Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Diary of an Egyptian in the middle of the demonstration on Tahrir

Protester with cartoon by Latuff: Mubarak & a shoe

In the past I have been a correspondent for Dutch radio and the newspaper de Volkskrant in Cairo. For some time there I was helped with translations by  Noha Radwan, who nowadays is an assistant professor of Arabic at the University of California and still a good friend. I am happy and proud that after all this time she 'worked' for me again and sent me the following:
This is a faithful and unpolished translation of an eyewitness report that appeared on facebook shortly after Tuesday midnight Cairo time. The writer was one of the last dispersed by the security forces. While it is written in an obviously hasty and simple style, it says a lot about the nature of the Egyptian demonstrations and the make up of the participants. It is also makes it clear that even after the forceful dispersal of the demonstrators, they are still determined to keep working on bringing down the Mubarak regime.

I have just returned home from the demonstrations, tired, hungry and chilled because of the water cannons they used on us. I will write this in colloquial Arabic, don’t even have the energy to write it in proper standard Arabic but what I have seen needs to be told and made known to everyone. What I saw today was a series of great surprises, truly great.
Surprise one: There was a large number of people, as you have seen on TV. Everyone thought that they would be the only one and that the rest would stay at home as ususal but that was not what happened.
Surprise two: Most of the demonstrators were quite young, ‘yuppies of the facebook’. They looked like they were relatively well off. And there were many professionals. I saw people from my university that I had not seen in years. I was surprised that they took to the street despite the fact that they are not suffering as much as many other people.
Surprise three: Although most of the demonstrators were young, there were some really old people who had to walk slower than everyone else. There were also some people who brought their children.
Surpise four: There were many girls, more girls than boys in our group, and they looked like they were raised in gold cocoons and would not know how to cross the streets by themselves but they turned out to be tougher than the guys.
Surprise five: We were a little afraid for the girls, that they may be harassed. They were not. Everyone was very well behaved. This shows that the previous allegations of harassment may have been government provocateurs.
Surprise six: There was no violence at all. Even when some of the guys began to attack the armored cars that were spraying the water, the demonstrators chanted: “non-violent, non-violent”.
Surprise seven: After our sit-in in Tahrir Square, some of the demonstrators began to clean the place of the sit-in to prove that we were civilized.
Surprise eight: When I later looked at the square, it was indeed clean.
Surprise nine: A girl who was in our group kept swearing by the prophet and the Quran [Muslims acceptably do this as proof of sincerity]. Later I found out that she was Christian. No one noticed or cared. Why is it that when we are all chanting for our nation, these minor differences disappear.
Surprise ten: there was a lot of joy and pride that we felt when we shouted out the name of our country. We shouted “Egypt Egypt,” and people clapped. The name of the country you call home and where you want to spend the rest of your life. Now you can declare your love of it without feeling or being accused of sentimentality and foolishness.

Tahrir Square by night

Surprise eleven: When you are afraid of what may happen when the security forces attack the demonstrators, you raise your face to the heavens and find that you and twenty or thirty other people are looking for God’s help, knowing that He will not leave you alone. Thank God!
Surprise twelve: It was great to see some demonstrators who got together for congregational prayers in the midst of all this.
Surprise thirteen: The youths in Egypt are quite all right. They are courageous and noble. They love their country and they are aware. They have God in their hearts.
Surprise fourteen: The strongest chants and slogans that resonated with the people were those against Mubarak. The participants understand very well where the problem is. The other chants were not as effective.
Surprise fourteen: We saw Ibrahim Issa [Chief editor of al-Dostour newspaper who was recently fired] carried on people’s shoulders. Their love for him was obvious and clear. I saw Nawwara Nigm [a regular columnist in al-Dostour] and shook her hand. She was tearing up with joy at what she saw.
Surprise sixteen: We went, with God’s help, all the way to Giza. Every time, they [the security forces] tried to stop, they found that we were too many, and they had to let us go.
Surprise seventeen: Often I felt that I was afraid and did not want to get hurt but then there is no other choice. This is corruption and injustice and we must fight it. God asked us to fight it. He did not create us for nothing, and if He had created us only to worship him, then what good does that do. He wanted us to use his favors and blessings and to fight injustice. He said: your life and your sustenance are mine to control so do not fear others.
Break your fear and join those who defend their rights, the Muslims and the Christians. Don’t you dream of a real homeland for our children? A place where they can have a project or research to undertake in a good university? Or an important book to write? Instead of being consumed with daily life like we are? Doing meaningless work like us. Yes, our work is meaningless. You, doctor, know that you did not get the best education and that others abroad are much better than you are. If you are an engineer like me, you do not dream of doing anything too complex. You do stuff that has been done for the past fifty years. If I wanted money, I can only work in sales and marketing. Maybe you are a professor and know that what you are teaching is not the best, or maybe it is, but it will not help your students secure good jobs. We have no Harvard, NASA, MIT or Cleveland Hospital. Forget it! When I look at my baby boy, I wonder, “if I raise him well, will he turn out like me, suffering the same frustrations I suffer? Will he join some radical group just to diffuse his anger? Should I raise him as a crook so that he can join the ruling party, the NDP? Or will he live aboard and visit only once a year? Then I know that I have to put my faith in good and try to fix my own country.

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