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Looking Back at 2011: The Egyptian Revolution

In light of the upcoming “anniversary” of the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2011 my colleague Alicja Peszkowska, who is on the Net2 team and blogs regularly asked me to do an interview to talk about the Egyptian revolution, the use of social media and the role it played in driving and influencing the revolution.

I will be heading back to Cairo in a few days to join the millions of Egyptians who are going to take to the streets and say NO to the rule of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Read Alicja’s original blog post here.

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Why are they there?

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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!

Fairuz in the Morning

Fairuz is a national living symbol in Lebanon which sparks Lebanese pride wherever and whenever heard. Growing up in Cairo with my mother and two sisters, I recall Fairuz playing across the house when we returned home from school. One year in the early 1990’s my mom and sisters told me that they had a dentist appointment to go to and since I had school the next morning that I was not to go with them and stay home with the babysitter – I still remember thinking they were dressed too nice for the dentist but I complied with the instructions as any 8-year old would do. Years later I came to find out that they went to see Fairuz in concert in Cairo.

I was able to see her a decade later in Los Angeles and I remember crying when she sang “Zorouni” (Translation: Visit Me, a powerful song that is sure to pull on any expatriate’s heart strings far away from their home. 

Fairuz’s short, sweet and authentically Lebanese tunes speak of everyday life: the mountains, drunken neighbors, and most importantly a unified Lebanon and sad stories of the war. I was surprised to learn that her music is for the most part strictly listened to in the morning amongst the Lebanese people while they’re getting ready to start their day. While flipping through the radio one morning on my drive to work I found several local channels playing Fairuz.

One of Fairuz’s great contributions to the music society is her son Ziad Rahbani, who I should probably write a whole separate post on.

Great NPR report on Fairuz.

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.