Thursday, January 26, 2012

25th of January, 2012. One year on, we're even stronger

For the days leading up to the 25th of January, almost three weeks before it, my mind kept wandering between the first few days of the revolution, and the months that followed; reflecting particularly on all those personal moments tucked in the corners of my memory in full scent and flavor.

There's always little space to remember. Because all of us have so many memories. Yet, there's little space for nostalgia with so much to be done, and with that sense of responsibility both towards yourself - everything you promised yourself this revolution would be at the beginning of it; and every oath you took upon yourself when you saw someone get shot, counted a body in the morgue, or sat with the family of a martyr. Those responsibilities weigh heavily upon most of us.

Most of my most poignant memories are memories of feelings. A sense of conviction and purpose that completely overwhelms fear; a moment of fear that overwhelms any sense of logic or rationale; a strong sense of acceptance (and peace with) the possibility of death; an overwhelming sense of love; and a powerful togetherness. With each of these feelings is an instance, trembling with fear in bed, chanting amongst a sea of people, pumping your fist next to someone you love, breathing through tear-gas, making new friends in a protest, phone-calls with families of the missing that drag for minutes or hours, even when there is nothing to say.

On the few days before the revolution the memories cascaded before me like a constant reel of film, some i'd forgotten, some reproduce to dwell upon, and some i'd never forget, though i wish i could.

And yet somehow, yesterday all the nostalgia faded in the strength of the marches that overcame the experiences of all those before them and fulfilled the promise, the hope, and the yearning for a continued revolution. Ofcourse it continues :) And ofcourse we celebrate the power of our togetherness.

After days of intense dilemma, as to which march we'd join, Yahia and i had narrowed it down to four marches (the dilemna started with two) the night before the 25th. I usually feel marches are strongest and most exciting in populous areas, and Yahia felt they made most sense when we are with people we cared about. So that narrowed it down to Shubra (where started on the 25th last year), Imbaba (where we had friends and worked closely to the popular committee), Maadi (where we lived and thus had a sense of responsibility to mobilize), and Mostafa Mahmoud (where 'everyone' was going to be).

We finally decided to start with Maadi, hop to Imbaba and meet up with Mostafa Mahmoud; what better way to celebrate the 25th of January, than march-hopping :)

We started with the Maadi march at ten am, where hundreds were already gathered, including my parents, my aunt and my cousin, donned stickers, and debated what we should do with #SCAF whether we want power handed to parliament, or presidential elections first, and chanted after passerby's in cars that would pop out to lead us.

We started the march through Hassanein Desouky, Ahmed Zaki and 3arab Maadi in general, and within minutes, it was difficult to make out the beginning of the march, and we were no longer near the end, as we were when we started.

There is something to be said about starting a march from where you live. To explore the geography of your community on foot, to take over the roads, to have a sea of people fill the bridges and spill into roads and alleys, to see windows and balconies full of people adn to interact with everyone. It's like things are turned inside out. Time stops, the chants make the discussion general and inclusive, and you start discussions despite age or gender or class or any barrier that usually hinders one. Like barriesr are temporarily suspended as the space we occupy is somehow, completely shared.

It makes it easier for people to join a protest and roar opinions since there are many of us; and those in doubt can stop and think for a while...or they can ask.

Cab drivers took stickers and fliers from us and stuck them on their windows, and shop owners cheered us on. We did occasionally get the growl, but it was much less than any other time.

We then spilled into midan saweras, and up the maadi bridge, as we marched up and reached the peak, we saw below us the sea of people that was the march come from Helwan, raising their flags of resistance high.

Our spirits soared and our chants echoed through maadi as we joined forces, and made our way out to the corniche.

We walked all 17 kms from Maadi on the nile, through corniche el maadi, el malek el saleh, masr el adima, el manial, qasr el einy and garden city. We were mostly cheered by public buses, truck drivers, taxi drivers and workshop owners. People waved their flags from balconies, and except for one person who waved us dismissively, almost everyone i encountered was supportive. We got prayers, thumbs up , victory signs, people joined in chants, or promised to join us at night when they didn't hop on.

There were many many families in most marches i imagine, as the revolution is , as always, a family affair, but there were also many children under 5 in stickers and flags,and pig-tails, pumping their firsts and chanting along, especially to ' yasqut yasqut 7ukm el 3askar; ehna el shaab el khat el a7mar' - "Down with military rule; we the people are red lines..'

