Wednesday, February 9, 2011

09 Feb 2011

Dalia is also posting on Here is her most recent post...

The recent notes I wrote are musings on some of the things I am observing rather than updates on the revolution. In the last few days I was not capable of writing because I was not able to process all that was going on around me. I attended a couple of meetings that disheartened me. I was optimistic at times, frustrated or enraged other times, and truly exhausted most of the time.
Today is Wednesday. The 16th day since the revolution has started, on the blessed Tuesday, January 25th. The youth of the revolution gained so much ground in the first few days, then things stopped moving forward, and the political games started. The pressure of Tahrir square, with its increasing millions, is not the main pressing card any more. Life is resuming in a normal fashion in many places around the country. The square is surrounded by tanks and the streets around it are secured and isolated. But the rest of the city is moving normally. The curfew hours are extended, and most people are breaking the loosely observed curfew, and staying in the streets till late. The sporting clubs of the middle classes are opened and the kids are hanging out and playing.
Apart from the few tanks that secure the main road around Cairo, life is back to pre-revolution living, with congested streets and almost normal business hours. The banks and ATMs are extremely busy, while some of the broken and burnt stores are cleaning up and restoring their businesses.
The blockaded square in the heart of downtown Cairo is obstructing the work of a few vital ministries and hindering access to El Mogama’ (the central governmental administrative building in the heart of Cairo), in addition to the parliament, but it seems that this is not enough pressure on the government! And the square itself is changing.
In the last few days the energy of the square transformed, particularly because of the street vendors who are loudly calling out for their merchandise. I wonder about the increasing number of merchants, trying to figure out if it is Egyptian entrepreneurial spirit, or a plot from the government to turn the Square into a carnival, andthe revolution into a spectator sport.
The make-shift tents around Tahrir are giving the sides of the square the feel of shanty town, with people from outside Cairo camping, making tea and staying up to talk. The urgency and the defiance of the first few days are lost. Millions are flooding the square, but the clear intention of rebellion is not as clear any more. There are more chants, and more slogans. There are many more signs condemning the regime and its symbols. There are people singing and drumming improvised rhyming couplets about the falling government. But the spark is not as intent in the eyes.
By the entrances and inside the square, there are a number of young men selling Egyptian flags of different sizes, and head bands and even big velvety hats in red, black and white. A friend of mine compares this atmosphere to going to the stadium to support national soccer games. I have never been, so I don’t know what that feels like. But I don’t like what I am seeing. This doesn’t look like going to demonstrate, and support the popular rebellion, it feels like  a very crowded street fair.
Yesterday, (Tuesday Feb 8th) an estimated four million people came to the square. It was soooooooo crowded by the main entrance by Kasr El Nil Bridge. To enter men had to stand in a very long line that reached almost a kilometer in length. Women had a shorter line, but everyone was squished in as they entered, and even as they exited a few hours later. Next to the hardcore demonstrators, there are many new faces. Some came because they are curious, and some because they changed their mind after watching the interview of Wael Ghonim, who was just released after 12 days of being abducted by the ……………..and interrogated.
Wael appeared on a late night talk show, that millions watched on Monday night, and millions more watched on Tuesday morning. He was very real, very moving and touched the hearts of Egyptians. A cousin of mine called me to say he cried and cried when he heard Wael, and added that he is going to take his daughters to Tahrir that day. Another friend said that her husband, who was against the demonstrators and accused them of being traitors who are destroying the economy, changed his mind after seeing this young man who sincerely loves his country speak with such passion and candor about change. He too went to the demonstrations on Tuesday.
((You can watch the interview with translation on you tube
As much as I am joyous to see all these voices unite in calling for change and asking the president to step down, as much as I fear for the budding revolution. News about strikes in many other parts of Egypt reveal that the domino effect is not just in other Arab countries, but within this country, affecting many of its various corrupt institutions, which is a great sign of change.
On the other hand the Vice President’s latest comments and responses are very troubling. In a meeting with some of the young activists Mr. Omar Soliman said “The President will not leave, forget about that.” In an interview with ABC news he declared that “Egypt is not ready for democracy.” Yesterday he stated that “this is not a revolution, it’s a coup” and today he noted that “he is running out of patience.” This is a government that easily kills its own people and then claims that they don’t know who did it. I fear for the young people who took over Tahrir Square are full of passion and the desire to change, but they are not a match to the political skills of Soliman who negotiated peace treaties between warring Palestinian factions. I believe in the power of the people and I know the youth in the square have already changed history, but I am deeply concerned about their safety, as they started branching out of the square, occupying the streets outside the parliament, and planning a march toward the presidential palace on Friday.
My attempts to connect people from different groups the last couple of days were not very successful. But late last night, I heard that a coalition was formed consisting from representatives of the different groups of activists around the square, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, Wael Ghonim and a couple of other independent activists. I am happy to hear about this coalition, and I am pleased it is including the Muslim Brotherhood. They are present in the Square and all over the country, yet they have been banned from participating in the political life or forming an official political party. If we are going to create a true democracy, all the players have to participate in the political debate in a healthy way, this will benefit the whole country.
Today I thought of creating a TV for the revolution, to broadcast news, interviews and stories from the square. As well as educate the people in the square about the legal matters and tricky political and constitutional issues currently under discussion. I’m in conversation with a few friends discussing what to do and how to do it. Will keep you posted on
Keep sending prayers to Egyptian Revolution of light. May peace and justice prevail.

