Monday, February 14, 2011

What this revolution has made of us; A people

And on the occassion of my first cup of coffee in weeks, and my resolve to be optimistic for the next few hours and before the first meeting of the day, i shall reflect :)

( i meant for this to be a reflection of things we went through as a movement, bas it turned out to be a bit more personal. still they're experiences we can all relate to; let's stop for a minute, stock up on positivity and possibility and move forward!)

-- on fear

Thursday night and as we tried to sleep, shivering slightly from the excitement and possibilities of the next day, and the rushed phonecalls and excited whispers of the entire day before (not to mention the pdf document that circulated with our first ever written plan 'how to protest in style'), the phone rang. At the other end was the shrunken voice, of an already small voiced Maysoon from Alexandria. We had spoken earlier and she promised to send the plan for protest sites late into the night, as soon as she knew of them, so i knew where to head when i got there. "el internet et2ata3et...e7temaal ye2fulu bawabaat el qaherra weskendereyya, wel telephone 7aye2ta3 2urayeb awey..". her voice was a mixture of steel resolve and fragile fear; 'matter of factness' - tab ma we all knew the phone lines would go down - but also a latent shared, prounounced albeit tiny running stream of terror. We stayed silent on the phone and i can't remember how long it was, i didn't want to close yet, and i felt she didn't either - and our relationship was only one very short phone-call deep, although perhaps connected by a similar fate.

'tayeb..rabenna ma3ana' was all i could muster and 'khudy balek men nafsek' was all she could. She couldn't tell me where the protests would be, bas assured me they would be everywhere. I assured her, i would find everywhere easily. I shut the phone, and felt terrified. I knew tomorrow would be big, bas had no idea what the extent of violence would be, or how ugly it would get before the light broke through. I knew for certain the arrests would start in a few hours (it was already one am) but i didn't know how far they would stretch. Would it just be leadership figures, would they arrest as many activsts as possible, would there be enough spaces in the prisons?

I couldn't sleep. I called nihal in the states, adn sarah in switzerland, asking them to lobby and protest as much as they could about internet cuts. But that wasn't why i called, i just needed to talk to someone outside or somehow hoped they wouldn't forget. I pretended i couldn't talk for long because i couldn't stop my voice from shaking, i didn't know what i wanted to ask them, but like the phonecall with maysoon i didn't want to close quickly. I got up, and barricaded the door with our make-shift dining table, i checked and planned an escape route from our balconies, noting possible foot-holds and rehearsing various leaps.

This is all funny now, because i'm not a really hard-core activist; they would certainly have more important people to consider, bas the fear i felt, much like the fear i felt on tuesday was just so large. it was larger than dying or the fear of falling, or even the fear of being arrested. hope is something we felt in such large large, larger than life proportions and the fact that that might die was scarier than anything you can imagine. it threatens all of you keda.

But morning did come, and despite my waking yahia up every other hour to check why the dogs were barking and who the doorman was arguing with, and what that clang was, and despite his oscillating between soothing and making fun of me, the sun miraculously came up and the day broke through.

Cairo and Alex were like the morning of any day or planned protest - 'normal'. people strolled from one place to another, or lazed and basked in friday morning-light. All was as it would be anyday, as it would be any friday. Our pick for 'everywhere' in Alex was sidi bishr. there were a few peopel lingering around before the prayer and i spoke to a few of them to check that something was really happening there. And right after the khutba and prayer, three people stepped out and one called out 'ya ahalina ya ahaline; dummu 3aleyna ya ahalina..' - they turned to tens, then hundreds, then hundreds of hundreds in less than minutes.

In two hours the war between amn el markazy with their trucks, and their tear-gas and their rubber (and live?) bullets ensued, against the protestors with their stones, adn their 'throwing tear-gas back' tactics. There was also the very Alexandrian tactics of the families throwing plastic-water bottle bombs from their windows and balconies while chanting 'ya 7kuma ya weskha (clap clap clap clap); ya 7kuma ya weskha' clap clap clap clap; between one water bottle and the other. At this they were also shot at with teargas. And for some reason teh teargas felt much more intense than tuesday.

Throughout there was teh absolutely breathtaking sight to behold (we had clambered unto a roof) of people disspitating and dissappearing into side-streets, and thousands upon thousands rippling in slowly and magnificently from a perpendicular street, or from behind the markazy. Those are sights i will never forget.

Nor the cheer and elation when the amn el markazy retreated shouting in a microphone 'khalas ya shabab, khalas e7na benetraga3 ahuh.. khalas ya shabab'.

And i will certainly never forget the sensation as teh crowds poured unto the corniche, and the two wide lanes filled with people, and the wave upon wave of people that joined the march from every intersecting street we passed. One protest after another emerged victoriously from its neighbourhood and unto the corniche. this could have never ever been planned. We were a sea of people, in hundreds of thousands, flowing directly by the sea, with as much energy, force and musicality. I promised myself to remember that sensation, that very sensation of stregnth everytime a sort of fear gripped me.

