Category Archives: Egypt

The longest 111 Minutes

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!

Why are they there?

image

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!

Marketing the Egyptian Revolution

I decided to go on a last minute trip to Egypt to attend one of my childhood friend’s wedding. I bought my ticket on Tuesday night and flew out Wednesday morning to attend the wedding that evening.

Last time I was in Egypt was in February during the revolution and the fall of Mubarak. So, as soon as the plane landed in Cairo – I was eager to see what the country is like now that it’s been 5 months since the fall of the old regime. The first sign of post-revolution change I saw was an ad for Mobinil using the Youth Revolution to advertise its service.

Mobinil Ad: "We must raise our children to grow up like the Egyptian Youth" - Barak Obama, US President

An Ad Age Global article explores all the different ways Egyptian marketeers are using the revolution to market their products and services. Later that day, I saw an ad for butter that used the revolution in their marketing slogans. Although this could have a positive impact on responsible consumerism, since all companies are trying to focus on the positive values and characteristics of the Egyptian Revolution – I still think this could easily turn into a case of Pink Washing of the revolution.

On a more uplifting and personal note, I was so happy to be back in Cairo to attend my friends’ Menna-and-Ali’s wedding on Wednesday.

Loza, Sherif, Sakr and I at Menna & Ali's Wedding

And I was so happy to top off my quick trip to Egypt by a quick visit to the Mediterranean North Coast.

Mediterranean North Coast, Rowad

Witnessing the People’s Victory!

[Original blog post on Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice Blog]

The day my last blog post was published, the plane I was on, landed in the Cairo International Airport a little after 9pm on Thursday. Despite the crispy cool weather, tension was high in the air in Cairo. As I listened to the disappointing speech of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the car with my mother and a friend I met on the plane, I started thinking about how much longer this was going to take, how many more lives would have to be lost, how many businesses and schools would have to remain closed, and how much longer the world was going to pay attention to what was going on in Egypt.
I could hardly sleep that night. I kept thinking about what could the following morning hold for the Egyptian people. How violent was this ruthless government going to get in hopes to stay in power!I remember hugging and kissing my mom goodbye in the morning. I could see in her youthful eyes her strong desire to be on the streets with us. She kept reminding me “to be careful” and “not to do anything crazy.” 

After holding a democratic vote with a group of friends we decided to head to the State Television building. State-controlled television had launched a campaign propaganda misinforming the public about the numbers of protesters and launching and anti-revolution campaign with famous actors and public figures.
After spending a few hours at the State TV, my friend Nora (who also returned to Egypt from Brussels to join the protests a week earlier) and I decided to head to the Presidential Palace where another demonstration was taking place. We were making plans with a group of protesters about spending the night at the Presidential Palace when all of a sudden we heard screams coming from the other end of the crowd. We ran through the crowd towards a car that was blasting the radio. As I was running towards the crowd I accidentally bumped into older woman, about my mom’s age, who grabbed me ad hugged and me and started shouting: “He stepped down! He stepped down!”

Army soldier protecting the State TV building in Cairo

A group of us jumped in a car and immediately drove to Tahrir Square. There are very few words that can explain how I felt at that exact moment. Seeing so many people out on the streets of Cairo waving the Egyptians flags high in the sky, singing cheerful and nationalistic chants and songs and children dancing on the streets was a sight I did not predict in a million years.

We entered the busy Tahrir Square and I immediately felt the change. This was not just the fall of a corrupt dictator and his regime; this was the uprising of a people who have been silenced and ignored for 30 years. Growing up in Egypt as a woman, I always avoided crowded spaces for fear of sexual harassment, a growing problem across the country. A problem that has not been fully addressed in Egypt and in the media. But this time, I felt different. I felt like I could walk the streets of Cairo as a woman and nothing would happen to me. It was because we were all connected. We were all connected to the spirit of change and the soul of Egypt. Throughout the whole uprising, we all wanted the same thing. We all wanted freedom and democracy.

Nora and I in Talaat Harb Square (near Tahrir Square) on Friday, February 11 with a group of young Egyptian women we met on the street

It is not to say that Egypt’s movement for democracy has not been impacted by gender violence, the report that Lara Logan, a CBS reporter, was sexually assaulted while reporting in Cairo on the evening of February 11, the night Mubarak stepped down has not been forgotten. My friends and I were horrified when that story broke. Some of us were even disappointed that it took a non-Egyptian woman’s painful story to shed light on an issue many of us were too familiar with. I have high hopes that in this new democratic Egypt, the issues of gender violence against women will be addressed. I believe that the new Egypt will work on protecting and serving ALL of our citizens, not just the rich and male.
The next morning young Egyptians all over the Cairo took to the streets with broomsticks and trash-bags and cleaned the city. It was magical to see the usually littered streets of Downtown Cairo spotless. As a friend put it: “We overthrow a dictator by night and clean our city streets by day!” Egyptians all over the city were cleaning streets, directing traffic, forming groups to help Egypt’s transitional period…Long live the Do-It-Yourself Revolution!
Update since this post was written:
On International Women’s Day, March 8, thousands of women took to the streets of Cairo and gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate their achievements as part of the #Jan25 revolution and to voice their demands in a democratic Egypt. Unfortunately, the peaceful demonstrators were met were met by violence when men started to verbally abuse and shove the women, telling them that they should go home where they belong. Women were a major force in the Egyptian revolution as they are in everyday Egyptian society. I believe that for a nation to advance, the rights of all its citizens should be preserved and respected by the law. While it might be a steep hill climb to equality, I believe that once reached the views will be breathtaking.

