Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Amazing Tahrir

Wisdom of the ancient Egyptians is contained in the famous Book of The Dead. Egyptians celebrate feasts going to cemeteries, the world grandest tombs are our pyramids, when it comes to death, we excel, right? I always thought being Egyptian American was the ultimate philosophical contradiction in terms of outlook on life and death! Wrong, the Egypt that I saw on Twitter and Facebook for the past few months and specially since "#Jan25" or the January 25, 2011 Revolution is very much alive, not cynical but open, optimistic, tolerant, inclusive and vital. The outpouring of positive energy and creativity in all facets of life is beyond description and imagination. Enough adjectives and here are highlights of my seven hours in Tahrir Square.

On arrival ID checks and two patdowns, searches, organized, smiling, apologized for search and a big “Welcome to Tahrir”. ID checks to confirm not employed by police or other undesirable internal security apparatus for those are the trouble makers in post Jan25 Egypt! Traveling from Cairo Airport to nearby suburb Naser City to downtown, I saw virtually no police, amazing when they are normally ultra visible. Funnily enough, I only saw just limited military on my way to the airport, one tank and 3 soldiers to be accurate; yet Cairo felt more organized and safe than normal!

Inside Tahrir it felt like being in a surreal world, like being in a concert, carnival or even an amusement park. People selling flags, drinks, all types of foods and souvenirs; all handing out lots of smiles. Occasional spontaneous chants and mini marches memorizing martyrs, mocking or calling for the trial of former regime members or wanting their money. In normally classist Egypt, people were mixing easily, chatting and always smiling. I always thought Egyptians while having a wicked sense of humor were normally sad and subdued, in fact Egyptians normally ask forgiveness of God whenever they have a good laugh with the short prayer for God to make this laughter for a good thing or “Allah yegaloh khier”; the Egyptians in Tahrir were smiling and laughing unapologetically and optimistically; it was their right to be happy, finally!

Lots of people were passing leaflets; some rejecting the proposed constitution, others offering help to clarify their constitutional views, another for some presidential candidate with a ten point plan: number 9 was "A considered and thoughtful plan to reduce the number of spinsters". The big emphasis from most is ending detentions, ending the hated State Security apparatus and the new constitution.

My own brother insisted on buying a Libyan revolution flag when he saw someone walking by carrying one. He wanted to show solidarity. By noon the area was getting very full of people when the Muslim friday prayers were held. Amazingly people knelt down for prayers all mixed up, men, women, Christians, Muslims; some men asked women to sit down for prayers, some did, others didn't. It was relaxed and comfortable and the Imam addressed the sermon to Egyptians Muslims and Christians and called on the Shiekh of Al Azhar to be an elected not appointed post.

Women who were very visible in this revolution were also visible in Tahrir, the majority had their hair covered, many didn't and some had the once dreaded face cover. My own prejudices against the veil fell apart as I saw assertive activist women taking part in the revolution fully, no back seats and many if not most calling for a secular civil state.

For me, one of the main faces of the revolution is the wonderful and articulate Asma Mahfouz, an activist blogger whose courage, determination in her video blogs helped galvanize the movement and actually got people out on Jan 25. This modest girl with the headscarf shamed the nation into getting out to protest against Mubarak as she recounted stories of being a girl amongst a handful of protestors in the face of truckloads of Central Security. I didn't see Asma in person but I saw many like her.

While sitting on a curb facing the "Mogamma" the central administrative building of the state on Tahrir Square, another young Asma with a large tatterd bag came collecting the empty bottles, cans and food wrappings; an hour later a young man came in for the same purpose. They went about their tasks silently, unobtrusively, not complaining, not uttering a word. I found myself rushing ahead of them to collect the garbage with my hands to put in their white bags. I felt humbled by the courage, organization and dedication of those beautiful young people of Egypt. For Jan25 is a revolutions that cares about what it leaves behind, it cleans after itself.

At about 1 pm, the newly appointed Prime Minister of this country of 85 Million people walked by us with no visible guards to the make shift stage at the edge of the Square. I saw him and took few photos with my phone, but the audio did not cooperate, I could not hear what he said and the crowd was intense. Fireworks in the midday sun of Cairo and loud chants erupted, I found out later it was his pledge to achieve the will of the people. Closer to 3pm I walked around the rest of the Square listening to many speeches by men and women in the different corners of this wonderful Republic of Tahrir ...all people believing in a better future. Doubtless the various factions that brought Egypt to this success will splinter into Socialist, Arabist, Liberal, Islamist, Egyptian Nationalist and others, one has to feel a certain amount of gratitude towards the hated Mubarak for making it possible for these various groups to unite and learn to work together so well.

Many thoughts and fears still crowd my head, but I wanted to communicate what I saw, perhaps still a bit raw and full of emotion and excitement. I still hear the young man who was selling flags and painting faces lamenting that Friday March 4 was likely the last big protest, I hope he is right and being Egyptian American and now mainly a Tahriri, I have to be optimistic.

March 6, 2011


LOrion said...

Thanks. Would have liked to have DATE you were there at top of blog.. You know the old journalistic mantra that Who, What, When Where and Why needs to be in first paragraph.

Pete said...

Thank you, this is really helpful for us that do not fully understand the culture and are victims of the news media that focus on the sensational and hardly ever on the personal aspects of what is evidently a huge liberation of the Egyptian people and achieved with relatively little bloodshed.

mohammad said...

I liked the new term "tahriri" which can or rather is already a new description of the latest party or movement in our area. All the media is putting lots of effort to describe the protesters where they are using adjectives like "facebook youth" or "the youth revolution" which is not very exact description.
AS of now I will describe myself as "tahriri" rather than "Arabi".