We Stood on the Shoulders of Our Forefathers

Below is an article that was meant to be a chapter in a book on the Arab Spring I was told would be published by Columbia University Press. The editor was asking that we write our chapters on a volunteer basis (no payment would be received in return), which I gladly did. However, sometime later, I was asked to sign a copyright statement that said, “You hereby permit the exclusive use and agree to transfer the copyright of all or portions of your material in the above-referenced Work in all forms and media (now in existence or hereafter invented) including advertising and related promotion throughout the world and in perpetuity. You hereby grant me and Columbia University Press the right to use your name, likeness and biographical details in connection with all uses of the material and you waive the right to inspect or approve such use.” It seemed completely unreasonable for me to sign away all copyrights of this piece while getting nothing in return. The editor and I were unable to reach a mutual agreement and as a result, I now post this article, written in October 2011, on my blog:

October 20, 2011. It is eight months and nine days after a very emotional day, February 11, that ended with me realizing that I had succeeded in toppling a dictator. It sounds very narcissistic, doesn’t it? “I toppled a dictator.” But I’m certain it’s the same feeling shared by millions of other Egyptians who carried their shrouds on their backs and left their homes every day between January 25 and February 11 with a determination they had not known before to change their country for the better.

On January 25, 2011 so many of us took to the streets asking for the “simple” things:  healthcare and police reform, putting an end to rigging of elections, no to poverty, no to corruption. But by the evening of January 28, after scores of unarmed protesters fell dead to police brutality, we made a spontaneous and unanimous decision: we will not tolerate this brutal, corrupt, authoritarian regime any longer. It was as much a personal decision made by millions of Egyptians individually as it was a collective proclamation that it was time for us as a group to be responsible for creating our future. Egypt’s January 25 Revolution was a revolution with no leaders. And it was a revolution with millions of leaders. We have every right to be proud of our accomplishment as individuals and to be proud of ourselves as a people.

October 20, 2011. Not much is clear now about Egypt’s future. I remember tweeting at the end of March of this year that the Egyptian revolution was like a thunderstorm that cleansed the country with pure rains. But then the creepy crawlies came out of their holes.

For decades – if not longer – Egyptians had been purposefully kept politically infantilized. Any attempts by groups of people to become politically active were suppressed. And the few political parties that were allowed to exist were essentially paralyzed. Down comes the authoritarian regime and suddenly everyone wants to be a politician. Wide open the doors to the formation of political parties and God only knows how many are being processed. Down comes the dictator and suddenly tens of people want to be president. Add to that many question marks about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that appointed itself the country’s leader in this time of transition. What are its real intentions? Whose side are they really on? Whose interests are they really looking out for?

I can’t say we didn’t expect this post-revolution chaos when we realized we were in the midst of a full-blown revolution in the beginning of 2011. I was contacted – as were many other revolutionaries – by the international media while I was protesting in Tahrir. “What do you expect to happen in Egypt once Mubarak is removed?” I was asked several times. “What’s the plan?” they asked. Every time I gave the same answer: “We realize that the removal of Mubarak and his regime will leave a huge vacuum in the country. But if we want our country to be a democracy, we must start by removing the dictator. The process after that will be long and tortuous. But it’s a process we need to begin.”

I have many memories of those momentous 18 days.

My beautiful 73-year-old father would bid me, my sister, and my friends who gathered at his house every morning farewell as we anxiously walked out into the unknown. He was fully aware he might not see us again. But every time he’d tell us, “I wish I could come with you but I’m too old. Go topple that dictator!”

I remember him calling me on my phone on the infamous night when camels and horses raided Tahrir Square. He was watching everything on television as it unfolded. I was standing on a tank at the frontline. So many rocks were being thrown by both sides that they seemed to be suspended in mid-air above me. Molotov cocktails lit up the dark sky. Every once in awhile the tree next to the Egyptian Museum would come on fire and the army, standing inside the museum fence, would put it out. A group of young pro-Mubaraks climbed to the top of a building looking over the frontline and started throwing huge cement slabs down onto the anti-Mubarak protesters below. People were being carried away, injured or dead, by their comrades. My father asked me if I was all right. I told him I was in the midst of a surreal scene but that I was fine. “Take care of yourself,” he said. I told him I would. And that was that.

A few nights earlier thugs appeared on the streets of Cairo. A good friend of mine walked me home from Tahrir with a group of his friends to protect me. We caught sight of a group of young men with sticks walking brazenly down an empty downtown street. We were urged by a group of men protecting Cairo University Hospital to rush in for cover, fearing the worst. Instead, I urged my friends along. My father’s house was nearby. We arrived safely and my friend stayed with my father, sister and me. His house was too far and it would be dangerous for him to try to get there that night. Months later that friend wrote on Facebook that he’ll never forget how my elderly father fearlessly left the house to pray the dawn prayer in the mosque across the street while we all stayed home in our beds listening to the gunfire in the street below.

My father, who could barely walk because he was an ill, elderly man, decided he wanted to go visit Tahrir one day. He attended the noon prayer in Tahrir followed by a Christian mass. His eyes overflew with tears. I supported him as we slowly walked around the square. He bowed down and, as a sign of gratitude, honor and respect, kissed the hands of injured revolutionaries, the doctors who treated them, and the soldiers who protected them. His hand was kissed many times in return. He sat down and people gathered round to listen to the elderly man who talked about the greatness of Egypt’s past. He urged the revolutionaries to continue their struggle to bring justice and freedom to our country.

I will never forget the joy I saw in his face the night of February 11, the night Mubarak was deposed, when I came home.

My father died on August 31, 2011, a few short months after the country he loved witnessed momentous change. I am so proud we did that while he was alive. He and his generation succeeded in raising a generation of change. We stood on the shoulders of our parents and reached for the skies.

October 20, 2011. At times, the situation on the ground in Egypt looks grim. At others, it’s full of hope. It will take months, if not years, for us to have the Egypt we all long for. It will be full of hardship. There will be as many losses as there will be gains. But we now know what we are capable of. We now know that the greatness of our forefathers runs in our veins. The Egypt of our dreams is our children’s future.

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6 comments

  1. Tears.

    I was there, too, if only through TV, Twitter, Facebook and prayer.

    Your words draw pictures as beautiful as those of the cameras that were smashed.

    One love.

  2. Hi Nadia.
    I have been following your blog closely for a long time, since shortly before the amazing fight to bring down Mubarak and his regime. There was something about you that inspired me so I signed up for your emails. I have kept in touch with what has been going on in Egypt through you rather than the news as I feel it is a more honest, and of course personal, view. I am American but have lived around the world, including muslim countries. Unfortunately I have never had the honor of visiting Egypt even though I have wanted to since a child.

    The article you wrote is amazing, though I know it barely scrapes the surface of the true struggles and pain, as well as the joy you and your people have gone through. I am so very touched by your part that your father, seemingly the most amazing man, was able to survive long enough to be rewarded in such a way. I was, and still am, very sorry for your loss when he died. I believe you did the right thing by not giving away your article. Those words are too powerful to not own and claim as yours to be done with as you see fit. I’m proud of you for having the mind to make that choice and I am so very proud of you and your people for what you have accomplished. Of course the years ahead are going to be difficult. It is a situation of order through chaos, but I believe that if there are enough Egyptians like you, than order will one day be achieved. I am also proud of you for making the very difficult decision a long time ago to remain in Egypt where you know you belong.

    I just felt the need to tell you how much I have been inspired and admire you.

    Many blessings,
    Jacquellyn

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