Egypt: 30 years of Mubarak, 10 days of fire and a night away from a Million Man’s March for Freedom

Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Africa, Featured, Middle East

With a population of over 80 million, a large part of which is under the poverty line, and over 50 years of “democracy” in the shadow of a republic, Egypt is currently witnessing one if its biggest social movements to date, if not the most prominent for being entirely led by youth, students, scholars, and most surprisingly the middle class — the one that had always been hanging in the middle.

January 25: Egyptian Policeman Day marked the start of street protests and riots led by the Facebook and Twitter generation — born and raised under the regime of one sole ruler: Hosni Mubarak, President since 1981.

30 years after Mubarak came to power and presidential elections coming up in September 2011, talks of the president’s re-run for presidency erupted emotions (albeit with peaceful intentions) in a clash of looting, fires, destruction and lots and lots of nationalism and solidarity.

10 days after the first peaceful protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, 10 days of excitement for Egyptians wanting to overthrow the regime, make a change, and build a decent future, not only in Cairo, but spreading out to most of the other governorates as well. Also, 10 days of thievery and creating street committees to defend houses against intruders and burglars whose only intent is destruction.

Make no mistake, Egyptians were surprised by the strength of the movement, not another one day protest, but an ongoing relentless one, not one that vanishes with curfews, policemen threats and army vehicles, but one lasting movement. A genuine surprise to a community of people, rendered as peaceful, lazy, fun and not serious by half. A friend of mine at the protests told me how Egyptians brought about their sense of humor: alongside the call for overthrowing the system, there were calls asking the president to leave so people can go home and finally have a shower, for they’re staying there as long as it takes for him to leave, happily giving up running water for the sake of camping in a square just to be heard.

The famous picture that's been widely circulated among youth in Egypt

The demands are simple: overthrowing the regime, the removal of the president and the change in government, refusing another military government and in favor of a popular one, one elected by the people, and other demands of fighting poverty, unemployment and other such factors. Yet, one has to wonder to the concessions undertaken by the ones in power. A vice president was appointed — the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services, mind you, appointed now, after 30 years — yet the people don’t want a military power and confusion is ongoing with conflicting messages back and forth between the government and the protesters.

Emails have been circulated with manuals on how to protest, what to wear, what to do, where to go and the importance of having flowers and roses to show the peaceful intentions of protesters — very much like the Carnation Revolution in Portugal (as was mentioned to me by a Portuguese friend of mine).

Some pages from the widely circulated manuals

Let me paint you a picture of the situation in Cairo for the past week.

Egyptians: at home, and in the streets

The Egyptian at home — either terrified of what’s going on or in hiding — doesn’t see a point in what’s happening, or sharing the sentiments of thousands for change, but abiding by the curfew measurements in support of everyone and everything happening in Tahrir and aspiring for a brighter future.

The Egyptian on the street is driven by a social and political duty to express resentment for the system, the curious, the brave, the stupid, the activist, the bored, the fed up, the rich, the poor, the journalist, the student, and Noha my friend featured on CNN.


At home, in the streets, or on their way to some safe haven in another continent. I must say I was also surprised by the amount of foreigners who took to the streets, supporting the Egyptians in their call for freedom.

The Media

One has to be critical in view of what the media conveys, so many things look bad but they aren’t, and just as well, the good isn’t that good. There’s a big conspiracy theory theme going on, the media is misleading, even to Egyptians themselves, dividing their opinions and creating a greater confusion than there already is.

Fact: In his first speech (the one that came at midnight two days late), the president repeatedly mentioned his strive for a safe and stable Egypt. Since the protests up to this point had been peaceful, the speech was a little theoretical.

Spoiler: The next day, a stream of thugs attacked the Egyptian museum, set buildings on fires, and have apparently, worked according to a plan to free many prisoners. Clearly a different crowd from the one at Tahrir, yet labeled the same. With police cars vanishing and the city on fire, one had to reconsider these concepts of safety and stability stressed by the president the day before.

Fact: The speech also mentioned the creation of a new government, and it was formed, with no trace of the businessmen domination that plagued the one before it.

Spoiler: The new government formed has several elements of the previous one, if not all minus the businessmen, the names are repeated and none too new.

Fact: The Internet was back after several days of being cut alongside cell phones that were down for the first few days of protest. They’re back now, because Egyptians apparently have the right to voice their opinions and express their views.

Spoiler: The day the Internet was back and cell phones were working, online groups and text messages were all about uniting in the face of the threat of thugs and being with the system in the face of the wild protests, killing our heritage and causing Egypt so much loss.

The Political Parties

Have been trying unsuccessfully to claim the movement under their names, yet this is a clear societal movement not one run by specific political ideologies and/or religious beliefs.

The Government & Opposition

Are currently in discussion to understand the people’s demands and work on the path to reform… as quoted by many officials.

Egypt and Egyptians are at a crossroad, follow sentiments of change? Or maintaining the stable status quo? Follow the ones on TV, the artists, musicians, actors and actresses (as mentioned by a friend of mine: belly dancers as well as singers) who say they take pride in Egyptian youth and support them?

Or follow the sentiments of the parents and mothers, worried sick from all the killings, and preferring safety in their own houses?

Some of my friends’ quotes on this:

I am unable to decide whether it is the government, government and Mubarak, outside sources or all of the above responsible for all the chaos…

Even in homes opinions are fragmented. Opinions are changing rapidly … i.e. Confusion.

If everyone’s skeptic about the sources behind the pro-Mubaraks … whether they are really hired thugs, released criminals or secret police … even if we assume their love to Mubarak is genuine and they are honest people … one FACT is that the protest has been peaceful till the moment we speak, and there hasn’t been any violence killings or chaos till they showed up…

My friend’s response to this being Egypt’s first popular movement in its history:

Statistics say that usually 5% of the people revolt … Rephrase: capable of revolting
Egyptians are analyzed by psychologists that they have almost NO capability to do so … 8 mil / 80 mil is 10%, that’s from zero, to DOUBLE the average … that’s a good sign…

Mubarak’s exterminating anyone left that might repeat this “mistake” again … CNN reporters have been beaten…
Human Rights Agencies representatives/reporters have been kidnapped…

Honestly, I can do no more than take pride in what’s happening here now, casualties aside (and there almost always has to be an ugly face for change- or any call for change) this movement has brought about a change, one we are witnessing now and I’m sure we’ll be experiencing in the next few years.  This is history in the making for Egypt, the Middle East and the Arab World, a wave of change, politically driven for social improvement of societies has risen in the area and like what happened in the 50s and 60s before, now with Tunisia in the lead, and Egypt in the heat, Jordanian protests for change in governments and Algerian declarations for popular solidarity, this is definitely the mark of a new rise to social and political consciousness among the citizens of countries that have lived so many years under the fragile belief of stability and security, they are finally speaking up, and taking into their own hands the mission to drive change for a better, more free world of social justice and political legitimacy.

There’s an ongoing call for a Million Man’s March for Freedom, and specifically for tomorrow, Friday the 4th of February, but what’s one million out of 80? If thousands brought about the change of a government and a system, what can millions bring about other than a better nation for Egyptians, the Egyptians of today, and the Egyptians yet to come?!

God bless Egypt and its people, its young and old, those for and against the system, for without them, the soul of this country would cease to exist.

Nairy Abd El Shafy

Nairy is an enthusiastic social activist with a passion for community service and social work. For over five years, she has been exploring the world of social entrepreneurship & innovation through her involvement with over 30 NGOs. An AFS Community Service Alumni to Costa Rica and a passionate advocate to young agents of change through the MOSAIC committee at CISV Egypt.

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