Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts from Tahrir

The energy of Tahrir last night was so tangible it became contagious. Whether you were happy with Morsi’s election as president or not, you fell under the spell of the excitement of change brought about by revolution, despite knowing that Morsi is not the desired conduit of change of most revolutionaries who fought with their lives for freedom from dictatorship, nor is he anywhere close to having the power currently held by the SCAF (military).

My friends (left to right) Saad, Hamada, Bizra, Basbousa
After some prompting from a dear friend and ex-roommate now wanderlusting around Turkey, I decided to go to Tahrir. A few of my friends had mentioned they were going so I made a plan to meet them there. I took the metro and waited inside Hardees', on the corner of the square, for them to arrive. After my friends arrived at Hardees’ I was able to move about freely and without worry.  No one bothered me for the rest of the night, as I expected [I'll explain as a post script what I mean by this].The air was celebratory and remnant of the 25 January anniversary celebrations, but in many ways very different. Whereas the 25 of January celebrations were very much similar to a festival or 4th of July event in America, the celebrations last night reached a euphoria I did not expect given the remaining political predicaments facing the new administration.  Regardless,  the fireworks, chanting and sea of smiles amounted to a level of liveliness I had never before witnessed.

A fair amount of chanting and singing was directed directly at Morsi, yet the broader energy seemed to be from the election of a president not connected with the old regime; the old regime that had ruled with an iron fist for 30 years. For the first time, Egyptians have, it would seem, a democratically elected president. This is the song many were singing, the chant that for me seemed to rise above the others. I can’t say for sure this is true, but that is how it felt to me. I am, however, no expert.

I can’t help but then wonder when the vigor will fade and turn to disillusionment at the power retained by the SCAF (military). Those supporting Morsi, I predict, will come to resent the restrictions on movement of their new leader and those supporting a change from the old regime, I predict, will resent the remaining legacy of authoritarian rule. This does not even include what will happen if and when Morsi begins making changes seen as too conservative by many. But last night, those who ventured to Tahrir were set on celebrating what they saw as a first step in self-rule; whether or not you view the situation through the same lens is up to you.

My friends and I left Tahrir together via metro after an hour or two of walking around, listening to familiar ULTRAS chants from the Zamalek and Ahly fans (popular Egyptian football teams), taking pictures and videos of an eager-to-be-documented crowd and of course being gifted with an Egyptian flag balloon in the shape of a heart, perhaps poetically serving as a symbol of my feelings towards this country and its people.

I know many of you will have a reflex reaction to reprimand me for going to Tahrir last night. I would like to explain my decision before you rush to judgment. Firstly, I did not go in the afternoon when the president was announced. Had Shafiq won, the backlash could have been catastrophic as I think most people there that afternoon were praying for Morsi’s victory.  I waited until the night, when it was clearly celebratory and highly unlikely to have any violent or protest-like undertones. Secondly, I carefully crafted a conservative outfit that covered everything, yet was fashionable enough to blend in and not look like a foreigner trying to cover as much as possible. And yes, I wore a veil to cover my hair. Thirdly, I went to meet up with some of my male Egyptian friends before entering the square. Now, my calculations there were slightly flawed, as I insisted to my friends that I could meet them just outside the metro station at a Hardees’ restaurant on the corner of Tahrir without any problems. They reluctantly accepted my persistence as it seemed at the time that I knew the metro situation better since they were all on buses.

I was off by about 2 minutes worth of walking. That night, Tahrir began at the stairs going up from the Metro and the clamor up the stairs was slightly unpleasant. Luckily, there was a sizeable group of men helping the unmanned women get up the stairs and out of the bottleneck of hands. I was guided up the stairs and then behind a fence of men leading to Hardees’.

 Regarding the male-female tensions of the night, my observations are as follows: the men in Tahrir were divided into three main groups. Firstly, there were the men (and of course women too) celebrating, singing, chanting, bouncing with excitement and waving flags. Then there were the barbarians that seem to creep out  in large crowds and high-tension situations like repulsive creatures only a science fiction novelist could invent. The only ones I saw were in that bottleneck getting out of the metro, but I’m sure there was a handful more that I was fortunate enough to have my friends to keep me from. Women with Egyptian men, or wearing the Naqab seemed unbothered by these "men."

 Then there were the men who had voluntarily put on hold their celebrations to form human fences, barriers and bodyguards to protect women and store fronts. I have a lot of respect and gratitude for those men, especially the ones that assisted me in getting out of the subway. Whereas one group ignorantly and selfishly gives Egyptian men a negative reputation, the other attempts to redeem that tarnish through their commitment to ensuring all genders are able to join in public gatherings.

Regardless, I am completely fine and have absolutely no regrets about going.

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