The Day Egypt Got Its First Civilian President

I left work early yesterday, June 24, just as most everyone in Egypt did. I was concerned that once the election results were announced – regardless who won – it would be difficult for me to get back home. My work is within five minutes walking distance from Tahrir. I was anxious throughout the drive home. Cairo was going through an intense heat wave. The roads were jam-packed with everyone trying to get home before 3pm when the announcement was due to be televised.

As I inched through Cairo’s traffic, I began worrying that I might not make it home in time to watch the announcement. I turned on the radio to make sure I didn’t miss anything in case I didn’t make it. I also decided that if the announcement was made early or if I didn’t reach home in time, I’d park the car in front of the nearest coffee shop and watch with hundreds of others set to do the same.

I made it home five minutes before the announcement was supposed to be televised. It was foolish of me to think that anyone could be on time in Egypt. It took some 45 minutes later for the cameras of Egyptian television talk shows to turn from their studios to the hall where the elections commission had gathered. I was restless in those 45 minutes. Very restless. I started cleaning the house. I don’t do that often. I have someone to do that for me. I munched nervously on some of my home-made chocolate chip cookies. I kept the TV on loud and went from one room to another getting some house work done. When the call for the Asr prayer was made, I prayed right in front of the television set just in case. Minutes afterwards it was time.

I sat on my bed in front of the television set in my bedroom. Three of my four children gathered to watch. Judge Farouk Sultan began reading from a huge pile of papers in his hands. A long introduction commenced. The elections commission was unhappy about the many accusations made against them. He spent quite some time making a point of how unhappy they were. The introduction went on and on. Two of my children left the room. The third fell asleep and began snoring. I struggled to keep my brain present as Sultan continued to read.

And then he began reading numbers. Sultan explained in detail what objections were made to the initial election results and what the findings of the elections commission were. I was pleased even though this was long and detailed. This is what I needed from them. I needed them to convince me with evidence if the preliminary results – announced by television presenters, an independent group of judges, and by the Morsi campaign – were going to be much different from the final result.

The changes in numbers made by the commission at the governorate levels were clearly not enough to make a significant difference in the final result. All I could think was that it looked like he was paving the way to announcie Morsi as winner. And then came the final result. He started with Shafik. He announced a number in the 12 million range. And then he said it: Shafik got 48% of the vote.

I didn’t need to hear the rest. That meant Morsi had won. THAT MEANT MORSI HAD WON!

My reaction surprised even me. I was among hundreds of thousands who nullified their votes. I couldn’t bring myself to take on the responsibility of bringing either candidate into government. I did not risk my life during the revolution for me to vote for someone from the previous regime. But I also have serious concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood ruling the country.

I thought my reaction would be negatively neutral either way. It wasn’t.

When I realized Shafik had lost, I began shaking uncontrollably and crying. I could not believe that finally, after everything this country and its people have gone through, the previous regime has fallen. They will not rule me or my country again, at least not for a long time. The fall of the previous regime meant that the Muslim Brotherhood was in. But in that moment, I didn’t care. I was tremendously happy. So tremendously happy.

My first reaction was to call Arwa. We had shared almost every day of the revolution together. Our experiences were almost identical. The things we witnessed, the experiences we went through, the same; the blood, the bodies, the gun shots, the tear gas, and finally the jubilation with the fall of Mubarak. I needed to share this particular moment with her. She picked up the phone. I was crying and words would not come out of my mouth. She didn’t wait for a hello. She started, her voice also crying, by saying, “Yes, Nadia. Yes. They are gone! They are gone, Nadia.”  We cried together for a short time. Then I said, “Let’s go to Tahrir, Arwa.” She said, “Are you sure? It’s going to be crowded.” I told her I felt that it was something we needed to do. She agreed.

The Days Before the Result

The days running up to the announcement were tense for everyone in Egypt. Everybody was talking politics. Everyone was concerned what the results might mean for the country. Everyone was worried what the reactions on the streets might be.

The weekend just before the results I was on a trip to Mt St Katherine in Sinai with a group of friends and two of my children. We wanted to get away from the stress and relieve our minds through the physical effort required to get to the top of Egypt’s highest mountain. The hike was challenging. My 16-year-old daughter, who isn’t an active teenager in any sense (unless you count Facebook activity), found the hike tremendously difficult. She’d stop every ten steps and announce that she wasn’t going any further. It took every ounce of my will power to put up with it. I’d cajole her. I’d get others to cajole her. I’d yell at her and tell her to stop being silly. Another of my adult female friends also found the hike extremely difficult. Her heart was pounding in her throat, her breathing was heavy, and her body was hurting. In the end, we all made it to the top. And everyone was proud and happy with their achievement.

