Thursday, February 3, 2011

Revolution? Only time will tell

My article, as published in the Cork Independent newspaper.

Susan Richards-Benson, whose mother Maree McClement is from Cork, lives and works as a journalist in Hurghada, Egypt. She gives an eye withness account of the turbulent events in the country’s capital, Cairo, as protestors attempt to overthrow President Mubarak. Since 25 January, Cairo and other major cities throughout Egypt have been racked by protests.

Demonstrators demand the resignation of current President Hosni Mubarak and a re-evaluation of the Egyptian government to combat corruption, to name a few. What began as peaceful protests, primarily organized online by youth, rapidly exploded into a nationwide movement that defies age, social and class lines. Seven days since the protests first began they show no sign of abating. It has transformed from an online movement to spread by word of mouth.

Since being in Egypt, I have worked with a variety of online Egyptian publications which helped further my understanding of people here.

Work took me to Cairo last Friday.

Due to the alleged abuse of the peaceful protesters by the Egyptian police, alongside the resignation of the Interior Minister, any police presence had disappeared from the nation’s streets leaving the army to re-assert order.

In contrast to the resentment felt towards the police force in Egypt, I watched as army tanks were swarmed by cheering young men.

My first night in Cairo was a sleepless one.

Curfew was imposed at 8pm The streets in Cairo resembled those of a ghost town. While 8pm on a Friday night usually means parties and weddings, the night echoed of gun shots and tanks firing rounds into the air.

I was staying alongside the Nile River, in an upscale Cairo suburb. Next to my building stood a jail. The sounds of prisoners rattling their cell doors were met by the sounds of military gunshots.

Periodical firing of the tanks made my blood run cold.

I was scared; my family live overseas and I had no forms of communicating with them due to the internet blockage and disruption to the cell phone services.

The stories of jail breaks and looting wagged many tongues.

Although the protesters themselves were peaceful, a small percentage of hooligans took advantage of the absence of police.

Caireans banded together in neighbourhood watch groups to protect their families and homes. People grabbed any means of protection- rocks, sticks, knives, guns.

Rumours of rape and armed groups made it unwise for women to be outside; instead, they distributed supplies of tea, water and sandwiches to the groups throughout the night. It resonated of basic human nature, the instinct to protect while standing firm in what you believe.

By my second night in Cairo, I felt as though I had seen it all. I witnessed looters hitting the streets with trolleys full of electronic equipment; tear-gas fired as hooligans and live ammo raining around.

Queues at the petrol stations were growing as everyone rushed to fill their tanks; food was flying off the shelves.

Curfew on Saturday was pushed back, and stringent road blocks set up left me stranded at a friend’s house. We spent the night locked away, as two woman, particularly expats, could not safely go out to the streets. Tanks and gunfire again dominated the evening.

When leaving Cairo early on Tuesday, protesters were already making their way into the city’s centre.

My departure lived up to the suspense that the previous days had held. Caught at a check-point on the way out of the city, I witnessed army patrols in front of me apprehend escaped convicts, and blocking the road to protestors heading into Cairo.

Many Western media outlets have expressed concerns that the movement in Egypt has the potential to warp into a religious one. While it certainly did not begin as a religious movement, the difficulties that have arisen as a result of the looting and violence combined with a potential political vacuum may push it in that direction. Is it a revolution in Egypt at the moment? Only time will tell.

Most remarkable in my eyes was the cohesion that formed amongst Egyptians.

My previous experience in Egypt dictates strict social and economic boundaries, but over the past few days these divisions have melted away. If you were to ask any Egyptian how they feel at the moment, the overwhelming response is pride for their country.

The fear that once gripped many here, particularly fear of the police, is a thing of the past. Egyptians are taking democracy into their own hands, and experiencing the power of the people. Although at the moment there is no clear indication of where these protests may lead, what is certain is that the Egyptian people will no longer settle for suppression and censorship as a means of dealing with the masses.

Protesters have given President Mubarak until Friday to resign his position, threatening further demonstrations if he fails to do so.

The future of Egypt and the Egyptian people remains one that is being written day by day.

1 comment:

  1. Asalamu alaykom,

    I am unclear as to where you are now. Are you back in Hurghada? How is the mood there?

    I'm in Giza and blogging. I'm not going to leave my house at all---especially not for Cairo. Please don't risk your life again.

    Hope you are alright.

    God bless.