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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

To Egypt now where there were scattered protests and some violence today as supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi again took to the streets. But the scale of the unrest paled in comparison to previous weeks, and the military-appointed interim government appears firmly in charge. Yet, Egypt remains politically polarized and the middle is a lonely place to be.

Some of the young revolutionaries who led the 2011 uprising against the Hosni Mubarak regime feel they're back to square one, battling authoritarian forces on both sides. NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo.

AALAM WASSEF: (Foreign language spoken)

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: It's 9 p.m. Aalam Wassef, a video artist and activist, stands on his balcony and bangs a spoon against a pot. The noise echoes in the neighborhood, but no one else returns the clattering sound. He yells, masmouaa, the Arabic word that means to be heard. Wassef's message? That there is a third way, he says, against the Muslim Brotherhood and against Egypt's military.

WASSEF: Its first aim is to change the conversation. The real conversation that no one is talking about is bread, freedom, social justice and rule of law, none of which was supported either by the Muslim Brotherhood and certainly not by the military regime which has been ruling this country for over 60 years.

FADEL: Since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt is a country deeply divided in a zero-sum game: You're either with us or against us. That's the view of the military, which now rules Egypt. And anyone who disagrees faces grave consequences. It's a warning to street activists like Wassef and to others like Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. He resigned as vice president after the bloody crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters. Now, he faces charges of breaching national trust.

Wassef and his friend, Khaled Abdullah, a young actor and activist, started the masmouaa campaign to show people there is a middle ground.

KHALED ABDULLAH: In that first bang, you are afraid and you feel alone. As people begin to respond, you begin to feel less alone. You begin to feel more courageous. You begin to feel like you can state your opinion.

FADEL: But very few people are speaking out now. When they do, they are quickly demonized as traitors. Local television channels play constant montages about what is called the war on terror, showing bearded men with guns and images of dead policemen. There's no outlet now for more critical voices. Islamist TV stations were shut down right after Morsi's ouster, and most independent journalists have been intimidated into silence.

During the 2011 uprising against the Hosni Mubarak regime, activists celebrated the collapse of the barrier of fear. For the first time, Egyptians were free to express their political vision. Now, because of the poisonous political climate, that old fear is creeping back. Take Samira Atteya, a housewife in central Cairo. She is among those Egyptians who have suspicions of both sides.

SAMIRA ATTEYA: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: She says, I don't trust anyone. If I say anything about the Muslim Brotherhood, people say all the bad things about them. If I praise the government, then I'm a remnant of the old regime. So even if I have faith in someone, I can't voice my opinion.

Ahmed Maher sympathizes. In January of 2011, he was one of the most visible faces among the activists in Cairo's now iconic Tahrir Square. But today, he shakes his head and calls that moment history.

AHMED MAHER: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: He says, we were so optimistic then, and now everything is so complicated. There's no easy solution, and we feel like we're back to point zero. Maher says his mother called him recently in tears, after her friends told her he was supporting terrorists when he condemned the mass killing of Morsi's supporters. And in the latest sign of a broadening crackdown on critics, Maher is under investigation. He's accused of being a foreign agent and threatening national security.

Maher reflects on the Egyptian roller coaster of the past 2 1/2 years.

MAHER: I'm not sad, but if I want to blame someone, blame myself, blame the revolutionary movements, blame the Muslim Brotherhood, sure, blame the military. So - we made many mistakes.

FADEL: He says after Mubarak's ouster, he and other revolutionaries fought amongst themselves instead of uniting for a strong alternative political voice in Egypt's future. It made them weak and ineffective.

MAHER: (Foreign language spoken)

FADEL: The Muslim Brotherhood shut them out and made a deal with the military. And now, the military is back in power. So Maher says young revolutionary activists like himself will wait. He is reaching out to other parties, writers and politicians who reject the authoritarianism of both the Islamists and the military. And soon, he says, it will be our time again. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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