During the trip through Sinai on the way to the mountain, we had noticed that it was difficult to find gas for our bus. At one gas station, the police, armed with huge fire arms, were telling a group of gathered Bedouins that they were not allowed to fill the very large barrels they were carrying on their pickup trucks with gas. Many Bedouins were buying large amounts of gas at gas stations and then re-selling it on the black market. Some of this gas was being smuggled into Gaza through underground tunnels. The police and army were trying to control this, but not entirely successfully.

All through Sinai the army and police personnel at checkpoints we’re accustomed to were more studious and more strongly manned than normal. It took us longer than usual to reach our destination because of all the stops and checks of our ID cards. We couldn’t understand why security was so tight.

On the way back home, we found out why. Just after Ras Sidr, as we were driving in the direction of Cairo, a long line of cars were stopped in front of billowing clouds of smoke. We assumed it was a horrible car accident. As we stood in line waiting, a friend and I decided to go and see what was happening. I have a medical degree. Perhaps first aid was needed. Muhammad was a journalist, perhaps there was something to report. And both of us were just plain curious. As we got closer to the front of the line, it was clear the smoke wasn’t coming from a burning car. We asked someone driving in our direction in the sand on the side of the road what was happening ahead. We were told that the Bedouins were holding up the road. We continued walking. Suddenly there were gun shots. Frightened, I jumped behind a bus. Muhammad said, “Come on, Nadia! Let’s go see what’s happening.” I looked in his eyes, shook my head no, and stood fixed behind the bus. He continued on without me. When he returned he explained that the police had detained a Bedouin for selling gas on the black market. His fellow Bedouins were holding up the road in order to pressure the police into returning him.

Back on our bus, we discussed what to do. Some wanted to wait it out. I had two of my children with me. I did not want to wait so close to the angry Bedouins. Someone suggested we turn around, go to a cafeteria in Ras Sidr, and when we hear that the problem has been solved we then go back. We all agreed. We took the phone number of a truck driver who was going to stay until the problem was resolved. As we turned around, we noticed another group of Bedouins had placed a huge truck tire on the side of the road. We all hypothesized that they were probably planning on burning it, like the tires burning in front, so that the cars now standing in line would be effectively held hostage. We rushed away.

Only a few short minutes after stopping at a road side cafeteria, we learned the problem had been resolved. We rushed back onto the bus and headed back. The army had intervened. Large armored vehicles with rockets on the top were standing at the side of the road. The fire from the burning tires was put out by fire fighters. In their wake, black ash was strewn all over the road and smoldering smoke rose from the remains. It was a relief to be back on our way to Cairo.

That wasn’t the only trouble that day of June 23. We heard word from loved ones in Cairo and from the internet feeds on our phones that our home city was in distress. Millions were marching against Morsi in the neighborhood of Madinat Nasr and had blocked traffic in that part of Cairo. The ring road was also jammed. Some said it was an accident. Others said there were clashes between Morsi and Shafik supporters. Yet others said both things were happening at different parts of the ring road. In the middle of Cairo, there was shooting around the building of Al-Ahram Newspaper, one of Egypt’s largest dailies. We frantically tried to get news about the best route to follow to navigate our bus through Cairo once we arrived.

With all this happening, it was no wonder that all Egyptians woke up anxious on the morning of June 24, 2012. If this was what was happening the day before the announcement of the election results, what could we expect once they were out? The atmosphere in Cairo throughout the day was one of tension, anxiety, and apprehension.

Cairo Celebrations

It took me no more than 20 minutes to get dressed, have a quick snack, and leave the house to head towards Tahrir. I could hear celebratory gun shots throughout my neighborhood. One man was standing on the corner passing out red juice (sharbat) in celebration. A young boy was rushing around on his bike chanting, “Morsiiii….Morsi!” On Pyramids Street, a young man was galloping as hard as he could on his horse up and down the street. Toktoks, little three-wheeler vehicles used as taxis, were swerving back and forth across the street. Cars were honking. Flags were waving. Smiles were everywhere. I waited on the roadside for a taxi to take me to Arwa’s house. A bearded microbus driver stopped and asked me if I was going to Tahrir. I said yes. He invited me to jump on. Everyone on the microbus was jubilant. The discussions between complete strangers were happy and excited. I got off near Arwa’s house, and the moment we saw each other we embraced. We jumped into a taxi and went to Tahrir.