On tuesday everytime the tear-gas canisters started or rubber bullets were fired, i was gripped with a fear that made my knees so weak and hard as i tried, i could not find that memory or notion in my head that would comfort me. It was only after that very last raid of incessant tear-gas when we thought we would die adn realized we didn't that you learn that tear-gas doesn't at all, kill you, infact it literaly makes you stronger :) And the notion and idea of a death amongsty so many brave seems less and less daunting

I'm sure each of us have that memory of fear breaking, and a sort of synchrony with people you have never known or seen before, but saw and knew very well at that moment.

On tuesday, the 25th, as we reveled in possibility, a young man turned to me, or perhaps someone beside me and said 'ey da.. da tele3 begad fee naas'. it could not have been better articulated. Da fe3lan fee nas :)

- en e7na bene3raf netsarraf

The moment the police disappeared - and by nightfall (again i was sitll in alex), several individuals roamed the streets with a patch on their shoulders that read 'lagna sha'beyya'. The police withdrawal and the various rumours about the prisoners were starting to ripple through, but almost just as quickly, people got together and formed groups and committees to protect public property such as teh library of Alexandria, as well as homes and personal property such as shops etc. It was INCREDIBLE. Not that it was so spontanesouly organized, bas the extent to which e7na fe3lan bene3raf entsaraf. If Mubarak maintained his power on the basis that life would be chaos without him; i wonder the extent to which we realize, the extent to which we are capable of organizing as a people, not in the absence of the government but also in creating one.

El mawdu3 absat beketir memma takhayalna. The committees were much stronger in Alexandria, they developed subcommittees in every neighbourhood so that every committee had sub committees that were focused on medical and social and security issues and able to provide services to people that not only compensated for the lack of certain aspects of government, but services that never existed anyway. By the time the police were deployed again, (and until a few days ago) their IDs were checked before they were allowed to report to duy and some were monitored.

- on spontaneity and trust

There were vairous moments in tahrir where many of us felt things should be coordinated, or organized, or that we or some of us felt that things should be mobilized in one particular direction or other. Most of these attempts seemed to be failing either because it would turn out several people are already trying to do the same thing, or that it would be impossible to coordiante the efforts or thoughts of such a large mass. Bas as a very wise wael khalil put it, it also meant there was a sort of synergy. Everytime you came up with an idea, it meant at least 3 or 4 groups around you came up with the same idea that very instant. Any attempt to control the idea or co-erce it into any direction failed miserably, because nothing about this movement was to be controlled. THe same spontaneity with which it developed because we were ready, ran through every initiative or everything that took place. At times, it felt hte best thing to do was come up with the idea, marvel at how wonderful it was, adn wait for it to appear, somewhere :)

So there was the instance we decided to collect the various statements of demands that were sprouting; at the time there were 3, and the next day we heard of two more, and the day after that at least three, and then one day; voila, a banner statement of clear demands that stretched the legnth of a building was placed before us all.

Then there was the suggestion or call for 'tas3eed'; whether that involved taking over the TV station or going to the palace, and all the fears and axieites associated with it. And the simplicity and smoothness with which it happened after Mubarak's last speech (khamees al na2ta) on thursday

Though it was hard to stay optimistic some days,at least one thing happened on almost every single day that proved that things were blissfully well beyond our control. Even our imagination. that the sum of our faiths and imaginations, are much wider and much bigger than any one of our imaginations could grasp.

there's a magic in that, and that magic should never ever be forgotten.

- that we did it

there is the very simple, very obvious and now, somehow almost outdated fact that we did it. Once it happened, i felt i wondered if at any one point, or how i could have, at any one point doubted that it would. It is the very material and substantial and obvious 'power of a people'. The fact that we were so many, all over Egypt, that wanted him out, and that we were flexing all our muscles as to what the alternative was. Sure, the issue of constitution may have had us briefly mystified, but that impasse was greatly overcome, as we delved deepr into the question of what the constitution was, how it was written, what it constituted of a social contract between people and their chosen rulers, the fact that it itself stipulated shar3eyyet el thawra; and that the people are the source of all authorities. And that therefore the constitution was void, and really quite irrelevant in this context. The constitution was one of many many myths that stood in our way to power. that and all of the myths that embodied our fear of a repressive regime. Or seeing that most people i know are far braver than i, my own fears. With it the myth of how a government operates, the myth of legitimacy of structure, and the myth of a gaping void of power once it is gone.

the result being the collective decision en 'la mubarak wala suleiman, el kalam dah kan zamaan' adn the growing collective desire that seemed to prefer a clear transitional government that would start with the military; although perhaps that too was a limitation of imagination. i could not imagine an alternative i preferred; though i did and still greatly fear the potentials of a military rule. Hopefully we push for the option of a magles re2asah with civil and military representatives soon..

- politicization of the masses

the fact that we were all able to debate and discuss the constitution, the different possible forms of government, the alternatives to the system we were toppling, and the plurality that defined tahrir. It wasn't just a matter of political affiliations or directions, but it was a question and structure of politics, a realm we had always been so separate from as a people and one we were realizing increasingly we ALL need to be a part of.

