As most of you probably know, yesterday, the “25th of Jan,” marked the two-year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. Thousands of Egyptians poured into squares around the country to march and protest resulting in 5-10 deaths and as many as 450 injuries, last I heard. I don’t know what headlines you saw where you are, but as promised in my first post, I intend to use this blog to tell you about my experience and perspective on the situation… to be taken in with the rest of the things you’re reading.
Over the last several days, talk of the 25th has filled the air. Whether it was the Director of International Student Affairs encouraging us to stay out of it, or young activists talking about their plans for the day, there was definitely a lot of hype about the impending protests. The sort of hype that piques a young journalist’s curiosity to say the least. I talked to as many different people as I could in the days leading up to the25th, and discovered that, as with most things in Egypt, the protests were likely to bring a mixed bag of people with a variety of agendas and unpredictable reactions.
Though they were protesting in honor of the revolution’s anniversary, most had nothing to celebrate. Though they’ve successfully ousted Mubarak, most don’t see his replacement as being much better… Especially since Morsi’s power grab in November and the creation of a new, lopsided constitution in December. If so many people dislike Morsi and disagree with the constitution, how did he come to be in power and how did the referendum on the constitution pass, you may ask? From what I gather, 56% of the population lives in rural areas and is very politically, religiously and socially conservative. Traditionally, Egyptian culture is non-confrontational, and authority is respected absolutely. Democracy is thought of as a scary Western idea that could open the door to homosexuality and all other manner of debauchery. What happened two years ago was an overhaul of not only a regime but of an entire set of cultural norms. And it was led almost entirely by my generation: 18 to 33 year olds, living in Cairo, with a lot of exposure to Western ideologies . These revolutionaries may be incredibly powerful but they only make up 44% of the population. They are the ones who overthrew Mubarak, but they are not the ones who ushered in Morsi or his constitution. And so their revolution is far from over.
Selma, an Egyptian senior living in my dorm, was an activist long before the revolution, using the blogsphere to criticize Mubarak and his regime. Now, she continues to fight to see what she started through to completion.
“That is why I am going today,” she told me yesterday morning over breakfast as she prepared to head to a long march from Mohandissin to Tahrir. “I am going to remind them that the revolution is not over, it is still going on.”
The road ahead is long and difficult though, and like most of her fellow revolutionaries, Selma battles discouragement. A lot her zest had dissipated when I spoke to her this morning and she bemoaned the fact that all their marches and protests yesterday throughout the country had produced so many injuries and deaths, but only a tweet from their president. At this point, my Egyptian peers find themselves at a bit of a loss as to where to go from here. Tahrir has become infested with squatters and hooligans that can turn a peaceful demonstration into a violent riot in seconds, and often muffle the true spirit of a protest. Selma marched to Tahrir yesterday but had to stay on the outskirts of the square because she’d received news of “sexual harassment mobs” going around and physically harming women protesters.
“There are men who will go to a protest willing to die for their cause, but then they’ll turn around and harass women,” Selma said. “It’s like women don’t really count in this revolution somehow.”
As a young, clearly foreign woman, I stayed pretty far away from the action—though I cannot lie, I very much wanted to see as much for myself as I could. Yesterday, around 1:30, I walked down in the direction of the square with a group of other internationals. In Zamalek, a small island in the Nile where we live, it was totally peaceful, and I would have had no idea there was a revolution underway were it not for all the TV’s tuned into live broadcasts. As we crossed the bridge toward downtown, I started to see street vendors selling flags—profiteering at its finest J And finally, as we came in sight of Tahrir square, I could see many people carrying or wearing flags, some wearing masks or wielding signs. The street was barricaded with a barbed wire fence and the revolutionaries had designated security volunteers to search protestors for weapons before they entered the square. This was as far as I ventured. From where I stood though, the square hardly looked like the angry mobs I’d seen in newspapers. People were walking around calmly carrying their flags and signs, some were having picnic lunches, and many children were present.
Of course, what makes these protests dangerous is that they can go south in an instant, so we didn’t stay too long. And sure enough, as we were enjoying some shawarma on a side street a block away, a huge mob appeared out of nowhere, running down the street we were on toward the square, many wearing black ski masks. We ducked into the shawarma shop and waited for them to pass before hopping in a cab back to Zamalek. As the day went on, things got more and more chaotic, both in Cairo and around the country, and the zaniness continues today.
I am sitting in my quiet garden in my dorm though, while my Egyptian peers march on. For me, this revolution is a historical moment that I get to observe and brag about. But for them, it’s the difference between freedom and oppression. The fact of the matter is that while my generation in the US has been Keeping Up with the Kardashians, our Egyptian peers have been fighting to change the course of history in their country. And I’ve come right in the middle of it. This is not my revolution and it is not my place to join in protesting. But I do stand for the things they are fighting for and I want to do what I can to help.
Any thoughts on how?