Egyptian Solidarity: Voices of the 2011 Revolution (Part 1)

 
After 30 years of oppression, the silence and fear has been broken by peaceful protestors

By Julia Hanweck

Egypt’s now infamous January 25, 2011 “Day of Anger—Youm El Ghadab” demonstration against the 30-year Mubarak regime had originally been planned to last from only 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.  No one expected such a mass movement to gain such momentum from Facebook posts and Twitter “Tweets” fueled by an internet and technologically-savvy generation living in a country where close to 50% of the citizens live in poverty.

Mr. Adel, a physician from Cairo, described how the peaceful Egyptian protestors had a real-life experience of the adage, “There is safety in numbers.”

“It seems that when the people went outside in mass numbers after 30 years of oppression, all the people who were scared to talk began to break this siege of fear and started to talk,” said Adel, who is also a writer. “Once the people were released from this fear and started to voice their opinions, nobody can stop them, and this is actually what is happening here.”

Annually, the U.S. provides close to $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt.  Also, according to major news sources and analysis by Middle East experts–in the U.S. and abroad–the Mubarak family has built up fortunes that could reach $70 billion.  Explaining to readers and viewers why the tensions in Egypt erupted into what many refer to as a revolution, the articles and broadcasts reported that much of this fortune has been acquired by corruption and the stifling of Egyptian public resources for personal gain.  With Egypt’s current poverty rate hovering at 50% and a growing and obvious desparity between the rich and the poor, this wealth does not trickle down to the majority of the population.

Close to one year ago, on the night of Jan. 27, 2010, I walked around Cairo’s Tahrir Square—the epicenter of the 2011 Egyptian demonstrations–with an employee of the Cairo-based organization, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies.  Andalus’ office is a short walk from Tahrir Square. We had just spent the afternoon and evening with other employees and human rights advocates at the Andalus Institute discussing current women’s issues in Egypt and America, pluralism, tolerance, human rights, and the promotion of democracy.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the Andalus Institute’s several partners.  The Andalus Institute confirms its commitment to the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, proclaimed and signed by the member states of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) on 16 November 1995, and all international declarations, covenants, treaties, and bills pertaining to the subject of human rights issued by the U.N. (United Nations) or any of its sub-organizations.

American history dated 1962 on the wall of Cairo’s Andalus Institute: “You cannot know where you are going until you know where you have been” (photo by Julia Hanweck on 1/27/2010 in Cairo, Egypt)

In Jan. and Feb. 2010, I was struck by the strength, courage and determination of the employees I had met who advocate non-violence. When I walked through the doors at Cairo’s Andalus Institute, one of the prominent framed posters hanging on the wall of the reception area was from American history dated 1962.  It was a photo of three bathrooms: “LADIES,” “MEN,” and “COLORED.” The quote beneath the photo of the three bathrooms stated, “You cannot know where you are going, until you know where you have been.”

The other framed poster in the Andalus Institute’s reception area that caught my eye was also related to the American Civil Rights Movement: a blown-up photo from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963 with a sea of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The quote beneath this photo read, “When one person stands up, he is often not noticed; but when thousands stand up together they cannot be overlooked.”

On the wall at the Cairo-based Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies: Martin Luther King Jr. and American Civil Rights Movement History, August 28, 1963 (Photo by Julia Hanweck on 1/27/2010 in Cairo, Egypt)

This poster of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech and the accompanying quote symbolize the current events and demonstrations throughout Egypt. Chills cover my body as I look back at the photos I took of these framed posters a little over a year ago.

As I talk to friends and acquaintances, watch various TV news programs, and read news articles about the Egyptian demonstrations, I understand that some people fear that this movement could turn Egypt into another Iran.

My close Egyptian-American friends of many years, who invited me on this trip to Cairo in Jan. 2010 for a wedding, began the chain of friendships and connections that I have with Egyptian citizens.  Most people outside of Egypt and tourists to Egypt have not had the experiences that I have been fortunate enough to have with Egyptians who are longing for freedom and democracy.

I was invited to and attended a round table in Cairo at the Andalus Institute where the topic, “What the Media Can Do to Protect Freedom of Religion,” was presented.  This round table was organized by the Media Diversity Institute, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Andalus Institute.  Presentations were delivered by experts with follow-up questions and anwers, open discussions and participation.

I have heard, first-hand, the individual voices of Egyptian citizens and have had personal interactions and friendships with these people who are fighting oppression and searching for peaceful ways to better their lives and the future generations to come.

Eman Hashim, a 29-year-old pediatric ophthalmologist working with special needs children in Cairo, has been demonstrating at Tahrir Square since Jan. 25, 2011.  She explained to me from Tahrir Square—via her cell phone—that this is absolutely not a religious fundamentalist movement; on the contrary, it is a revolution for freedom, democracy, dignity and human rights.

“Christians and Muslims of all ages are united together as humans.  We sleep on the pavement freezing every night, we share food, people are cleaning the streets, singing and playing football,” said Hashim, who is also a feminist blogger.  “It’s our country and we are doing everything for it.  We are proud that we are part of the Revolution, and the end of a 30-year regime.”

