that's democracy," he says, taking a book out of his bag. He opens to a page anchored by an embroidered bookmark reading Hurreya, which means "freedom" in Arabic. "Not everyone is going to like everything."

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