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Chronicles of the Egyptian Revolution: Rebirth

Cairo protest

Ahmed Abul Ella is an Egyptologist and tourism professional living with his family outside of Cairo. He has been recording his personal observations about the momentous changes his country has gone through since their January 2011 revolution. Below are his thoughts on the historic uprising of the last week. He would like the world to know that, "What is happening in Egypt is a full and complete Rebirth of the Revolution - redemption, healing, restoration, innovation, unity, correction...but far, far from an old-fashioned military coup! It's something new, something Egyptian!"

June 30th

On June 29th I stayed the night on the Nile near Luxor, after traveling for four days with a lovely family of four. The original schedule was to fly from Luxor to Cairo on June 30th at 2 pm. But my mind was preoccupied with one question: Can I make it to Cairo on June 30th to join one of the Tamarod (Arabic for "rebellion") protests? But the answer came early, when a last-minute airline change had us flying at 10 am. That night I could not sleep, thinking about the protests, President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the Army, and what it all meant for Egypt.

The minute I collected my travel bag and said goodbye to the people I was guiding, I turned my face to Tahrir Square like a giant magnet to a piece of iron.

At home I found my 18 year-old son, Basil, ready and waiting to go protest. We read online that there were 11 huge protests planned all over Cairo, but we decided to go to Tahrir. I was thinking, worrying, about The Egyptian Museum, which was hit by looters during the 2011 events. Basil and his two cousins arranged to meet on Zamalek Island so we could all march together to Tahrir. It was awesome to walk with these young fellows, full of energy. Their concept about protesting against Morsi was very pure and uncomplicated – unlike my own. I did not try to explain anything to them. We just marched.

Around 5 pm we joined a big protest coming from north Cairo marching by the Nile towards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Radio and Television building. It was rocking, and to my surprise it was made up of people from different social classes, with everybody under the leadership of an old, brave Egyptian woman. She was leading all protestors and shouting one word–ERHAL–“leave!”

We had barely approached the Square at 6:30, when we realized how impossible it was to enter the heart of it. So I decided to stop by the museum, where I met with a number of young tourist guides and others who were stationed in front of it, standing guard over the antiquities.  I spoke with some security officials who were sitting in the garden and they assured me that – this time – the situation was under control, and I could go home.

The overall picture late the night of June 30th was overwhelming to everyone. The army had given the government one week to resolve their political blockage before June 30th, and made it clear that no matter what happened, they were not going to sit and watch Egypt fall apart in pieces. That evening, they flew over the protests in what felt like a show of support. It was like the army was rebuilding its broken confidence with the Egyptian people and reintroducing itself as the protector of the Egyptians. I said to myself, Morsi must be smart enough to read between the lines?

July 1st

The army took the initiative and made a very powerful statement on July 1st at 4 pm. It gave only 48 hours for the President to respond to the people’s calls in the streets, or else the military would have to intervene.

The reaction to the army statement was huge both in Egypt and internationally. MB leaders immediately launched a media campaign against the army and its involvement in politics. They warned people of the consequences of them taking this power, while reminding everyone that Morsi was not standing alone and his millions of supporters were ready to storm the streets of every town and square if needed. This was considered a major escalation, with MB leaders driving Morsi and Egypt towards the edge of a big bang: civil war.

And while many more people were storming the streets and the squares protesting against Morsi, high numbers of people were mobilized from the countryside on big buses to one particular square in Cairo to show support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Several other Islamic parties and movements participated in Morsi’s final campaign to strengthen his hold and to remind people that he was still the elected president of Egypt.

They claimed the crowds in the streets were divided between two sides equally. This was not true, as the angry protests against the president far exceeded in size and number those in support of him.

The resentment from all sides was rising, and with it, the crowds were rising. A clash in the streets seemed inevitable, which would be the worst-case scenario for Egypt. Everyone in Egypt was waiting for the president to speak and say something, anything, to relieve the pressure in the streets. It was a night of political calculations, forecasting the near future, gossip, lies, rumors, and much of it guesswork as to what was going to happen the next day, and what Morsi was going to say. No one slept in Egypt that night.

July 2nd

People kept pouring into the streets of every large city, and Tamarod was calling for a march to a palace near Heliopolis that Morsi might be using. The organized opposition was squeezing Morsi from all sides. In the meantime, Morsi’s fans in Cairo and several other towns in Upper Egypt started to regroup. We all felt that eventually there would have to be violence. The Islamic supporters of Morsi, little by little, were losing patience. They were carrying so many guns, and using dark, threatening language. They said they were willing to die for Morsi, claiming, “we will go to heaven.” They cast the conflict as one of the righteous Muslim Brotherhood versus the evil rebels. For them, it was a choice between good and evil, not a political blockage.