Egypt, a revolution for me, for us all

[My good friend Yvonne Tran asked me to share my thoughts on Egypt during the revolution. The following is a combination of my blog post and a letter I sent out to her friends and family before I left to go back to join the revolution]

Original Blog Post on Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice Blog.

During the past 14 days, of what the media has dubbed as “Egypt’s unrest”, I have been going through a bag of mixed emotions from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. I was happy to see my friends and family members rush the streets of Cairo in a sense of unity I have never witnessed or experienced myself in my own country to feeling sadness that hurts beyond any words can fairly describe, when watching young Egyptians die at the hands of the government that has so stubbornly and ruthlessly ruled our country for 30 years.During the past 14 days, I listened to my mother cry on the phone in our home in Cairo. I have talked to friends during the internet blackout who asked me if the world knew what was going on. I watched a friend and colleague vanish and return to bring a new voice and renewed hope to the people. I protested in solidarity with the people in Egypt on the streets of San Francisco and chanted so hard I lost my voice. During the past 14 days, I felt things I wasn’t sure one could feel for a country, for a place, for 80 million faces I’m not familiar with…but I did.

Nora writing her demands on a sign: No Mubarak, No Suleiman, No Emergency Law, Armed Forces maintains law & security, Civilian committee to be formed NOW

Many things about this revolution have shocked the world and the Western media, in particular, regarding Egyptian and Arab stereotypes. The world got to see first hand that our people want basic human rights, that they are not religious extremists hoping to follow in Iran’s footsteps, and that we have a strong female representation and that the women of Egypt have a voice as loud as that of their male counterparts. When police violence broke out against the peaceful protesters the corrupt Egyptian police forces disappeared from Egypt’s streets over night. There was no official protection for the people. Egyptians in every neighborhood, every apartment building, every community built neighborhood watches.

My mother who is in Cairo told me how the men in a our apartment building (and others) devised a strict plan for their neighborhood watches, with schedules, barricades, etc. The females in the building would provide them with drinks and snacks during the late hours of the night. My mother would stay up late with them, chatting with them from her window on the ninth floor, keeping them company and updating them on the news. When the men would go back to their homes to rest the women would either take over the day shifts or go out to the protests. In my mother’s own words: “Egypt has never been safer. The people that care about it are protecting it!”

During the past 14 days, I have felt a lot of regret for not getting on a flight on January 26, but today I have decided I’m not going to let the feelings of regret paralyze me. I have booked a flight to go back home to do whatever I can to help my country during those hard times. I’m prepared to do whatever I can to show the world that this is not an “unrest” this is a revolution…our revolution…my revolution!

During the past 14 days, your support and love has shone through and in some cases left me speechless. For that, I want to thank you. But more importantly I want to thank you for listening to the story. The story of Egypt…the story of 80 million who have said “ENOUGH!”

Tales from the Holy Land: The Welcome

Step to the side, Miss:

I arrive at the airport at a little past 6pm on Thursday evening. In my backpack, I have a folder stuffed with letters – a support letter from Google stating my position at Google and why I was visiting. Along with that, my friend at the State Department sent me an official state department-issued letter for American of Arab origin. Although many told me to be too worried about entering the country, I definitely had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I kept telling myself that if anything it’s going to be great story in retrospect (as my friend Tim would say). Ok, so back to Thursday evening – I get to the immigration line, I confidently walk up to the Foreigners line, and hand over my passport to the young-looking immigration officer. And this is the conversation that went on:

 

Me: Hi
Officer: Hello. Passport please.
(I hand her the passport open to the personal details page)
Officer: What’s your name?
Me: Hebatallah Gamal (dying to tell her that it is right in front of her)
Officer: Where were you born?
Me: (again thinking – it’s freakin’ right there) Cairo, Egypt.
Officer: Why are you in Israel?
Me: Business.
Officer: Where do you work?
Me: I work for Google.
Officer: in Israel?
Me: No, in California, but I’m here to visit the Tel Aviv office for some meetings.
Officer: Do you have a letter or something?
Me: Yes, sure. There you go.
Officer: Can you please wait here (and she walks off out of the booth with my passport)

I then get asked to step to the side, where I was escorted to waiting room with a TV, vending machine and handful of other foreigners, who looked like they have been waiting for a while. I immediately open my laptop and try to go online in hopes of catching anyone from the Tel Aviv office online, but who was I kidding I was sure no one would be online – it was Thursday evening (the equavilant of our Friday in the US – end of the week). Of course, internet wasn’t working and my laptop was being slow. Ten minutes later I was asked to come into an office, where another officer lady asked me to sit down at a desk across from her and her big black computer monitor. She then started asking me the exact same series of questions the first officer asked. I answered politely and was again asked to go wait in that room. Another 20 minutes later or so, a nice looking man came into the waiting room and gave a young group of 3 (2 young guys and a girl) their passports back and wished them a nice time. He then returned less than 5 minutes later and asked me to follow him. He then brought me into yet another office and started asking me the same questions, although he was a bit more detailed and definitely tried to ask me “tricky” questions, like: What do you do for Google?What’s your title? Little does he know that my freaking title at Google is a mouth-full and a little hard to forget :) What I thought was extremely funny is that at one point he said: You are not a trouble maker, are you? I don’t think you are who we’re looking for, but we have to do this to be sure!

So, I never felt more dangerous in my life, but like I said in the beginning – a story worth telling at the end.