The streets leading into Tahrir were crowded with people celebrating. Flags were waving for as long as the eye could see. In Tahrir, there were fireworks, groups of people dancing, others chanting, and such happiness as I had not seen since the day that Mubarak fell. The square was full of pride. “Raise your head high….You’re Egyptian!” That is what people chanted the day Mubarak fell. That is what people chanted in Tahrir Square the day Morsi won and Shafik lost.

Some people were clearly celebrating the win of their favorite candidate, Muslim Brotherhood Morsi. Others were clearly rejoicing at the loss of Shafik, a minister and then prime minister in Mubarak’s government. Everyone was happy. Everyone was proud.

On the way out of Tahrir, I was groped. I grabbed the man, punched him with both my hands on the side of his head, and kicked him several times in the groin. “That is NEVER done to me!” I yelled at him. Arwa joined in and began pounding him on the top of his head. Two young men grabbed him away from us and began pummeling him. He was on the ground under them as we walked away.

Shaken, Arwa and I looked at each other and then laughed hysterically. “I love doing things with you!” Arwa exclaimed.

Last night we celebrated. Last night, Arwa and I were celebrating what we hope represents the fall of the former regime. For the first time, we have a civilian president. We have a president who was elected by the people. We cannot yet say that our country is not ruled by the military. But maybe one day we will be able to say that.

Yesterday was a historic day. Our revolution took one big step forward. I say this despite the fact that I nullified my vote in the final round of presidential elections. I say this despite the fact that I have serious concerns about Morsi’s rule, not because of the man himself, but because of the organization he comes from.

Today I am a happy woman. It feels good to feel this way for once. I realize we still have a very rough road ahead of us. I realize that we are in for more battles and more crises. But it feels good to have this respite from the stress.

Egyptians: despite our contradictions, despite our inadequacies, despite our lack of political awareness and experience, despite our differences, we’re getting somewhere. We’re moving forward.

Egyptians: do not let this one step forward make you think the revolution is over. This is a milestone in our revolution. But our revolution must continue.

Egyptians: it is time to watch our new president like hawks. And we need to continue our pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to hand over power to a civilian government. We have so much work ahead of us.

Egyptians: CONGRATULATIONS! Wooooooooooooooohoooooooooooooooooooo!

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6 comments

  1. Finally… One simple true happy post regardless of anything else…. I love how you’re expressing your happiness Nadia… It made me happy too and I guess we’ve all surprised ourselves yesterday by the unpredictable, strong, and emotional reactions!

  2. I cried the day I heard the two winners facing each other in a runoff election were Shafik and Morsi. I cried when I heard parliament had been dissolved and that the military was taking back powers from the president. I just kept thinking … won’t this ever be over???

    Last week, an Egyptian Muslim on Skype wanted to “explain” to me about women being groped when they go to Tahrir … I refused to speak to him. I asked if “his” candidate (Morsi) believed in equality for Christians, atheists, and women; or if he would try to run Egypt as a nation of Islam. I got nervous when Morsi resigned from the MB party, wondering about his motivation. I watch the little dribs and drabs on CNN when they deign to give me a tidbit of information.

    Someone said to me, “Are you Egyptian?” I said, “No. I just got to know some of the bloggers and tweeps there during the revolution, and I have become invested in it.” Well, I’m still invested – because when I heard that the military was going to recognize Morsi’s win, I cried tears of joy and relief, too.

    I’m glad I woke up to this today, Nadia – I have been wondering what you were thinking. Congratulations on surviving Mt. St. Katherine. Congratulations on beating the man in Tahrir! :D One more time … tears of joy. One love.

    1. Your comment made me cry – again – Kasey. How wonderful it is to hear from complete strangers who know us only through social media but who feel everything we feel. Kasey, I bestow on you an honorary Egyptian nationality. You are as Egyptian as the rest of us.

  3. Me too delighted more for ‘the official’ fall of the previous regime than for Morsi’s win (but not cried Nadia!) In any case, I am still convinced that the muslim brotherhood is not bad as imaged in the media or as thought. Let’s just give the man a chance and enough time, and support him, then judge and evaulate.

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