With such a charged atmosphere, the approaching night of July 3rd seemed very pregnant with bad news, with dark clouds on the way. Morsi decided to give a televised talk. We were all hoping for a wise and short speech calling for early elections to avoid a catastrophic civil war.

He spoke for one full hour, without notes. The rambling speech was full of repeated words. He said “I’m the legally elected president” over 300 times, and “I’m the constitutional president and there is no other choice but me” more than 190 times, but he failed to mention the current revolution.

He never spoke of the demands of the streets, and said he would never relinquish his power and his office, no matter what the cost. It was a very disappointing speech that ended at nearly 1 am.

I heard that shocking talk while sitting in a coffeehouse in Giza with a group of friends who had just returned from Tahrir Square. The entire café was full of resentment and anger at Morsi. Even some of his fans were not pleased, and we all saw the speech as a declaration of civil war in Egypt.  After that, some people decided to go back to the squares right away, not even waiting to the following day. The chess game was in the final stages and very soon we would see a lethal move. But which side would make it?

July 3rd

The country was on the edge. I personally did not sleep since Morsi spoke, hoping for some wisdom from MB leaders and a political resolution before it was too late. As of 5 pm, the 48-hour deadline period the army gave to Morsi ended, and when he last spoke he seemed only responsive to his supporters.  I was still optimist, but this was a dark and dangerous moment.

At 4:30 pm I decided to go back to the Square. This time I was determined to go on my own, assuming serious violence would erupt in all Egypt if the army failed to make a decisive move. And I feared that the MB and their other Islamic allies would launch a wave of violence against peaceful protesters. This was all on my mind when I was ready to leave my house, but my sons, Eyad (14) and Basil both insisted on joining and coming along to Tahrir. They wanted to be part a historic moments in modern Egyptian history. How could I refuse them?

They said a woman’s voice is a shame, we say a woman’s voice is the revolution.

We arrived at Tahrir around 5:30pm and it was very full. To enter we had to join a special march for Egyptian women. It was way bigger than expected, and many of the women did not look like trained activists. This crowd was made up of everyone from young professional women to older housewives, and we found ourselves pushed to surround them by several more thousands from the Great March coming from the Giza side towards the square. From all sides, young men were wearing signs on their T-shirts saying “against harassment.“ We put the stickers on our T-shirts too, and we became part of the protection band, with hands in hands in a huge circle, surrounding them and marching towards the square. We were singing with all the powerful ladies and protecting them at the same time. I never recognized any of their faces, but they inspired me and my sons with their enthusiasm and honor. Egyptian women were strongly present in this second round of the revolution, much more so than in January, 2011.  This time they were singing and chanting songs asking Morsi to leave, but the one I liked best was: “They said a woman’s voice is a shame, we say a woman’s voice is the revolution.“ In Arabic, the words are very beautiful and musical.

The women’s march made it to the heart of the square because every crowd we met on the way was clearing and giving space for them. We stayed with hundreds of people and faces, singing and enjoying the fireworks in the Tahrir sky while shouting and waiving to military helicopters flying low above the crowds. We knew it was going to be long night. The 48-hour period the army given to the P\president had gone, and millions of people all over Egypt were waiting.  I thought that for moments like this you need some nerves of steel.

While waiting, singing and changing locations (sometimes by choice and most times by the powerful sea of moving people) my eyes started seeing some familiar faces, including a distant family member who I had not met for almost a year. I asked, “What brings you here?” His answer was very simple: he says that he thinks we are moving on the wrong track and this not the Egypt that he has known since his childhood.

In my biggest surprise, I met with my own sister, her husband, and their 3 kids along with one of my aunts, right in the middle of this enormous crowd! I asked, “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you let me know so I can pick you up and come together?” They told me they had come every day since June 30th, and tonight they brought our Aunt, too, because she wanted to be there when Morsi left.

