Witnessing the people's victory

Friday, March 11, 2011

By Heba Gamal

My friend Nora writing her demands on a sign: "No Mubarak,
No Suleiman, No Emergency Law, Armed Forces maintains
law and security. Civilian committee to be formed NOW."
The day my last blog post was published, the plane I was on, landed in the Cairo International Airport a little after 9pm on Thursday. Despite the crispy cool weather, tension was high in the air in Cairo. As I listened to the disappointing speech of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the car with my mother and a friend I met on the plane, I started thinking about how much longer this was going to take, how many more lives would have to be lost, how many businesses and schools would have to remain closed, and how much longer the world was going to pay attention to what was going on in Egypt.

I could hardly sleep that night. I kept thinking about what could the following morning hold for the Egyptian people. How violent was this ruthless government going to get in hopes to stay in power!

I remember hugging and kissing my mom goodbye in the morning. I could see in her youthful eyes her strong desire to be on the streets with us. She kept reminding me “to be careful” and “not to do anything crazy.”

After holding a democratic vote with a group of friends we decided to head to the State Television building. State-controlled television had launched a campaign propaganda misinforming the public about the numbers of protesters and launching and anti-revolution campaign with famous actors and public figures.

On the way to the State
TV building, I ran into a
man and asked him what
he wanted and he said,
“I want to stop begging.
I was an uninsured con-
struction worker and fell
from the 5th floor and
there’s no disability plan
I qualify for.”
After spending a few hours at the State TV, my friend Nora (who also returned to Egypt from Brussels to join the protests a week earlier) and I decided to head to the Presidential Palace where another demonstration was taking place. We were making plans with a group of protesters about spending the night at the Presidential Palace when all of a sudden we heard screams coming from the other end of the crowd. We ran through the crowd towards a car that was blasting the radio. As I was running towards the crowd I accidentally bumped into older woman, about my mom’s age, who grabbed me ad hugged and me and started shouting: “He stepped down! He stepped down!”

A group of us jumped in a car and immediately drove to Tahrir Square. There are very few words that can explain how I felt at that exact moment. Seeing so many people out on the streets of Cairo waving the Egyptians flags high in the sky, singing cheerful and nationalistic chants and songs and children dancing on the streets was a sight I did not predict in a million years.

We entered the busy Tahrir Square and I immediately fell the change. This was not just the fall of a corrupt dictator and his regime; this was the uprising of a people who have been silenced and ignored for 30 years. Growing up in Egypt as a woman, I always avoided crowded spaces for fear of sexual harassment, a growing problem across the country. A problem that has not been fully addressed in Egypt and in the media. But this time, I felt different. I felt like I could walk the streets of Cairo as a woman and nothing would happen to me. It was because we were all connected. We were all connected to the spirit of change and the soul of Egypt. Throughout the whole uprising, we all wanted the same thing. We all wanted freedom and democracy.

It is not to say that Egypt’s movement for democracy has not been impacted by gender violence, the report that Lara Logan, a CBS reporter, was sexually assaulted while reporting in Cairo on the evening of February 11, the night Mubarak stepped down has not been forgotten. My friends and I were horrified when that story broke. Some of us were even disappointed that it took a non-Egyptian woman’s painful story to shed light on an issue many of us were too familiar with. I have high hopes that in this new democratic Egypt, the issues of gender violence against women will be addressed. I believe that the new Egypt will work on protecting and serving ALL of our citizens, not just the rich and male.

Nora and I in Talaat Harb Square (near Tahrir Square)
on Friday, February 11 with a group of young Egyptian
women we met on the street.
The next morning young Egyptians all over the Cairo took to the streets with broomsticks and trash-bags and cleaned the city. It was magical to see the usually littered streets of Downtown Cairo spotless. As a friend put it: “We overthrow a dictator by night and clean our city streets by day!” Egyptians all over the city were cleaning streets, directing traffic, forming groups to help Egypt’s transitional period...

Long live the Do-It-Yourself Revolution!

Update since this post was written:
On International Women’s Day, March 8, thousands of women took to the streets of Cairo and gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate their achievements as part of the #Jan25 revolution and to voice their demands in a democratic Egypt. Unfortunately, the peaceful demonstrators were met were met by violence when men started to verbally abuse and shove the women, telling them that they should go home where they belong. Women were a major force in the Egyptian revolution as they are in everyday Egyptian society. I believe that for a nation to advance, the rights of all its citizens should be preserved and respected by the law. While it might be a steep hill climb to equality, I believe that once reached the views will be breathtaking.
Heba Gamal is an Egyptian living in San Francisco and works for Google managing Search Quality for the Middle East and North Africa. Follow her updates on Twitter: @htgamal.

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