The young men and women who took over Cairo's Tahrir Square in late-January electrified the Arab world with their calls for building a new Middle East. When their peaceful protests subsequently toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, they took the first step toward moving their country from decades of autocratic rule into a future of democracy. Six weeks into that future, the forces of liberal democracy have suffered their first major defeat.
On Saturday, Egyptians by the millions went to the polls to cast their vote on proposed changes to the constitution. The progressive leaders of the uprising struggled to get their views across, urging Egyptians to vote "no" on the referendum. But their opponents -- the Muslim Brotherhood, militant Salafist groups and former regime supporters -- easily out-organized the political newcomers, winning a landslide victory for the constitutional amendments and setting back the goal of transforming the country.
In the weeks since the revolution at Tahrir, Egyptians, who are still under military rule, have entered the early phases of a complicated, multidimensional tug of war. Liberal reformers have started pushing for modernization, for more individual freedoms and for civil rights for women and minorities. Supporters of political Islam are working for the release of their imprisoned comrades and for the introduction of religious tenets into different aspects of Egyptian life. Meanwhile, advocates of security and stability are working to salvage aspects of the previous regime. Each side has made strides, but it is hard to argue that liberals have taken the lead.