Category Archives: Activism
Egyptians everywhere are waiting for the Presidential Electoral Commission’s election results due to be announced at 3:00pm today (Sunday, June 24, 2012).
The candidates are far from ideal. On one hand, we have former prime minister to Mubarak during the last days of the January 25 18 day revolution, Ahmed Shafik. And on the other, we have the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Mohamed Morsi. In what I have been recently referring to as the Egyptian telenovela, both candidates have been claiming victory according to their own sources.
In true telenovela fashion, we’ve witnessed a former president (Mubarak) die only to be resurrected shortly after. We’ve had two candidates claim victory and, of course, accuse the other of lying. And the state media has managed to embed the possibility of a civil war breaking out in Egypt due to the election results causing mass paranoia and panic. And all government offices and institutions were encouraged to go home early (at least someone gets to benefit from all of this).
In reality, all doors lead to hell in this case! We are held by the throat by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has recently unveiled addendum to the constitutional declaration giving it more power.
Tik Tok…until 3 o’clock!
Every time I have entered Tahrir Square over the past few days I have seen the crowds grow bigger, their chants become louder, their sense of cause become more determined. But despite all of those things, I’ve kept asking myself ‘why are they there?’ Why are they so determined? Why are they so loud?
When you enter Tahrir Square you’re usually met with huge masses of men…particularly young men between the ages of 15-35. They’re university students, cab drivers, college eductaed professionals that are unemployed, etc. A generation that was born and have lived all of its life under the Mubarak regime. A generation(s) that was given no opportunities and resources to excel in a hobby or encouraged to think critically throughout their education. A generation(s) that was often described as corrupt, useless, ignorant, and more. It’s a generation that was robbed of its creativity, individuality, but most importantly of its sense of purpose.
When you walk around Tahrir, you find many of these young men assuming roles that lend them legitimacy to claim and feel a sense of purpose. You have the ambulance line human shield guys, who are constantly telling people to walk behind the rope and leave the road empty for the ambulance. You have the motorbike ambulance guys, usually two guys on a motorcycle that rush in to the frontlines to rescue the fallen ones and bring them back to the field hospitals. You have the sign makers, who are usually writing signs like “Hospital” or “Clear the Road”. Then you have the field hospital guards, those are the ones that guard the field hospital from random bypassers and direct them to take another route. You also have the people collecting donations and supplies from different meet-up points and taking them to Tahrir. And of course you have the heroes who make it to the frontline, get attacked and hurt and go back for more.
For people like myself that wondered why are they there…that’s why! They want to feel needed and wanted. They want to contribute and be able to get recognition for it. They want a sense of purpose that makes them want to do something. And guess what they are doing something that several generations behind them weren’t able to do.
You all found your purpose; keep fighting for it!
There’s a sticker on my laptop that reads: “I Support Gay Marriage“! I obviously brought my laptop with me here to Beirut; was that a conscious decision? Not quite – this is a sticker that I have had on my laptop for a couple of years now. My friend (a straight female friend) gave it to me at work one day.
Yes, I do support gay marriage! But who talks about gay rights in the Middle East?! To many people’s surprise, Beirut actually has a fairly active and strong LGBTQ scene. There’s a vibrant gay scene community with local clubs serving both gays and lesbians, such as Bardo and Ob La Di. Also, there are some really great local activists and groups (Helem & Meem) who are doing a ton of work on the matter, but I’m not here to talk about gays rights. However, whether I choose to or not my little sticker opens up the subject with anyone who sees it.
The first time I think the first person who saw and commented on the sticker in Lebanon was a good friend of mine. He simply looked at me gave me the thumps-up and said “I do too!” I wasn’t really surprised; he’s a social liberal. It was only a few days later that a friend of his saw the sticker and said: “Hmm…I’m OK with gays, but I don’t think they should be married and have children.” When I asked him why he thought so; he simply said “It’s not natural. A child needs a mother and father.” So, I immediately came back at him with the “what-about-people-with-single-parent” argument. He smiled and said “that’s different” and we were called to join the others for lunch and the conversation simply ended.
