Today, the fourth day of what must now be called an Egyptian revolution, 100,000 people showed up in Tahrir Square, the political center of the people’s protest against President Hosni Mubarak and his government and for democracy and government respect of the people. Not a bare spot was to be found.
The size of the gathering was unaffected by the government’s shutdown of the internet and cell phone services. Nor the fact that it shut down Al Jazeera in Arabic, the county’s main source of news.
That fact is, that in spite of the tremendously rapid growth in internet and cell phone use in Egypt, the major pathways for news are mosques – whose messages sound throughout the city each day and which provide public gathering places for the people, and word of mouth.
Neighborhoods are extremely tight-knit; people help each other, lending money, bartering for services, adjudicating quarrels, offering aid and spreading news. Since very few move houses, the ties are long, complex and meaningful. Neighborhoods tie the country together. Word travels efficiently.
At some point, Mohamed ElBaradei, former Nobel Peace Prize winner and spokesman for authentic democracy in Egypt, announced that he would be willing to form an interim unity government.
The people’s opinion of ElBaradei is mixed. He’s been out of the country for decades, most recently as head of the IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and many see him as an interloper and there are others with long established reputations for leadership and opposition to the government.
Still, in my opinion, it’s important now that a titular leader emerge. The people will get tired; they need people to replace those who were in positions of power and who are leaving the country in droves. Among many others, President Mubarak’s son, Gamal, often mentioned as a likely successor to his father, much to the people’s disgust, is said to be in London with his brother and their respective wives.
Meanwhile, the police have returned to the streets and protesters keep the pressure on one of main sites of oppression, like the Ministry of Interior (known locally as the Ministry of Torture). Today shots were heard from inside the building and there are rumors that the Minister abandoned the country.
F-16s over Cairo
Early this evening, my apartment rattled violently. Two F-16 fighter jets coming in low to buzz Tahrir Square. The people shout louder. In a phrase which rhymes in Arabic, they yell, “You fly; we stay!”
Army tanks rolls toward square while rumors spread that they had been ordered to use live ammunition and that they had refused.
I suspect that’s true. In Egypt, the army is thought of being on the side of the people. It would simply be “unEgyptian” of them to shoot.
Egyptians’ distaste for violence
People here are terribly upset by the violence. They genuinely hate to see people being hurt. They avoid confrontation. In fact, a major turning point in the revolt was provoked by government violence. In the beginning, the protest was mostly young middle-class men; but when the police started bruising, bloodying and in some cases killing, the lower classes joined up en masse.
And now, as this very dignified rebellion progresses, people are proud. For the first time in my life, I see real pride in their faces. They are proud of the consistency and restraint in the protest, proud of protecting their own neighborhoods.
I believe we’ll see a lasting change in the Egyptian psyche.
As an Egyptian-American myself, I am proud; I get shivers thinking about the folks out there.
Amal Sedky Winter
Dr. Winter is an Egyptian-American psychologist in Seattle who currently lives in Cairo, Egypt during the academic year where she is Visiting Professor of Practice at the American University in Cairo’s Graduate School of Education. She is a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the Arab American Community Coalition in Seattle, and the Arab American Institute’s Pacific Northwest representative. Her numerous consulting positions include the U.S. Department of State where she trains women in the Middle East to run for public office and the creation of training programs for panels of mediation specialists in over 450 Egyptian family courts.