These people in my family are not politically active, and not well-aware of the whole complicated political situation. They had never participated in a protest in their life. In Egypt we call people like this The Sofa Party. They watch TV and form opinions, but never leave the sofa.  This time–the rebirth of the Egyptian revolution–inspired an unexpected move by The Sofa Party. Morsi and the MB leadership failed to convince the average Egyptian of the value of their ideas and social programs. I believe their mistakes were responsible for moving this group of Egyptians off of the sofa to storm the streets. And they expressed their feelings in new and innovative ways, some by joining the protests, with others even bringing their own sofas outside their houses and buildings and setting them right on the streets and sidewalks to watch he events. Many of them were elderly men and women not physically able to protest.  I saw some just sitting on their balconies holding flags of Egypt.  I credit The Sofa Party with decisively changing the political topography of Egypt. This is one of the secret reasons for the success of the second revolution.

Finally, at 9pm, the army decided to speak. Minister of Defense “Al Sisi“ came out, and the whole square, if not the whole country, held their breath. The silence and anticipation was killing! In less than five minutes he declared that Morsi had to go and would be no longer the president of Egypt. With the power of more than 33 million Egyptians protesting now in all Egyptian towns, the army had to respond to their calls and to Egypt’s needs. He declared a number of steps towards a new political future and preparing for new presidential and parliamentary elections in the shortest possible time.  In the meantime, the head of Supreme Court will act as interim president. Al Sisi also called for forming a new government that represents every political power in Egypt and rules effectively the country until the next election. The deeply unpopular Muslim Brotherhood constitution was also suspended. Everyone around me was in tears, lots of tears.

Celebrations erupted everywhere in Egypt. People are truly happy and also proud with their professional army responded to the people’s call to help make the change (but not to rule again.) The vast majority of people I met and I see are very happy and all trying – in their way – to give reasons why it had to happen and why he had to go away. It was like a national victory in most houses I know, with people greeting each other in the streets with, “Congratulations, we are free from the MB!”

Of course, this is not everything. On the other side the MB and many Islamic parties who supported Morsi do see this as a Military Coup. This means Morsi and his fans now have the right to defend their legal president. But what about the millions of people in the streets? What can they offer to them? And if the president doesn’t want to offer anything, and he only talks about his legal rights and constitutional rights, he is ignoring the rights of people who brought him to power.

I know that internationally the US government and most western countries see it as a clear military coup against the democratically elected  president, but they offer no solutions to the overwhelming will of the people. This very well may affect Egypt in the near future, politically and economically. But do we really care? Why at this time is the US government worried about Morsi? Why, after supporting Mubarak who was ruling illegally for 30 years like a dictator, was it suddenly OK to get rid of him? This thing I can understand, but the average person in the square can’t understand why the US government was supporting Morsi, and not supporting the protesters and the Egyptian people. Why was no one talking about the revolution’s rights?

July 4th

This morning, July 4th, most Arab countries welcoming the change in Egypt, and suddenly at noontime the European community expressed their support to the Egyptian people and their search for democracy. Obama spoke very briefly and never mentioned the word “coup“.  That means it’s a fact, and everybody has to deal with it, since most Egyptians have chosen this, and wanted to make a drastic change in the political system before the next election.

In the aftermath of this great transformation, some very angry supporters of the MB and Islamic parties will show their resentment in violent ways: shooting at the police, army and rebel protesters. Several people were already killed and maybe more will have to give their lives for the freedom of their country. But why do we have to kill each other to learn, at the end, that this is our only home and we have to share it?

For thousands of years, the Egyptians suffered with all kinds of dictatorships (military especially) but never expected a religious one to rule in the name of democracy and majority while excluding so many. That is why there has to be a second wave of the revolution for justice, freedom and equality.

For Egypt to be a modern civil state, it has to be home for everyone from all sides: Muslims, Christians, liberals and conservatives.

Our new and greater challenges have just started. We need to build our new country and truly let the young, educated revolutionary Egyptians to rise and show their qualities in all fields. We need fresh blood and fast moves to keep up in such crazy, ever-changing world. We need to fly with our dreams. We need to help our poor people and take them away from illiteracy and historic poverty. We need to break all political chains and build bridges with all sides based on mutual interests and common goals. We need leadership to work for the people not for its masters. We need to all work harder to achieve our common goals.

The next few weeks will reveal much of Egypt’s roadmap for the future, hopefully closing a full circle that started in January 2011 and ended in July 3rd, after 30 months, two full revolutions, 24 huge protests and a countless numbers of small ones. 

It’s not over yet. It’s just the end of Episode One and the beginning of Episode Two. We might be on the right track, or creating a new nightmare. Only time will tell and only Egyptians will make the change.

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