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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.

Why are they there?


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!

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.

Soul Sunday School: People vs. Dictatorships!

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!

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!”