On January 25, 2011 around noon, Arwa Salah, Adel Abdel-Ghaffar and I met at a sandwich place in Shubra, a Coptic Christian majority neighborhood in central Cairo. The three of us were very skeptical that the day would amount to much, but being the people that we were, we were willing to give it a chance. We’d all given many chances before. We’d been to protests that amounted to not much more than a few yelling “troublemakers”. We’d voiced our anger about the state Egypt was in due to a very long dictatorship in a number of forums that were available to each of us. It had always felt like our actions were not much more than a drop into the sea. But we weren’t going to give up. We were going to give it another chance.
What happened over the following days was momentous and quite unexpected by most Egyptians. I don’t think we realized the potential we had as individuals and as a people to create change. Once this realization started dawning on us, we would not allow ourselves to be convinced that we could not take our country out of darkness and into the light.
We would not settle for less than Mubarak stepping down from power. We fully realized that the removal of Mubarak and his regime would create a huge power gap. We fully realized that there was only one power in Egypt besides the National Democratic Party that had any experience and popular support to step into that gap; and that was the Muslim Brotherhood. We were completely aware that once Mubarak and his regime were removed we would be in for trying times. I remember discussions about this going on and on between revolutionaries between January 25 and February 11. I remember saying those words over and over to the various journalists who contacted me for interviews at the time and who repeatedly asked, “But what happens after you remove Mubarak?”
Egyptians lived through a few days of euphoria and national pride after Mubarak was ousted. But as the days moved on the reality settled in: now what?
I spent the first couple of months after the revolution obsessively following the news and the late night talk shows that hosted every sort of analyst imaginable. So many events happened during the following weeks and months that it’s almost impossible for me to list them. Many Egyptians continued to go to Tahrir Square in hordes on Fridays to keep up the pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to respond to the demands of the revolution. I didn’t feel a need to do this myself. Although I understood the benefit of keeping up this pressure, I also did not feel that we all should be doing this. We needed the country to re-stabilize, I felt. I had done my job. I had toppled a dictator. It was now the turn of the politicians who have the needed knowledge and expertise to figure out how to get Egypt back on track and into democracy.
I continued to try to follow events. I started noticing that there were too many political players appearing on the scene. I remember tweeting that the Egyptian revolution was like a thunderstorm that cleansed the country but then the creepy crawlies came out of their holes. Many people started announcing they would nominate themselves for presidency. Many many others started forming more political parties than I thought possible. Factions that had been underground for years – or at least oppressed by the previous regime – began to surface. It was impossible to follow it all or to understand it all.
Many frightening things were also happening on the ground. Political activists and protesters were being detained and allegedly tortured by the military police. Protests that seemed to start peaceful somehow ended very violently with many people dying. There were days when I feared for my children’s lives. Many of these violent events were in close vicinity to my children’s school.
Stories began to surface about thugs and bandits disturbing the peace, robbing people, violently beating them up, and in some cases killing them. Who were these thugs? On whose behalf were they acting? Or was Egypt descending into a general lawlessness?
The general discourse of politicians, political activists, SCAF, the police, ministers, religious leaders, and the general public became overwhelmingly coarse. An “either you are with me or against me” mentality reared its ugly head. I saw this quite frequently happening from Twitterers (tweeps) I was following. Things were being said along the lines of “If I hear anyone say such and such one more time I’ll block them.” The very same people who risked their lives for democracy in Egypt were incapable of recognizing the right of others to see things differently than they did.
Life in Egypt post-revolution had become extremely stressful. While all this was going on I was going through my own personal challenges. I was an unemployed, divorced, 42-year-old mother of four children suffering from major financial loss in a very unstable Egypt at a time of global economic crisis.
With all this going on, I was scared shitless.
I needed to find a way to deal with it all. I stopped following the news and the late night talk shows. I was completely turned off from Twitter by the level of discourse I was witnessing. I took an extended holiday and visited with friends outside of Egypt.
Many thoughts went through my head over the subsequent months. To understand what was happening in my country, I resorted to more private discussions (as opposed to Twitter) with trusted friends on Facebook. These discussions were more thoughtful, considered, and balanced. I was able to get more calm analyses. Friends who were well connected whether with activists, politicians, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the army would explain what they had heard and how they saw events. Phone conversations ensued followed by meetings. We all just wanted to try to understand what was happening so we could decide how we should act or react as individuals.
Safety became an important consideration. Friends traveling abroad would come back not with chocolates and cute clothes as gifts but with gas masks and mace.
There were times when many of us, including me, started thinking it was time to leave the country. I had never thought that before. It was never an option for me. But with the situation so precarious and my search for work not bringing the results I was hoping for, I started thinking that maybe looking for work abroad was my only option.
Over the past year I was asked a few times by journalists for interviews to update them with the situation in Egypt post-revolution. I declined every single one of them. I had nothing to say because I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t understand what was happening in Egypt. I still don’t. I’m not alone. I haven’t heard a single person, not even the most experienced analysts, say anything that indicates that anyone has a grip on who is doing what and for what reasons in Egypt.
It’s a mess.
But it’s our mess. And we’re going to clean it up somehow.
It’s been a really really hard year for Egyptians. We’ve all worried about money and jobs and personal safety. We’ve all struggled getting up some mornings. We’ve all felt pangs of pessimism. We’ve all succumbed to conspiracy theories. Listen. If there was ever a time when we had a right to believe in conspiracies it’s now!
But we’re going to make this right. No matter how down we ever get we always remember those who gave their eyes (literally) or their lives to this country. We will honor those eyes and we will honor those lives.
I found work. By the grace of God I found work. I’m staying in Egypt.
So, mysterious forces of evil acting on this beautiful country of ours, BEWARE. We will not allow you to take over this country again. The people of Egypt fear no more. We may not all have the same vision of how to deal with the situation we’re in, we may feel lost as to how to do this, but we’ll figure it out. By God, we’ll figure it out.