The escalating violence in Egypt has drawn increased international media attention– enough to cause many of you to fear for my safety. But what is astounding to me (and hopefully reassuring to you) is that, here in Zamalek, my island in the Nile, I’ve been watching the ongoing revolution solely through the TV downstairs in the lobby of my dorm. It is always tuned to one of the many independent channels, usually showing live feeds from all the main areas of conflict around the country. Though Tahrir is a walk away, I only ever see it on a TV and I read about it online just as you do where you are. However one major difference between my experience of this revolution and yours is the fact that I have immediate access to a myriad of different Egyptian opinions on the events as they unfold, and what a privilege that is!
For months now, my desire to go and “watch the revolution up close” has been very strong. Indeed, it was one of the driving forces that led me to Cairo this semester. When I first got here, I thought the only way to do that would be to spend a good deal of time observing the protests in and around Tahrir square. However, this desire was in direct conflict with promises I had made to all of you to make those decisions that would be best for my safety. As the news shows, these protests are dangerous for anyone. A permanent cloud of teargas has settled in the square and a rock thrown by a policeman can hit anyone– Egyptian, American or otherwise. However, foreigners have additional problems to worry about. If anything goes wrong, they are typically blamed, and police have made a habit of arresting and sometimes deporting foreigners who attend protests. As a result, they are more of a hindrance than a help to the activists. I soon realized that my “up-close” view of the revolution could not be from Tahrir square– at least not on a regular basis.
At first I was discouraged by this. If I were a man or had darker skin, things would be different! But I began to notice that I was not the only one watching Tahrir burn from the sofa in the lobby. Egyptian students, custodial staff and security guards would also pause to watch the latest updates as they went about their day. Around Zamalek, shop-keepers were in their stores, watching the news from small, portable TVs, bus-drivers drove their buses while listening to the radio, street-sweepers swept the streets, the banana salesman sold bananas. Each of these people had a stake in this revolution, much higher than mine, and yet here they were, reading headlines, listening to soundbites, and watching live feeds just like me.
Intrigued, I asked my roommate, Yousra about this.
“Do you think the protesters are right to do what they are doing? There is so much violence being caused as a result of it and they don’t seem to be gaining any ground,” I asked her. She thought about it for a moment.
“Yes. I think they are right,” she replied. “They continue to protest because they have hope. Hope that eventually, Morsi will listen.”
“And do you think Morsi will listen?”
“No. But no one thought Mubarak would listen either.”
“So then if you think they are right, why don’t you join them?” I asked.
“Because it’s not my place,” she replied. “Two years ago, when the revolution first happened, I went to the protests because I had a reason to go. But now, I don’t have a reason to go. I cannot help my country by going to these violent protests. But I am graduating this semester with an Economics degree so I can help my country improve economically. I am not giving up on Egypt; I have no plans to leave.”
The truth of her words resounded in my ears. The revolution is not just going on in Tahrir square; it is going on all around me. It has been from the start. The revolutionaries are not only those who brave the tear gas, throw stones and chant loudly. They are students and maids and bakers and businessmen. Outspoken Selma is a revolutionary, but so is timid, sweet Yousra. All of them have a stake in this revolution and they’re all doing what they feel they must to help.
I still have my front row seat. In fact, I have a backstage pass.
I thought perhaps in going to protests, I would be able to give you all a new view of the revolution– but I’m fairly certain now that I’d see the same things as the reporters for the New York Times and CNN. A military vehicle in flames looks pretty much the same from all angles. But I’m starting to see now that the unique perspective I’m looking for can be found in the hearts and minds of the people all around me. The street vendors who don’t make the front page.
I think I may be beginning to find my place in this revolution.