Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 25th, One Year Later

A year ago today, on January 25th, 2011, Egypt rose up.  After 18 days of protests and close to one thousand deaths, Egyptians succeeded in ousting Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of dictatorship.   Today, millions of them returned to the country's square with the same courage, humor, and fervor that characterized their uprising a year ago.  Some were celebrating the glory and bravery of their revolution.  All were mourning the martyrs that were killed by security forces during those 18 days and in the ensuing year.  Many feel that their revolution is incomplete, and seek to reclaim it and topple the military rule that is plaguing the country.

In the weeks leading up to the year mark of the January 25th Revolution, the debate swirled around whether the day should be one of remembrance and celebration, or one of renewed revolt and protest against what many see as the same fraudulent negligence, only wearing a military uniform.  It was clear to me that the energy that unified Egyptians for the 18 days before Mubarak’s expulsion was lacking, perhaps because there is no longer a common enemy.  Liberally inclined folks wager that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has struck an informal deal with the Muslim Brotherhood to ensure that both wield power, so they fire their criticism at both the military and the newly elected religious politicians.  A larger segment of society is also dissatisfied with the sloppiness that has distinguished the military-led transitional period, which has most glaringly included violent infractions that have left scores dead.  Then there is what many sarcastically refer to as the Couch Party, who don’t care much for politics, and merely want stability; some of them blame the revolutionaries for creating chaos.  Then you have conspiracy theorists who point fingers at faceless thugs (boltagiyya) who want to “burn and destroy Egypt” for no apparent reason, as my raving taxi driver explained to me yesterday.  Needless to say, when lots of Egyptians get together and talk politics, there is a lot of gesticulating and yelling and very little consensus, although everyone agrees on their love for Egypt.

When I met a group of Egyptian friends at Cairo University to march to Tahrir Square, the atmosphere was unmistakably political.  Many of the chants and signs demanded the military hand over power to a civilian government immediately and face punishment for its actions.  They were unmoved by the SCAF’s recent concessions, including the release of about two thousand political prisoners and the repeal of emergency law (except in cases of “thuggery”, which leaves the door wide open to interpretation).  These mostly young people were remembering, too, many of them wearing masks or holding photos of the martyrs who had been killed in the last year’s violence.  As we set off beneath the sun glinting off the red, white, and black of the Egyptian flag, the students’ voice rose escalated with demands of fair trials, freedom, a civil state, social justice, and the return of the military to their barracks. 
My friends and me in the march from Cairo University
 to Tahrir Square.  Photo by Amir Makar
I found myself reminiscing to my high school days of protesting the invasion of Iraq.  It is curious what societal traits transcend geographical and cultural borders and become universal; I guess fighting for justice looks about the same everywhere.  Signs with witty and powerful slogans and photos were all around us, and students scrambled onto each others’ shoulders to lead the crowd in chants, handing the megaphone to a peer when they lost their voice.  “Wahed, itnain, tasleem a-sulta fain?” (One, two, where is the handover of power?).  I heard the echo of “One, two, three, four, let’s end this stupid war” when I used to protest the Bush administration’s invasion.  In front of and behind me, all I could see was Egyptians, their numbers as thick as the Cairo pollution, and I was reminded of looking on crowds of my fellow American protesters twisting around New York City’s blocks.  At one point, people all around me raised their hands in the peace sign and observed a moment’s silence for the martyrs.  The energy was electric, rippling around the neighborhood stores, reaching up into apartment buildings where onlookers waved at us with tears in their eyes, and weaving its way amongst these young revolutionaries.

Photo by Amir Makar
I was baffled that Tahrir Square could hold us all: it was to the point of bursting, with marches from all over Cairo gushing in to occupy Tahrir once again.  The square’s mood seemed to contrast somewhat with the tenacity of the march.  That is not to say that there was not an aura of enthusiasm and protest in the famous throne of the revolution, but there was more of a sense of celebration and happy nostalgia than anything else.  As dusk descended on the square, so did disappointment on the faces of my Egyptian friends.  They expressed frustration that the Muslim Brotherhood had control over the most visible and audible stage, belching out lies about having been present in the square at the onset of the uprising.  Although individuals from the Brotherhood stood by their fellow revolutionaries a year ago, the organization discouraged its supporters from taking to the streets at the beginning of the revolution, and those who did broke were younger members who broke with the older cadre of leaders.  It seemed a usurpation of a revolution that belonged to young people, liberals, and your everyday disgruntled people with no political claim.  Nonetheless, the day’s turnout was extraordinary, a true testament to the force that is the Egyptian people.
Tahrir from above
Photo by Amir Makar
By the late night and early morning, only those dedicating themselves to a sit-in remained.  Perhaps Egypt’s squares will once again fill on Friday to ensure that both the SCAF and the new Parliament know they are under watch.  That is where I feel street pressure must now be focused.  The SCAF has promised to step down and hold presidential elections in June.  If they do not meet these promises, Egyptians must save their strength to rise up again.  I do hope pressure is also maintained on the SCAF so that they are held accountable for their wrongdoings, including military trials for civilians, torture, and the massacres committed at Maspero, Mohammad Mahmoud St., and the Interior Ministry.

A common refrain during marches and protests is “a-soura mustamerra”, the revolution goes on, and that it does.  Of course, it is debated that what took place a year ago in Egypt was not a full-scale revolution, in that only the head of the system was overthrown, as opposed to the entire political order.  But a revolution also signifies a dramatic change in the way people think about how their country works, and that is indeed underway in Egypt.  Never before would millions have descended into the streets in opposition to the status quo.  Never before would so many have voted in relatively clean elections.  So although many of yesterday’s protesters felt that the revolution’s goals have yet to be realized, there is certainly a dramatic transformation that deserves celebration as well as fighting for.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow! How privileged we are to have your insights, so beautifully written. Thank you, Yamila, for being our eyes - and hearts - in Cairo. ... Doris, Paul and Nico