I imagine that this is a 'feast' or anniversary or occasion like no other. Most occasions we celebrate are in remembrance of one event or other in history whose significance wears with time, but we still celebrate in ritual or need of family warmth. But this is different. This is in (not remembrance) but actual celebration of something we ourselves 'established'. That is our coming together as a people, our power over any system we hire to rule us; and our refutal or those who come to power without our permission.

Every year on the 25th of January, we will come out, with newer generations, and they will continue the rituals, not because they need to make sure they remember. But because to them, this is a reality they were born to, and a ritual that makes perfect sense. They will come out (at least) once a year in millions, where all barriers will be suspended and all our 'public' spaces will become joined spaces, and we will chant and sing, our discussions and disagreements and agreements.

We will get excited as we march under bridges and tunnels, raise our voices high so they echo around us and fill us with strength. We will chant loudest when we are on top of bridges and in alleys, when we know our echoes will ripple throughout the neighborhoods we are in, and shake the insides of every house, reminding those who thought not to leave them, how strong we really are. No matter where you are on the day, at home, in bed, on the streets, in a march, in a shop; the chants will ricochet around you, so they become your reality. We the people are a red line, egypt will not be ruled by a military, we will not forget the blood of our martyrs, there is, in fact, a revolution in each of Egypt's streets.

Last year 'thawra thawra 7atta el nasr, thawra fe kul shaware' masr' ; "a revolution in every street in Egypt" may have been more of a call; this year the chant was a celebration, a celebration of the existence of the revolution in each of Egypt's streets.

We finally made it near tahrir, on its very outskirts, and the front-lines stopped the march to announce that there was no way tahrir would encompass our march, the beginning and end of the sea that we were were difficult to make out, and the square and its surroundings were already full to the brim. Qasr el nil bridge before us, was a sea of people itself. We imagined it must be another march, that perhaps once it passed and assimilated into tahrir there would be more space for us. Within minutes however we realized that it was not a march; but a spill over from tahrir. Downtown, was completely jammed with all its squares adn bridges.

The revolution has outgrown tahrir by far. Tahrir became that space we knew we'd meet. It became the space we went to, to think, to create that imagined community, that alternative we all dreamt of. It became the space where we practiced and experimented with different forms of organization, rule and co-existance. But now those spaces exist in each of our neighborhoods, through the popular committees, and other countless initiatives and forms of activism.

Tahrir was a symbol, and a centre we needed to hold us together. It will always be that symbol; but this revolution has been one that has constantly chipped at our whiffs of nostalgia. There is little space for nostalgia when there is so much work to do. And when every point is more glorious, invigorating and emotionally saturated than the moment that preceded it.

Every past revolution and past moment is remembered with the necessary criticism. ANd every win is overwhelming at the moment it is made, even when we tend to bring our wins apart, as if that is the only way to remember that we still have far to go.

We do have far to go, our dreams and ambitions cannot be encompassed by any square, individual, party, and words and verses constantly fail us. But we, as a people, have not relented for a moment since this time last year. The struggle has rippled and multiplied in every street and neighborhood and every house.

We argue and disagree as to the extent of how 'radical' or how 'revolutionary' or 'reformative' or 'peripheral' or 'relevant' all the different battles are; but the truth is this; they are all battles, individual, collective and communal, they are all groups of people that have gotten together to roll their dreams out and fill their lives with those possibilities.

Egypt has become a sort of theater. We are still in that relatively suspended realm where we can be anyone we want to be. We experiment with different forms of ourselves, with different dreams, and different friends and different ideologies, and we experiment with all the different ideas of what Egypt could be like. We test our dreams against all our different realities. In some instances they are tainted and we take them back, and in others they rub against people and magic and grow and multiply and extend until they are beyond our own imaginations.

That we have kept this up, this sense of possibility, this sense of agency this sense of peoplehood, that this momentum has multiplied, that we now have all these choices of what to do and who to be and how to continue the struggle, is breathtaking to behold.

There is so much to celebrate. That i can step down and join the revolution downstairs is one of them. That the dream is shared by so many people i know and don't know is another. That i don't have to trek out all the way to Tahrir to dream up the alternatives is yet another. That i find it very difficult to express myself in english as opposed to arabic, is a personal other :)

The revolution is everywhere. The revolution is all of us, and the revolution is each of us :) The sense of responsibility is layered and multiplied yes, but so is the amount of magic, possibility and hope that rises up like a tide and envelops us, every time our fears and anxieties threaten to overwhelm us.

We won't ever forget, we no longer need to fear that. Now let's celebrate who we've become, and take the struggle further, nostalgia and squares, and centers aside :)

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