Egypt’s revolution, one year later
When I reached Iman Mandour and her husband Bashar Al Safadi via Skype on what is Monday evening in Cairo, they told me that everyone in Egypt is watching TV.
“We have a House of Parliament,” Bashar said. “For the first time. That’s elected. There’s a lot of anxiety.”
“Everybody who is pro-revolution is swaying between two emotions,” Iman said. “Utter frustration when compared with what could be, and pride with what has been achieved compared with what used to be.”
Bashar is an organizational development consultant. Iman is a relationship and organizational coach, who is on the Board of Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. They have two children.
Despite Bashar’s feeling that “nothing the revolution was asking for has been done,” he recognized a transformation in everyone around him.
“People are free, and they know it. They are no longer afraid. Everybody is politically involved whether they like the revolution or not.” They have a say [in what happens], which was never the case. "Eighty million Egyptians [now express] 80 million opinions,” he said laughing.
“Egypt was in the mood of utopia at a certain point,” Iman said. “It was like holding the stars with our bare hands. The potential of this moment was a reality. It created miracles. For the first time, Cairo was a clean city. There was cooperation, oneness. It was amazing. Everybody thought in six months, a strong economy; in three years we could become like other countries. For the first time in our lives, we felt proud to be Egyptians.”
How the revolution changed Egypt
Before the revolution, Iman explained, Egypt was close-minded. Things were the way they were because they had always been that way. “Now,” she says, “people question authority. They rebel. If people want a new bridge, now they block the road. Nothing sounds like fate anymore. Everything is up to question.”
Both Iman and Bashar were disappointed in the elections.
“We were hopeful for a different kind of election,” Bashar said, “a decent spectrum of the population, not a majority of Islamists shocking people with their statements.”
“It was a power play,” Iman said. “SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] used the Islamists to say you had to vote in a certain way. Be against the Liberals, the atheists! Stand by God! I was disappointed for two reasons. First, the revolution was initiated mainly by liberals, and we expected it would usher in a liberal era. And second, I’m unhappy with the manipulations to reach such results, more than the results themselves.”
Tensions among reformers
While Iman generally agrees with those who believe the conflict is between the old and the young, she believes it’s more a conflict between those who want to get things done quickly and those who believe in gradual change. “They’re two modes of thinking we call generational,” she said, “but they cross age lines.”
Even so, most of the revolution’s organizers were in their 20s and even younger football fans in their teens the “Ultras” joined in to protect them. “The Ultras are not intimidated by violence,” Bashar explained. “They will defend anyone against any form of violence. They are just patriotic—out there to defend against the aggressor.”
Forty-two, the mother of two children, Iman considers herself to be among the older generation, and last January she wanted to join the protesters. Bashar didn’t want her to, and her mother was in tears. And yet a week later, Iman and Bashar decided to join a protest in front of the Presidential Palace, where there was real danger of the army opening fire on them. Her mother’s reaction was to pray for them and to wish them luck.
Nine months later, during the violence that broke out in and around Tahrir Square, Iman’s mother came by the house and noticed boxes of food and clothes they had collected to take to the protesters.
“She didn’t even tell us to be careful,” Iman said. Instead, her mother told them to make sure the protesters had “nebulisers,” the inhalers used to recover from tear gas. Bashar said his mother-in-law had become “a true revolutionist. Which has surprised us both. She is not in good health; otherwise she would have joined in the demonstrations."
The dangers of reckless action
Even though they are 20 to 30 years older than most of the activists, with a lot more at stake, Iamn said, “We’re not against the young ones. We are in the same camp. Bashar lost business during this year due to his stance. Unlike others who were harmed financially and went against the revolution, we think like the kids who do not have much to lose. These kids have something extra—no fear.”
“This is a worrying thing,” Bashar said. “The way they talk now is different. A year ago they were peaceful demonstrators, and they still are; however, the younger one are already expecting violence. Some are saying they’re going to Tahrir Square expecting to die. It’s disturbing.”
The violence of their confrontations with police in November has done much to deepen the protesters' fervor.
Bashar and Iman described one such encounter, a protest against police brutality, during which they joined hands with others to form an open corridor between the point of conflict and a mini-hospital that was providing medical help.
“Motor cycles moved from one point to the other, bringing injured people,” Iman said, “There was a lot of blood. Then other young people would run to the conflict to hold the ground.”
“Wave after wave after wave of young people falling,” Bashar said. “It did not stop.”
“There were no Islamists,” Bashar continued. “They refused to join the protest.”
“That’s not true,” Iman said, “The young people disobeyed the orders of their leaders and came despite them. This is why we believe this is a generational thing.”
A leaderless revolution
Bashar’s father, a Syrian, lived for 45 years in Egypt as a political refugee. He has since been pardoned and moved back to Syria. He’s nearly 80, and has lots to say about Egypt’s revolution.
“His main concern,” Bashar said, “is that it’s a headless revolution. We say it’s leaderless. He says we need a leader.”
Bashar points to Egypt’s history of pharaohs and glorified military leaders. He believes that notion of leadership is dead and that it is possible to have order without a hierarchical structure. He gave examples of how people gathered without being told to clear the streets of Cairo, how others encircled the national monuments to protect them when they were threatened by looters.
He said, “looking for a leader is sometimes an excuse for not doing your part.”
On Wednesday morning, Iman and Bashar are going back to Tahrir Square. They are taking dates and water and tissue paper and warm clothes.
“We’re going to keep the flag flying,” Bashar said, “to add our voices, to educate people and take care of as many people as we can.”
They may even take their tent this year. For as Iman put it, “you never know.”
Are you in Egypt? Are you marking the anniversary? How have the uprisings affected you? Please comment.