Saturday, February 12, 2011
The Egyptian Revolution- 11.02.11
I am not Egyptian, but I am in my heart. After living in Cairo for almost three years, I feel a sense of homage to Egypt and its people. Sitting in my office yesterday with Al Jazeera streaming online, I was in tears. The 30 second speech by Suleiman was so quick, followed by such jubilation! Did I hear what I think I just heard? I saw this happiness the day before when the Amy said the demands of the protesters would be met, but only hours later, Mubarak defiantly said he would not be pressured to step aside. So what just happened? What exactly happened between 11.01.11 and 11.02.11 is unclear as of now, but the speech by Suleiman, stated without the government seal behind, quickly laid out that governmental affairs had been handed over to the military. Mubarak had given up his powers.
What will happen after this is still a unknown- and that is OK. For many Westerners- you need a plan, you need to think through your agenda and have every step established. However, for Egyptians- you don't. You get one thing done first, then you think later about the rest. There is no need to worry about everything, as its God's will, IsA (inshallah) as one may say.
When will elections happen? What about the Muslim Brotherhood? What about the Parliament, Cabinet, the new VP? Today- these questions do not matter. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is about joy. It is about feeling/being "free" after feeling captive in your own country.
Westerners have come to Egypt for years as tourists, students and workers. Each has its own experience, but each has been witness to the poverty and pollution, each probably has asked- why is it like this? Why don't the people care? Simple-the people care, but regime for years played its cards right- The government treated the people like children- Telling them they were not "mature" or "ready." And kept them from trying to reach for more by using police and central security to quiet any growing voices, creating a world of fear.
The protests, however, gave them a voice and with the voice- gave them power- gave everyone power. Men and women of all ages were there- children, youth, adults, and elderly. Liberals and Conservatives, life long activists/bloggers and those that never had a voice a before, the poor and the rich, the farmers and the actors. Women felt like equals without harassment. Without the government, they set a city within Tahrir- tents of medicine, tents of food, tents to charge your mobiles. They set up speakers- one for music, one for political chants. They set up large sheets and screen to watch Mubarak give his speeches. They put up pictures of the martyrs. They even cleaned the entire area of Tahrir before I had time to write this post.
This is also something any westerner should have seen and felt when coming to Egypt- the hospitality of Egyptians. The desire to take care of their family and friends. Tahrir was a giant home to Egyptians. They united as a family.
Many people are pointing to social media as a mechanism that started the demonstrations, and I do not doubt the important of social media, however, we must remember that internet use is still limited in Egypt (We are talking about a country that still has high poverty rates). Social Media is important for tying young internet users together, and did unite many to start the protests, but it was a lit match. The gas that drove the fire was the Egyptians overcoming ingrained fear. Not every Egyptian originally believed in these demonstrations, not every Egyptian wanted an immediate departure of Mubarak right away, but people began talking and then believing in the possibility!
We have seen social media bring people to the streets but fail to bring real change in Egypt before - during the Kefeya rise about 6 years ago. On a much smaller scale, protesters took to the street after online discussions. Soon however, people turned on each other all wanting different things- different policies, different goals. In the time that has passed, young Egyptian bloggers have used the internet as a personal diary to share their views with a known or unknown virtual community. There were also citizen journalists that wanted to keep alive the reality of Egyptian government spreading videos of abuse. The largest Egypt erupted was on April 6, 2008- when Facebook again played a role, but it was the workers (many without internet) united together. In all these prior cases, they lost a strong unification to move forward with a collective idea of change. They were online sharing their voices and unifying, but on the streets soon the unified strength lost its muster. This time in 2011, they left those differences aside. This time they united as Egyptians and said- the rest will be figured out lately, IsA.
They spread the word online, but they also spread the word by mouth, print flyers, and by religious gatherings (be it mosque or church). There were ups and downs, but ups poured more gas and kept the people coming. One up- overcoming the police, one down -looting and thuggery, one up- people finding police tags on thugs, one down- over 200 people dead and over 1000s injured, one up- realizing they could not stop because of the martyrs, one down-economy wailing, one up- Wael Ghoneim's interview, one up-workers unite, one down- Mubaraks speech, one up- the call answered for a day of departure!
The rest of Egypt's future story is unknown and untold. A land that was run by foreigners for thousands of years, then by the military regime, is now looking for a civilian rule. Egyptians are proud people, and at this time, they are at their proudest.
As I danced outside the Egyptian embassy last night, I saw old and young, tears and smiles. This small group was a glimpse into Egypt and I am proud with you.