- redefining who we are

As Egyptians. This stretches from the sense of humour that ruled and reigned during the protests adn the various slogans, chants and songs that were developing; to the ability to communicate and move forward when most communication lines and channels were severed, to the ability to organize to raise funds and medication and supplies for all for the period we were in tahrir...

all seem to defy all the ideas we had of us as a people; as apathetic or seperated or gated away from each other. it seemed all we needed is a lack of government.

- And finally a lack of nostalgia..

There was always (or at least in my mind and context) this nostalgia to a better time.. whether that was in aspects of Nasser's era or periods before that. Now, there is no period with as much glory as this one. There has been nothing i felt, experienced, heard of or read about in our history or any other that compares to the utopia and fleeting moments of utopia we experienced in tahrir. There is nothing like and no one who did it like we did. There is a great fear and with it a clear criticism of the military coup in 1952 (never again to be referred to as a revolution) and how we run the risks of repetition if we are not careful and demanding of this government.

THere was never a better time than now, and no one has done it as we have. And we are not any one person or any one group, but a whole range of names and faces that filter through my mind right now, some i had never seen before and will never forget, and some i know already i will never see again.

These and many small conversations we'd had with repentant mobinil/vodafone workers who knew about the cut and couldn't stop it; or graduates of law school who remained unemployed for years and questioned how this revolution would serve them; to men who told me honesty we spoke together only because of this revolution as otherwise the blasphemy of the state of my curls would have never allowed; to all the sandwhiches and koshary and water-bottles i've (we all certainly) shared with complete strangers, to the many strangers i have kissed and hugged, shaked hands with, or watched cry, or cried with.

Surely sharing such moments of strong faith and hope, and trust in each other, and absolute distrust in those whove ruled us, and that entire generation with a lapse of imagination has made of us a free generation. We should never doubt our ability to dream up and carry through our future again. Never doubt our entitlement to this country to ourselves. And never doubt our capacity as a people, and the capacity (YES) of good over evil.

We hoped, and we tried, year after year, and somehow a greater larger more dynamic and creative and humbling 'we' did it!

and we have to be SURE we'll continue to...

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The stone square.الكعكة الحجرية

Tahrir was wondeful yesterday. We will forever live off this whiff of utopia. The field clinics are well equipped, people are working hard to keep the square clean, lots of discussions as to political alternatives, and our dreams for all this country could be in the future. So much love, and a new fresh gush of egyptian protestors who have come home from all over the world; everything can wait, masr can't. You find egypt there as you've never known it. 'We' are finally 'a' people, the circle brings us together, the divides are much more frail. We've found in and amongst ourselves a creativity, resolve, bravery, vision, idealism, truth, peace and love as we've never attributed to ourselves. And learnt the extent to which a history of harsh governance has kept the people apart and skewed our images of ourselves, limited our imaginations as to all we could be. Those of us in tahrir will forever be changed by it. Those outside will continue to leave in the fear and doubt that has poisoned us our entire lives and threatens to do so.

The situation outside tahrir is less ideal. We were caught by a group of baltageyya on our way out of wust el balad wed morning, and handed over to the military police who eventually let us go. Up till yesterday noon i would have described the experience as 'terrifying'. Others were not as lucky, some werekept by military police and interrogated very roughly, others were taken to a detention center run by the army in the egyptian museum and beaten up, and still others are yet to be found.Hisham Mubarak center for Human rights and legal aid's entire staff have been arrested and still can't be found, seems the same can be said for Al Nadeem Centre. Journalists are being arrested and released. It's hard to differentiate the popular committees from the baltageyya (thugs). It's hard to tell whether the pro-mubarak thugs have infiltrated into te 'the people' or if these popular committees have become violently unsympathetic. It's heart-breaking as these commimttees were, much like this protest an organic development of organized solidarity where people swiftly replaced government security apparatus, and grew to offer social, medical and logistical services in their neighbourhoods. In Suez and Alexandria for example they operate as local government councils would ideally operate. Whether it is the government media that is poisoning our minds and turning us against each other, or the poorly paid thugs that are infiltrating the fronts of these local committees, it isn't clear. What is clear however, is that it seems the army has resorted to underhanded violence, and executing a war of attrition.

This movement started out spontaneous anger, and was faithful and true to its two prime slogans ' Selmeyya ' 'peaceful' and 'sha3beyya' 'popular'. People have lost their lives in an attempt to keep it as such. The current government has pulled all its tricks (we have a new trend on a DAILY basis without acception) to infiltrate violence, fear and evil as you can never imagine it, into our ranks. And the youth on the forefront of this movement have worked relentlessly and with awesome bravery to keep this out. How much longer they will survive is not clear.

Stop the violence. End the existance of this government that has kept us apart for decades, and attempts to wedge us apart further. Stand up for who we are, and everything we wish to be.