Initially I composed a post about the progress since the Revolution of January 25th, but since I posted it less than 24 hours ago, recent developments have changed the nature of what needs to be said.
Today, violence broke out in Cairo between Copts and military police over the burning and partial demolition of a church in Aswan last week. In Alexandria, a loud protest started on the steps of the Library for the same cause, but we also have our own protests on campus in favor of ousting the university president, which turned violent today. I will be doing a series of posts as I get more information about the events here, but I thought a good place to start would be an overview of the revolution itself, as both current protests have strong ties to the events of January 25th, 2011 and a basic understanding of the continuing movement here is important to understand both present issues.
This is not intended to be a complete report, just a general synthesis of what I have heard, read, and learned:
The status quo in Egypt had been rampant corruption for decades. People were being cheated out of their rights, positive efforts in the community had to be backed by exactly the right people or they wouldn’t move, fair trials were hard to come by, and the message to the youth was that crooked politics paid off far better than honest and fair work—that one could not succeed on skills and effort alone. The Egyptian people, or those who could see what was going on, grew tired and frustrated. The older generation seemed to have simply given up. But then, something happened.
In June of 2010 a young activist named Khaled Saeed was beaten to death in Alexandria because he had information that could jeopardize a local police station. On the media, it was announced that he was a drug addict and that he had choked on a bag of drugs, but the people who knew him knew better. They began demonstrating to have his case investigated, but at each meeting and hearing, the police repeated their initial story.
A group sprang up on facebook: “Kulinna Khaled Saeed” or “We Are All Khaled Saeed” in reference to the abuse that the Egyptian people were suffering at the hands of the government. Anger grew and grew until some activists decided to hold a peaceful demonstration on January 25th, a holiday for the police. The word got out and a great many people showed up and then more and then more. Eventually, the police decided not to accept these demonstrations and started a crackdown. However, they miscalculated the power and number of protesters. The more the police fought back, the more protesters showed up and the stronger their convictions became. The government attempted violence to end the movement, with bullets and teargas, but the anger only grew.
Suddenly, people forgot this was a demonstration. It was a revolution.
Of course, the true story of what was going on was not announced in the media (TV, radio, newspapers), but the initial reports came through social media. Eventually, the BBC and al Jazeera began reporting, but the young were still driving the revolution. They had technology on their side, something the police did not really understand.
As the movement grew, there was a sense that the best of Egypt were out on the street and Tahrir square became a miniature society. Cairenes provided blankets, food, medical supplies, and other essentials to ensure that protesters would be able to maintain their positions within the square. Protesters banded together and started social services including free food distribution, field hospitals, security checkpoints, Muslim prayer and Christian mass, even a school for homeless kids. People felt great camaraderie and old points of tension were ignored. Rich and poor, young and old, Muslim and Christian supported each other. There was even a wedding in the square, the couple saying that they would rather have the protesters–citizens of a new Egypt– than anyone else as witnesses. In true Tahrir fashion, the ceremony was blessed by a Christian priest, even though the couple was Muslim.
By February 11th, the protesters had been heard: Mubarak left office. There was a honeymoon period when all seemed to be well, or at least something was happening.
Now, almost 9 months on, the message is hazy. The initial protesters, without a unified idea or leader, have lost steam. Every Friday in Alexandria we see small protests by the Library, but the message has shifted. Especially after the partial demolition of the Coptic church in Aswan, the push is for religious equality.
Mubarak is still on trial, if on a gurney within the courtroom, but what will happen is anyone’s guess. His case, counts for the 800 people killed during the protests, among other charges, will be indicative of the direction in which this country is to head in the future: will he be tried fairly and receive a proper conviction? Until the verdict, we cannot be sure. The fear is that things will return to the desperation of before, especially considering the people outside of the major cities never really had a stake of their own in the revolution. Their numbers could overwhelm the educated youth who drove the movement in the first place. From what I have heard in conversation and on the media so far, people are convinced that this country cannot return to the same circumstances now that the frustrated have tasted the beginnings of freedom, but also that a total loss of momentum on the part of the public could spell disaster. Still, the point remains that the Egyptian people have achieved something here.