Conversations in Cairo on the Revolution

Graffiti produced in Tahrir Square in January 2011

As I was snapping away to some Dixie Land Jazz on the metro ride into downtown Cairo, a burst of sounds filled the crammed subway car.  My first reaction was that men were reacting to the outcome of an Egyptian football match.  However, after taking my headphones off,  I saw a group of men chattering about a televised presidential debate.  Smiling, I returned to humming along to the crisp horn section and thought, “These are exciting times to be an Egyptian.”

I got off at the Sadat Metro stop and walked up the steps into Tahrir Square.  The day was Friday the major day for protests and Tahrir had become the heart of the Egyptian Revolution since its onset in January 2011.  Tents were erected facing a large television screen that flashed images from the Revolution.  Merchants waved Egyptian flags and sold T-shirts printed with succinct messages such as “Tahrir Square-Freedom-Facebook.”

A man approached me and said, “All people can talk about is politics.”

“Politics is all people ever talk about,” I quickly said.

He smiled back, “Not for Egyptians.”

And he was correct; this Revolution brought about a great transformation in Egyptian society.  On May 23rd, Egyptians will engage in an unprecedented event and go to the ballot box to choose their next president.

I walked away from the chaos heading toward the terrace of the famous Greek Club.  There I met several homosexual and feminist activists to discuss their perception of the Revolution and the current situation in Egypt.  Many of them were dissatisfied because they believed the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the Revolution and were focusing on trivial matters such as how many hours after a woman’s death is a man still legally allowed to engage in intercourse.  However the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood had been evident for quite some time because the Brotherhood had been active in society for over 50 years.  As we sat, these activists made snide remarks about the quality of the candidates and some people even claimed they were not going to vote.  However, these latter remarks held no water because everyone knew the importance of their vote.  Although the present candidates might not be ideal, things will change with the evolution of this fledgling democracy.  Now, it is only important that the elections are fair and peaceful and the president does not try to seize power in the still unwritten constitution.

The following day I went to listen to the former Egyptian goalkeeper of the national team discuss his role in the Revolution.  At the beginning of the protests, he said he used his celebrity status to attract more people to come out to Tahrir Square, but he commended the role of the youth as taking hold of their destiny.  However, he said that the Revolution was not a meal that could just be taken once and for all; the people need to continue to protest to ensure a positive transition for Egypt.  The discussion then spread into a comparison of revolutions throughout the Arab world with Yemenis and Bahrainis coming to share their own stories.

While waiting for a connecting bus out of Cairo at a gas station, I was invited for tea by an Egyptian man in his thirties.  In between long pulls from his Marlboro Reds, he spoke about the beginning of the Revolution: “Man, it was like an American movie and we Egyptians lived through it.” While Hollywood plots became a reality in Egypt sweeping away a dictatorship, American protest movements still lack momentum and popular support.  Maybe it is time for American protestors to start looking in new directions for their movements so that their necks do not become stiff and they produce tangible changes.

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