Tahrir Square: the making of an Egyptian revolutionist

Nadeem Abdel-Gawad 

Twenty-one-year-old Nadeem Abdel-Gawad hopes to attend his graduation ceremony at the American University in Cairo next month. But that depends on what happens in Tahrir Square this week.

On Monday, when we spoke via Skype, he described how it felt this time last year to be part of the uprising that ousted then-president Hosni Mubarak.

“January 25 [2011] was like a dream,” he said. “It’s hard when you spend most of your life with a dream of freeing your country, and everyone said, ‘you are crazy, nothing will change, be grateful for your education and leave Egypt.’ All these people telling me we can’t do anything, 30 or 40 people on the stairs of the syndicate, and a month later thousands and then millions [of people]. It really had a deep effect on me. I learned a lot. No matter what happens, there is magic in this world, somehow. We create our own reality; we are the reality. People always say ‘be realistic,’ but they forget we create this reality.”

Nadeem isn’t sure what led him to his first protest, but he said he has always been interested in politics, though even today, he is not a member of any official movement.

“It was rare to find anyone active in politics. People were either afraid or frustrated. I was raise by people who broke this wall of fear,” he said, referring to his father, a lawyer, and his mother who is the director of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance. Both participated in protests at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate a few years ago.

He remembers them discouraging him fro joining demonstrations when he was 10 or 12 years old.

“Between high school and college, I started taking my own decisions,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Nadeem majored in Political Science. When he entered American University, he was stuck by how much freedom there was, and in his second year, he became involved with other students in a political awareness campaign.

“We were just telling people about their rights in the constitution and the emergency laws, because thy are often misused,” he said. “We told people what the state was and how it worked, it’s structure and function.”

They wanted to hold a mock presidential election and run 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed El Baradei as the candidate for the opposition. American University’s Office of Student Development said no to that idea, but allowed them to hold the mock elections with students running instead of public figures. The result: a student won on a platform of eradicating poverty and cleaning up corruption.

When American University students joined student leaders form other universities and tried to form an Egyptian Student Union, they were stopped by National Security.

“The student movement came together in Tahrir Square—something solid and nation-wide. Leaders were being formed there. We entered [the square] on January 25th after fights with the police. The numbers were larger than expected. As tear gas bombs were being fired, youth were at the front lines, trying to protect the children and old people in the back, people trying to get water, the volunteer doctors. What you had in the square for 18 days was an organic system, like a body where every cell knew what to do.”

Like many other Egyptians, Nadeem was disappointed in the months following Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

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