May 23, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Return of the Revolution
Posted on Nov 22, 2011
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about the rekindling of violence and revolutionary spirit.
CAIRO—In the surreal dawn of Tahrir Square the sun is purple-gray through the mist of tear gas, a building a block away is burning, the black carcass of an overturned truck smolders as a few people hover. Other people arrive with more blankets and food and bandages.
The dizzying thrill of battle is a heady pheromone that obscures the grief and fear and infuses the masses here with a trembling excitement and pride in their combat against the “oppressor.” The Egyptian people have once again found their value and purpose, which was waning in the last few months of revolutionary inactivity. Some have come to the center of conflict for the first time. Many others here were present in January, February, July, and are back to reclaim the wild exhilaration of being part of an intense unity. ... Some do not even agree politically with their comrades of the day, and have come only to help or offer solidarity to fellow Egyptians.
The more violence against the people, the more the people unite, and the more Egyptians will come to help, support and be part of this. The images of outrageous violence have attracted the millions, like moths to flame: All Egypt feels the surge of the collective identity and the pull of the massive wave so strong; people who would never have imagined participating in a demonstration have been swept up in the fervor of the revolution. In the joy of rediscovering a sense of heartfelt brotherhood.
In a repeat of Jan. 25, Christians linked arms to protect praying Muslims from police violence. The action was even more symbolic and moving considering the memories of October’s Maspero Coptic slaughter, still an intense issue and an unhealed wound.
Then people began to prepare for the big comeback.
They tweeted “so excited and happy to be going back to Tahrir!” “I miss it so much.”
The message “Back to the revolution!” animated faces and minds again. There was preparation and anticipation. Some even looked forward to righteous conflict. Many imagined violence between secularists and Salafis, etc., but strife among the populace did not happen. The shots and firebombs and toxic tear gas have sent the level of public bonding and motivation to a new level.
Over the last few days we have seen more and more corpses. After the brutal killings of so many at Maspero—scenes of piled bodies, crushed heads, sobbing parents—we are no longer broken and incapacitated by tragic sights. We are able to see bodies in our streets and simply wonder who they were or if there is a heart still beating among them. We are able to watch a video of an officer dragging a body to a mound of garbage.
The field hospitals, the rescuing of the injured, the cooperation and concern of individuals, the generosity, the care, the bonding, makes this battlefield the warmest, most beautiful place to be, a strange scene of heightened pride and massive celebration countering fear and outrage and tragic incomprehension. Songs and the sound of ambulances pierce the rumbling unison of 150,000 people chanting rhythmically, “Freedom! Freedom!”
The first day, Friday, the huge predominance of bearded members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in the square delivering roars of “Allahu Akbar,” plus literature and some well-thought-out speeches, made some of those in the crowd look a bit dazed, and perhaps uncertain to be shouting out some of the same chants that they used in January to oust Hosni Mubarak.
Some of the few liberals present the first day said “this should not be a religious revolution, this is a popular revolution,” and were ready for tension; however, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis were not there for conflict but to campaign and reject the extraconstitutional rights being claimed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and to urge that presidential elections be held before the proposed July 2013 date. Everyone was together on these demands. In fact, the name given to this demonstration was “Friday of One Demand.”
By Monday night the prime minister and the Cabinet had resigned. This is the second Cabinet that Tahrir Square demonstrations have brought down.
As was the case of the French Revolution, Egypt’s uprising against any successive oppressor will continue … the flowing of blood seems to be a requisite ingredient of true revolution. Many of these injured will have proud scars to show. Many hope to acquire them as badges of courage in the cause of the Egyptian future.
So many of the protesters seem to be boys in their teens.
Ahmed is 17 and says he hopes to die in Tahrir Square. He has written his mother’s telephone number on his arm so she can be reached to identify his body. “It is the greatest thing I can do in this life,” he said as we passed a banner bearing photos and names of martyrs of the revolution.
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