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