Poverty is rampant, unemployment is high even among the population with university degrees, and people feel hopeless.  As food and commodity prices rise, it is difficult for people to afford to feed themselves and their families.  The illiteracy rate is estimated to be around 30%.  Tens of thousands of Egyptians—many from impoverished families—work in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries spending years abroad to earn money and traveling by ship to return home.  Many feel that the elections in November 2010 were rigged by the Mubarak regime to position his son as the next president and continue the regime.

They are fed up with the corruption, bribery and human rights violations.  The younger generations are internet-savvy and connected to a world outside of Egypt–including cell phones.  They use Facebook, Twitter, MSN, Google, Yahoo and other social networks.  They write and/or follow blogs and surf the internet on a daily basis.

Ms. Mahmoud, an Egyptian writer and artist, explained that from her point of view, the Egyptian citizens want to live in a democracy where they don’t have to suffer from bribery at every turn and have freedom of speech and freedom of the press without fear of being arrested and possibly tortured.  They want to earn a livable wage where they can afford to feed their families.

“We just hear and read about democracy, but we have never experienced it in our lives.  We want democracy as it is defined in the books,” said Mahmoud.  “They [the Mubarak regime] just disconnected us from the internet for over a week like a bunch of rats, and the whole world was connected but us.  We returned to the cave ages during that time.”

As Americans watch these events in Egypt unfold, it is vital to remember our own history including the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, movements for the rights of Native Americans, workers rights movements and the plethora of other movements involving human rights.  Some people were scared of what the results could be in these movements, but if these had not occurred, we would not have the freedom and democracy that we cherish as Americans.  Women may not be voting, working or earning university degrees.  Bathrooms, neighborhoods, schools, restaurants, water fountains, and seats on buses might still be segregated, all crushing the dignity of our fellow humans.  This list goes on and on…

There are Egyptians who look to our American Civil Rights Movement and history for guidance.  I met, talked, and engaged in discussions with them.  I continue to communicate with many of the people I met in Cairo in 2010 and cultivate friendships.  I am in the process of writing a book with one of them about international women’s issues and human rights.  They desire the same freedoms that we enjoy—and sometimes take for granted because we are used to having them— every day in America.

Americans have reached breaking points throughout our history.  The Egyptians have finally reached their own.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Julia Hanweck, All Rights Reserved.

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About juliahanweck.wordpress.com

Master of Arts in Communication from San Diego State University; Bachelor of arts in Communication from the University of Colorado at Boulder; Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the Univeristy of Colorado at Boulder. At the university level, she has taught communication, public speaking, and writing courses for both international and American students. Copyright (c) 2011. By Julia Hanweck. Human Rights, Our Greatest Needs: We must thrive, not just survive. All Rights Reserved. View all posts by juliahanweck.wordpress.com

7 responses to “Egyptian Solidarity: Voices of the 2011 Revolution (Part 1)

  • Barbara, Virginia

    Excellent. I read this piece with great interest. Well documented.

  • Patricia

    This is a very insightful article. I truly hope that Egypt is able to reflect the intelligence that it posses without the oppression and corruption it currently indoors. I am looking forward to future articles.

  • Mohamed Ali

    As an Egyptian I feel very honored to have an American writer go to the depth of Egyptian soul to write about this important moments for every Egyptian. Feeling the same and interact as she is one of our people . It is amazing to find that feeling go that far between the Americans who are very sincere and sensitive to the people of Egypt . Julia Hanweck feels the same and reacts the same exactly as an Egyptian . Julia Hanweck, we as Egyptians are very proud of you and other Americans sharing with us the same feeling in our historical moments .

  • Lisa

    Fantastic overview, and well written. Thanks again Julia for sharing your views on this historical event. Great job.

  • Bonita

    Julia, God Bless Egypt and it’s courageous citizens in their fight for democracy..This article delve deep and provides insight beyond the sound bytes and headlines..I look forward very much to the publication of your book. I am sure it will meld the political and historical facts with the critical human angle of the strong- the determined and passionate Egyptians who are ushering in this new era of freedom for themselves today and for future generations…. Bonita

  • Hanan Omara

    Thank you Julia for giving me the chance to comment on your article. I’m so proud to be Egyptian and see the day in which the Egyptians can change their life and take their country into the the right way towards democracy to have a better future to their children. they went to Tahreer square to deliver their message to the regime and the whole world. the message was not only to fall the regime down but also to show the correct image of the Egyptian people which was covered for 30 years with poverty, sickness and ignorance finally they dust off all of that and show their real image. all the differant classes of the Egyptian socity ( Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, educated or not) moulded in Tahreer square to form the Egyptian miracle and add a page of honor o our great history.

  • Dina and Ahmed A.

    Wow, this article is amazing. we are so glad we discovered it. Julia, you’re such a fantastic writer. Thank you for your immense humanitarian contribution with your article. We are floored and truly amazed by your writing. It was deeply moving and incredibly inspirational. You’re definitely tuned into the Egyptian culture on a personal level and speak in a voice that supports their perspective! You provide a great bird’s eye view as to what is going on. You’ve taken us right to the center of what is going on. This is truly amazing piece, We don’t have enough words to express how colorful this writing is and it’s a great illustration of what is truly going on! Thank you for celebrating this incredible victory with the world in your writing and with your words which are spoken with incredible poise.

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