May 22, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Revolution One Year Later
Posted on Jan 31, 2012
Last week my friend Sayed’s uncle, who owns a large factory in his village, was kidnapped and held for ransom for five days. The whole family participated in the ransom gathering and exchange. I had not understood why they had been so inaccessible to me during those days and finally Sayed told me: He had not wanted me to think this was something caused by the revolution. “Kidnap and ransom is an old crime here. It happens often … a practice since ancient times. It’s a tribal thing, a Bedouin thing,” he said. A few days later, it was forgotten and life was back to normal.
Adaptability is the first element of survival. In the building where I live there has been no running water for a week. It has been off and on all year. Patches don’t hold on the jumble of rusting and broken pipes climbing the side of the building. This could be fixed efficiently and definitively but would require organization and investment, and the attitude of the owners is to leave the large problems to Allah.
The building was elegant and well constructed in the 1940s; it has a Schindler elevator, a marble staircase. I saw a photo of how it was then, and it was impressive. Cairo was called the Paris on the Nile. It is phenomenal how the people and their attitudes have changed since the revolution of 1953. The pride of ownership was crushed somewhere between the period of Soviet influence and the Islamist rebellion … and further was ground into the dust by corruption and growing socioeconomic disparity.
Though the present ongoing, glorious revolution is an inspiration to the world—an indication of the power of mobilization of the street through modern social networking and a testament to the strength of unity—it is necessary to note that the nation has much contemporary experience of effective, if sacrificial, revolt by unified underprivileged people, students and intellectuals. And there were many other such moments in the annals of Egypt’s long history.
The first true social network-powered Egyptian rebellion came in April of 2008, over low wages and rising food costs. Using the Internet and cellphones, the April 6 Youth Movement, a group on Facebook, attracted more than 64,000 members and later became one of the major parties of the revolution of 2011 (though it was discredited for receiving funding and instruction in revolution technique from foreign sources).
The 2008 strike failed. In the past, authorities always gave orders to break demonstrations forcefully. Strikes were illegal in the Egypt under its “emergency law” (finally lifted Jan. 25, 2012).
Conditions were different in 2011. After the protest of 2008, the continued decline of the level of living and the mounting frustration with the blatant exploitation of the nation’s resources by the Mubarak entourage left the people in a gray rage with nothing to lose. Access to Facebook and mobile phones was in the hands of all the people. Anger was brewing. Then there was Twitter and … Tunisia.
Now Egyptians are changing yet again. Gains have been made, even if the whole picture still remains obscure. Thousands of political prisoners have been released, virginity tests are officially outlawed, emergency law has been lifted, and there are no more military trials. All of this is to be tested, but the foundation is set and growing stronger. Perhaps the infrastructure will take a great deal of effort and time to repair, but something has irrevocably changed in the Egyptian social horizon and demographic. The people have rediscovered their nationalistic pride and they have discovered the strength of a united voice and the power of mobilization. All the social persuasions have come out to expose their divergent nuances to the light. And of course there is now a new political, commercial and social demographic—the revolutionaries.
Revolutionaries come in many varieties, as the demonstrations last Friday, anniversary of the “Friday of Rage,” illustrated to the surprise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Believing themselves the inheritors of Tahrir Square, the MB speakers continued their program of chanting “One hand! We are the people!” interspersed with Quranic readings and religious speeches.
I stayed in my neighborhood for the noon prayers to hear our imam’s dramatic urging of the people to keep the revolution alive, to keep the martyrs’ memory alive, to not go to sleep in the arms of the military of Mubarak on the anniversary of the day our sons and brothers began to be murdered. As he drew to a close, the roar of a march carried across the area, and then I watched from my window as thousands poured, chanting, across the bridge, like the other marches from all the Cairo districts headed to Tahrir, filling it to overflowing after the noon prayer.
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