Sunday, February 6, 2011

Egyptian Author on the Revolution

I didn't think Egypt's revolution was possible. But here we are.

By Ahmed Alaidy
The Washington Post
Sunday, February 6, 2011

From a storefront window near Tahrir Square, I am filming scenes from a war movie.

Handfuls of stones form ribbons in the air, moving in a kind of slow motion. A man with a beard kneels, holding his hands up in prayer, unworried about the rain of heavy rocks that miraculously misses him. Then time speeds up, and the man rises and throws stones along with his comrades.

By now, in the middle of the week, the president has said he will step down in September, but that is disappointing to the people and their aspirations. In 2006, it would have been possible for Hosni Mubarak to calm the public by nominating a vice president, or forming a new government that excluded corrupt ministers and promising not to run in the next election. This is not enough anymore. I now hear nonstop shooting outside, while learning news of demonstrators wounded - or killed.

Egyptians published a date for their revolution on Facebook, and here they are, bare-chested, facing tear gas, riot police sticks and bullets. Several days into the fight, they are still capable of gathering in hundreds of thousands, dancing, chanting, shouting, creating slogans and carrying banners against the corrupt president improvised on every piece of material imaginable.

"People want to bring the regime down," the banners read, and "Please give up now my hands are too numb (from carrying the banner too long)" and "Your expiration date is January 25." Rumors spread in the absence of trustworthy information: Israel will drop weapons to the police militias; don't drink juice, it contains a sedative.

To be with the crowds in Tahrir Square is like being in a motion picture - but instead of just watching in awe, I am living the event. I am 36 years old. I thought one day my grandson might see this moment. But here I am.

Cairo isn't where I live anymore, but it is where I have to be now. I had been working as an editor in Doha, Qatar, and was scheduled to be in Cairo now for the international book fair. That was canceled, of course, but I am here anyway, and I plan to stay. I may lose my job, but losing a job is better than losing a country.

I see children on their parents' shoulders, singing for Egypt. I see a man dressed in Muslim Brotherhood garb shouting, "Freedom! Freedom!" - normally members of that group quote a verse from the Koran. But this man, with his child on his shoulders, too, is shouting only for freedom. It is a transformation, everyone merging together.

Against the swelling crowds late Tuesday evening, the murderous president recites his old achievements. He flirts with the common man in a tone suitable for love letters, not a brief speech of a president living his last days in office. Mubarak has lost his last chance to hand power over smoothly to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, even on a temporary basis, to prepare for the upcoming presidential elections. On "Departure Friday," the president could taste his own poison as the crowds remained defiant in the square, seeming to echo his own words that "Homeland is everlasting, and people are passers-by."

All this is happening even in the absence of Internet and cellphone connections. The regime banned al-Jazeera from broadcasting, and the list of violations goes on - foreign correspondents in custody, broken cameras, plastic and real bullets shot into the crowds of demonstrators.

On the ninth day of the revolution, the president gave a green light to the Ministry of Interior to push riot police, thugs, paid outlaws and state police in plain clothes to demonstrate as supporters of the regime.

In the early morning, they were carried in trucks to places around and inside Tahrir Square to provoke the peaceful demonstrators there. It's a method that has never failed this president, a surefire way to forge elections and fight demonstrations.

These militias clashed with the protesters, using guns and Molotov cocktails to kick them out of the square. The demonstrators then organized themselves, hurling stones and forcing the president's militias to retreat, until they finally took over the situation. Some broke the stones into smaller pieces, some carried them to the throwers. An assembly line of resistance.

I had been working on a novel about a future revolution, picturing the day the people finally went against the regime. I imagined crowds, how the regime would provoke people and how the people would snap, step by step. Pure fiction.

I will have to rewrite it.

Ahmed Alaidy is the author of the novel "Being Abbas el Abd." This essay was translated from the Arabic by Safaa Fathy.

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