By Jihan El-Aiaily
Cairo, 8 February: Until the 25th of January, 2011, 29 year-old Mohammed Said lived an ordinary and uneventful life in Monofeya, an Egyptian province 110 km North of Cairo. He had never been involved in politics or participated in a demonstration before. Mohamed worked during the day in a medium sized commercial venture and, like millions of Egyptians, spent his evenings surfing the internet, chatting on Facebook and other social media sites. The first wave of demonstrations on Jan 25th that had attracted an unexpected young crowd of 100,000 people to Tahrir Square turned out to be a defining moment for Mohamed. Braving rubber bullets, tear gas and brute force used by Egyptian Security forces and plain clothes policemen, the protesters never wavered: the slogans they displayed called for ‘justice, freedom, human dignity’.
That same evening on Facebook, Mohamed saw hundreds of SOS messages from the shocked protestors, who had been roughed up by the police, calling on people to come out on the streets to support them. The distress messages on the Facebook pages and twitter were happenings of seismic proportions that changed Mohammed’s life forever. It was the moment when Mohamed and hundreds of thousands like him across the country shed their fear and translated their collective loathing of their ruler into action. They surged toward Tahrir (Liberation) Square, defying the emergency law, the bullets and the batons of the police, and the absurd laws of the state that require authorization for any peaceful gathering of more than three people.
On January the 26th, Mohammed applied for and was granted a lengthy sick leave by his employers. On the same day, the government, in a desperate attempt to block the crowds, had taken measures to make entry into Cairo from the provinces a near impossibility. Undaunted, Mohamed walked for miles, hitchhiked and used the few available minibus services until he finally managed to make it to Tahrir Square - from which he has not budged since that day.
12 days into the demonstrations that rocked the country from Tahrir Square, I met Mohamed in the same location which he now calls ‘home’. He has vowed never to leave it until the protesters’ demand that President Mubarak steps down is met. “Freedom or martyrdom”, he said defiantly.
His chest, forehead and two fingers were bandaged. He had been hit by a rubber bullet and stones during the running battles of the 27t and the early hours of the 28th when the regime’s ‘supporters’, in a desperate attempt to spread chaos, charged into the square with camels and horses , while other thugs and plainclothes policemen showered protesters with stones, sharp metal objects and rubber bullets. The army stood by, barely attempting to restore law and order. Mohammed joined thousands of young men, heroically defending Tahrir Square, armed with nothing more than stones and an undaunted faith in the ‘rightness’of the revolution.
What about fear of death, I asked? “Fear grips those who are not fighting for a cause’, he replied confidently. “But our cause is one, we are fighting to regain our stolen humanity,’ he said in reference to the 30 years of repressive rule under President Mubarak, where basic human freedoms have been ruthlessly denied.
It is as if Mohamed and tens of thousands of his mates in Tahrir Square have fused into one collective being - nobler and more single-minded than their individual selves. As they pushed back the thugs with their stones and bare chests, the protesters roared in unison “the People demand the fall of the regime”. The ‘People’ have finally, miraculously, found their voice and they roared their wishes for all the world to hear.
In a sense, Tahrir Square has seen the birth of a new world, fueled by blood, courage, rage and determination that is unifying the minds of 80 million plus Egyptians and spreading like wildfire across the country. It is this new legitimacy founded on the will of ‘the People’ that has rattled the old order where torture and corruption are standard practices by state machinery, invariably with impunity.
Though barricaded from all sides by army tanks, Tahrir Square represents a kind of oasis to the hard core protestors like Mohamed and their countless supporters - an oasis of freedom, love and generosity of spirit. “It is the best thing that happened to me, I would have regretted it all my life had I not taken part in the revolution’ he said. It has been exhilarating for many people like Mohammed to move from virtual freedoms on the Facebook pages to practice and enjoy the real thing in Tahrir Square. The Square has become like Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, a melting pot where rich and poor meet, where secularists and Islamists rub shoulders without the usual tensions, where Muslims and Christians take part protecting each others’ prayer gatherings, where not a single case of sexual harassment has been reported by the thousands of women present.
The somewhat carnival-like atmosphere is seeing an amazing rebirth of political satire, imagination, arts, and irrepressible Egyptian humour. All of which would have been unimaginable prior to the events of January 25th that triggered this revolution.
Despite his wounds, obvious fatigue, haggard appearance, worn clothing that hardly protects his frail body from bitterly cold January nights and his old shoes riddled with holes, Mohamed was able to joke about these hardships and was in very high spirits. Transformed by the Revolution, Mohamed sees everyone around him as family. “In the square I have found my mother who is not my real mother, met my sisters and brothers who are not my real siblings. We are one family, we care for each other,’ he explained. Ironically, he thanks Mubarak for making the miracle happen.
Today, the revolution seems to have reached a deadlock since it has not yet succeeded in ousting Mubarak and his degenerate band. The embattled regime is trying desperately to hang on to power by offering piecemeal concessions, dividing the supporters while continuing to intimidate and threaten the protestors. The official media continues to spread lies and hate messages about the protesters and the journalists (local and foreign) covering the protests, accusing them all of being agents following foreign agendas.
Two dragons, one evil and the other good, are spewing fire at each other as the battle rages across the country....two worlds are colliding. Mubarak’s smug belief in the ‘unchangeableness’ of the Egyptian national character will be his undoing. The Facebook-ers have called his bluff and millions of ordinary Egyptians have responded, bringing the call for change on to the streets.
As the Irish poet and novelist, Oscar Wilde, observed, “the error of Louis XIV was that he thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result.” Mubarak rhetoric seems to reflect those exact same beliefs which, in turn, have brought about the Revolution of the 25th of January.
The protesters have coined a simple but brilliant response: ‘Erhal’ (Leave).
Jihan El-Alaily, is an independent journalist who lives in Cairo.