Out of all these conversations, I think comments I have received at work have been the most interesting. One of the first interactions I had with one of the IT guys involved a short, but certainly awkward exchange about my sticker. He simply looked at it, pointed and said “I support gay marriage! Hmm…that’s weird.” I immediately looked at him and said “How is that weird?” The second I reacted I knew that this was very sensitive territory to be entering in my new workplace in Beirut.
Just a few days ago, a former employee came by the office and she was sitting near my desk. She looked at my laptop, looked at me, and looked at my laptop again. Then she turned around and started talking to two male colleagues who were standing nearby “Hey! Hey! Look she supports gay marriage you two can be official now.” Her tone was extremely sarcastic! The two guys laughed it off and I certainly got some attention from other employees who were in the area.
In most of these situations I’m not doing or saying anything, other than potentially provoking thought. I’m thinking even if people think I’m crazy for believing in or supporting such a cause it is still something they see everyday when they interact with me or come say hello to me at my desk.
I just got back from a short walk to Hamra. Something looked odd when I crossed the main road I usually walk on to get to Hamra Street. It was blocked by the Lebanese Army – no cars were allowed. As I crossed over and continued walking down the street – it became clear from far away: this was a protest!
All the commotion was too far away from me to really see or hear anything; only thing I could make up is that there were masses of people. As I got closer I started hearing bits and pieces of chants that included “Bashar”. I smiled hoping that this was Pro-Syrian Uprising / Anti-Assad protest; hoping they were saying something like “Down Down with Bashar!” As I got closer, the exact opposite of my hopes was exactly taking place. This was a full-on Pro-Assad/Pro-Syrian Regime demonstration. Protestors had signs, flags and pictures of both the current Al-Assad and the late Hafiz Al-Assad.
As I stood there watching in complete awe hundreds of people chanting, I caught a truck that was part of the demonstration that was displaying both the Hezbollah’s flag alongside the Syrian flag. This is particularly timely for me as I just finished reading this article about Hezbollah’s Nasrallah’s hypocritical stance with the Syrian regime during the people’s uprising. A complete 180° turn from his outspoken support for the uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain.
After coming back from Cairo many people in the Bay Area were eager to hear about my trip and the things I witnessed while I was there. Arabs and activists in the community were quickly organizing events and hosting talks about the “Arab Revolutions”! I was invited to speak at the Soul Sunday School ran by the School of Unity and Liberation in Oakland. Soul Sunday Schools are open political education events, in general people who attend are young organizers who do work in grassroots organizations based in communities of color and working-class communities locally.
I was extremely honored and delighted to learn that I will be speaking alongside Khalil Bendip, Meriam Ben Salah and Mohamed Talat (see short bios here). Unfortunately, Meriam was not able to join us at the last minute.
Khalil and Mohamed both arrived a little before 4:00 p.m. and we started discussing speaker order and giving each other a bit of an introduction. Slowly as it got closer to 6:00 p.m. the tiny room in an old Downtown Oakland building started filling up with young organizers from the area and a few of my good friends.
Khalil spoke first; he told the audience stories of his childhood in Algeria: the struggle for dependency, the tragic Algerian Civil War, and his thoughts about the Arab uprisings taking place all over.
Mohamed spoke next and he went through an Egypt Revolution timeline. Discussing major events and their impacts on the psyche and will power of the people.
When it was time for me to speak – I decided to tell the attendees of the stories and on the ground interactions they may not have heard of in the media. I spoke about my mother’s worries and the neighborhood watches that were organized over night after the Egyptian Interior Ministry and police decided to leave the country unguarded. I told them about how neighborhoods organized: the men would take the graveyard shifts of watching the buildings and the streets while the women would prepare snacks for them during the night and how the women and younger men would take to the streets in the morning to protest while the older men would stay behind to guide the buildings and homes. I spoke to them of the celebrations on the street the night of Mubarak’s fall. And about how everyone to the streets the next morning with brooms and paint and started cleaning and repairing the streets – it’s a sense of unity I had never experienced or witnessed in my life.
The Q&A section of the talk was great. People had interesting questions and they were extremely involved. I was glad to be a part of this event!