Monday, November 21, 2011

Letters from Egypt: A Different Vantage Point on Tahrir

It seems like a million years since I took this picture on February 11
Tahrir Square. Déjà vu.

Well, not entirely.

Many of you are looking at the images plastered across various news sites and television stations, and I’m sure most are horrified at the brutality being seen and wondering why.

However, perhaps some of you have forgotten and others are unaware of a couple of key elements.

Reason #1:
Obviously the slap on the wrist that has been in place since protests restarted on May 27 (the Day of Rage Part II) was ineffective. That is approximately 146 days of occupiers in one of Cairo’s most heavily congested areas. While I feel it safe to say that not all demonstrators are aggressive in their campaigns, that saying ‘one rotten apple’ is applicable in this case. *Please note the original total is 176, but 30 days have been subtracted as demonstrations were called to a halt in recognition of the Muslim holy month, Ramadan*

Violence rippled through Egypt’s Tahrir Square on November 19, a week shy of the country’s first Parliamentary elections after the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak regime. Protesting has included religious themes and the repeated calls for the resignations of key government officials which have included the former Interior Minister, former Finance Minister, and the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. And now groups are calling for the resignation of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) field marshal Hussein Tantawi. Protestor Ahmed Hani told the AP, “The violence [November 19] shows us that Mubarak is still in power.” He continued, “We have a single demand: the Marshal must step down and be replaced by a civilian council.”

It feels like every Friday has the same familiar theme: *Government Official of Your Choice Here* Resign NOW!

There is another side to the story that media and the like seem to have conveniently forgotten.

Reason #2:
Many of the police seen in Tahrir now are new graduates. After February 11, many enrolled with the same hopes that carried out the revolution: to have a different life. In mid-May, 1,500 new police graduates entered into the workforce three months early to combat the security shortage and reflect a change in the system. Many that chose this career after the revolution hoping for change must fight the very people that were the reason for their career choice.

It hardly seems fair.

It’s easy to want to blame authoritarian figures, but I empathize with the young police and military. Many of these guys are barely 20-years old and from villages all around Egypt.

The issue lies in the anger that continues to flow through the veins of many protesting. Many see this as their potential time to shine – possibly being the poster child of the revolution like Khaled Mohamed Saeed (the Alexandrian man brutally beaten and killed by police). Yet if you were to ask individuals why they were angry, what exact change they wanted and the result from the change, you would get someone talking in circles yet still unable to give a clear viewpoint. Ask one of the university students occupying the Square their thoughts, the so-called ‘enlightened’ youth, and you begin questioning the education altogether.

As I was writing this blog, the above photo cropped up in my newsfeed with the statement "We are all Khaled Saeed"

My cab driver the other day previously worked as a driver for USAID. He began telling me how he was for the revolution originally because he never thought life could be worse than with Mubarak. Mohamed said that after Mubarak left office, USAID was forced to cut their budgets and he lost his job. Had he not had an old black and white cab which he was able to trade in for a newer white model, he wouldn’t have a job at all. He said, “I wanted Mubarak to leave, but now life is so bad. It isn’t safe. There’s no money. And no respect.”

Social media websites were a catalyst to the revolution, and continues to strengthen the Tahrir escapades. One Egyptian living near Tahrir Square used Facebook to post videos claiming that the police were aiming rubber bullets at civilians’ eyes and updates including the electricity in the Square being shut off around 4 am local time on November 20. While I’m sure some people were hit in the eyes, I don’t think that was the overall intention.

And many are growing tired of what they feel is an empty argument taking away from the original movement. Another Egyptian posted from Tahrir that many were angry because of a reported deal struck in accordance to the elections between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood. The poster said, “…almost 75% of the people I saw do not know what’s going on.” The Egyptian said that the protesters were only looking to gain recognition and pretend they were apart of the original movement.

And with all this anger and accessible artillery/weapons, it is amazing that more violence hasn’t happened. Just remember that there are three sides to every story, as I’ve stated here numerous times: hers, his and the truth. Many media reports are only getting statements from protestors, and even if Tantawi and other government officials gave statements – trust will take years to regain after Mubarak. It’s easy to want to side with the underdog and especially when a nice media package appears showing a poor lonely soul looking to have what is rightfully his; however, there are wrongs being committed on the protesters’ side as well. Not everything is black and white.

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