“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way,“ says John Keating in the movie Dead Poet Society. Come on, stand on the table! “The world looks different from up here. Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way.” If there is something I have learnt throughout life then it’s that there is nothing to be taken for granted. Nothing and no one can claim its absolute right to truth.
I am standing in Egypt before the Jan 25 Revolution, during the Jan 25 Revolution and after. Wait, who says it’s already ‘after revolution time’? … A new president was elected in June 2012: Mohamed Morsi won 51.73% of votes and became the first Egyptian President who was not a military general. A Muslim Brother, or former Muslim Brother, or maybe still Muslim Brother. Well, he did resign from the disputed, intransparent brotherhood, which in fact was able to give charity to the poor who were and still are neglected by the Mubarak regime and what is left from it. Resigning from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was a necessary step to show his solidarity towards all Egyptians not only towards members of the MB. For now, the question if that move wasn’t just symbolic remains unanswered.
It seems like things calmed down and maybe a bloody clash was prevented, because it wasn’t Shafiq, rival in the presidential run off and presenting the old Mubarak Regime, who won presidency. The Security Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) was accused of forging votes in favor for Shafiq even before the final results were out. The Smell of outrage was in the air during the second round for presidential elections and the fear that Egypt could turn into another Syria was lying over the city of Cairo like a shadow, holding everyone’s breath. Thinking that I knew, I stood on the table and realized that all sort of people feared no matter which candidate would win in the end.
In some people’s eyes a vote to Shafiq is comparable to voting for the old regime as it grants so called ‘freedom’ to just a small part of the society, which is the elite. Voting Shafiq was like betraying all the martyrs that lost their life during the 11 days of uprising and in its aftermath as well as the revolution itself. In contrary, I heard a liberal saying, “if the Muslim Brotherhood is the outcome of democratic elections, I rather don’t have democracy.” Well, based on the assumption that with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood democracy vanishes as they are the mouthpiece of public opinion and basically enforce what they claim to be true, the revolution can also be considered a failure.
I put a chair on the table and climbed higher and understand that the revolution is not over yet. You still find people striving for change and fighting their way towards a civil society. After a short period of silence, from my chair, I can see a shining star on the horizon that gives hope.
No time to be tired!
That belief is haunting several individuals I have met in the past one and a half years. The revolution in Egypt, the turmoil in the entire region of the Middle East has an immense effect on the people standing within. With no doubt are individuals living their own personal revolution as well, which again has an impact on society.
Before January 25 discussing political and social issues constructively in public was impossible. I used to be silenced by my Egyptian friends when speaking in public spheres about the political situation in Egypt and the oppression of the regime. Over decades, the society became passive and seemed to lean into a bureaucratic, hierarchical system that made it impossible for the common individual to be active and to show any sort of initiative. There goes a society along its path mumbling, without a voice that is heard.
“Uh, I close my eyes.
Uh, and this image floats beside me.
A sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain.
His hands reach out and choke me.
And all the time he’s mumbling.
Truth like-like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.
You push it, stretch it, it’ll never be enough. You kick at it, beat it, it’ll never cover any of us. From the moment we enter crying to the moment we leave dying, it’ll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.” (Tod Anderson in Dead Poets Society.)
With the revolution, people found their voice again and mumbles became outcries. It was beginning of June when my best friend, who I consider to be more than a sister to me, blogged about sexual harassment of its worst kind in Tahrir. She wouldn’t leave her feed cold and very spontaneously over night, she and – back then – an acquaintance on Twitter – today close friend – planned a stand against sexual harassment in Tahrir for 8th of June. What first seemed to be a success turned out to be disastrous: Although protected by men, a mob attacked the women protesting. Nihal Saad Zaghloul writes on her blog: “We will NOT be silenced….Nothing will keep us down.“
With an influential voice and strong will power she and three other friends founded Basma Movement (Imprint Movement), a voluntary social movement, trying to find an effective way to address critical social issues, such as sexual harassment, street children, illiteracy and the lack of citizen rights awareness.
Because sexual harassment in crowded areas became a problematic issue in Egypt, the government decided to separate men from women in the metro and established two cars for women in each metro. The first project of Basma Movement was patrolling at metro stations during the feast after the month of Ramadan. A group of male and female volunteers would stand at the platform and make sure that no men entered the women’s cars. They were quite successful, caught harassers, handed them over to the police, and were able to spread awareness about the issue. Basma Movement is now well recognized and acknowledged. One invitation for interviews from national and international TV channels, newspapers and radios after the other comes in and more and more people are interested in joining as volunteers. They made it!
“You must strive to find your own voice. The longer you wait to begin the less likely you are to find it at all.” Once again am reciting the fictive character John Keating. We don’t have time to be tired anymore, nor to look away. If we, Egyptian and non-Egyptian, seeked, we find our role. “Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”