Bonbon for the People

The new Prime Minister of Egypt is a very sophisticated man. Mr. Shafiq can’t finish most of his sentences in Arabic. He searches for the words, and his English comes to the rescue faster than his Arabic.
I have to confess that among a certain group of my friends, Arabic and English are consumed in equal measures. There are ideas, concepts and expressions that are better found in one of the two languages more than the other. Like Spanglish in the US, in Egypt we have Arabish, and more often we have what I term “Englic” when the English is more dominant than the Arabic.
The prime minister says that president has to leave in a “respectful way”, and he uses the English language to express that, though there are many good, solid, easy Arabic words to express the notion of respectful. A friend suggested that since most Egyptians don’t understand English we can convince the public that what Mr. Shafiq said means the president has to leave immediately, or dragged out of office!  
The PM’s pompous attitude and language are generally condescending, not just toward the population, but even in his dealings with the journalists, media, and even when referring to his own cabinet.
He recently said in a television interview that demonstrators could hang out in the square if they wish, like people do in Hyde Park, and he’d bring them food, tea and “bonbon” as well. He didn’t use the French word “bonbon”, he used an Egyptian word derived from it “bombony”. But regardless of the language he chose, his attitude infuriated many people. His belittling comment is insulting a popular revolution that is changing the course of history. Suggesting that the millions gathered in the square are kids that he could appease with some sweets, is very arrogant!
In the next few days, the security around the square allowed so many street vendors to enter the square. There are people selling all sorts of sandwiches, biscuits, making tea etc. The intense atmosphere of defiance has been diluted, with people calling out for their merchandize, kids selling cigarettes, or cards to charge cell phone. If you don’t follow the crowds shouting or chanting together: “Go Mubarak Go”, or “The People Want to Topple the Regime” you could easily mistake the large crowd for a street fair. Especially with a couple of carts selling fresh popcorn and oven baked sweet potatoes by the main entrance to the Square.
I guess the shrewd Prime Minister was not just trying to annoy the demonstrators by saying he will bring us “bombony”. He was up to his word and there are many vendors selling it inside the heart of the revolution, sweating up the square. Now we are only missing the cotton candy!
9 Feb 2011

The 13th day.. February 6th.

Life started slowly to go back to “normal” in different parts of the city. The thinly observed curfew is out of the window, shops, caf├ęs and street vendors are working into the late hours.
The political games also started. Five youth met with the Vice President today. He said no way to your main demand of the President stepping down. He made no concessions!
One another front, I was asked to join a group of people from the Square in a meeting with a minister in the Egyptian government. They said to me it is not negotiations, we are going to give her a picture about what’s going on in the square and present our demands. In my book this is the beginning of negotiations. I was curious.
We met early in a restaurant to discuss and plan. One of the young men read a list of demands, very well thought of, responding logically and legally to all the claims the media is using to confuse the people. I am impressed by the youth’s knowledge, their level of political awareness, and their determination. Not everyone knows everyone else, but they all come from the square.
The link between them and the minister is a woman, with an attitude. The meeting is a few feet from her house, but she was one of the last to arrive. She spoke English most of the time, though not everyone around the table could follow. She interrupts without apology and her thoughts are presented as the voice of reason. I do not like her tone, or her sentiment. When various people talked about the trouble they had bringing food and supplies in, and how one of them was detained for a few hours, etc. She said with such a nonchalant way “I didn’t bring anything. They have everything in the square; food, water, medicine.” No they don’t! Where does that “everything” come from do you think, Ms Privilege? Someone has to bring it from the outside. She was giving us directions on how to be flexible in the upcoming meeting, and said we can’t get all what we want, but we can start. And after giving some examples, she said “it’s OK to accept a dictatorship for while..” I didn’t let her finish the sentence, I couldn’t. It’s a revolution! You want to accept “dictatorship” (and she said it in English)! I left to go the bathroom, and I felt really bad about what’s going on. This woman is supposed to be on our side. She is our link to this meeting that I don’t really understand the need for. I worried about the meeting. As one of the people of the square I didn’t want to go, but as witness and a chronicler of my times I felt I had to go.
The meeting was worse than I expected. More people from the square were there, totaling 18. The minister was welcoming, and civilized, but she said so many infuriating things, in a very gentle tone. The basic rhetoric was: “We are proud of you. You did something no one could dream of. Now go home.”
The delegation had many things to say. Their message and their passion were powerful, but the responses were diluting the conversation notoriously. When they spoke about how the Egyptian media is tarnishing the revolution, and the misleading coverage of the massacre of Wednesday, and continuous rumors and lies that they spin, the cognizant Minister said “No one watches Egyptian channels!” WOW! What a response! It’s not true, but even if it is, this is not an excuse for the lies and continuous campaign that portrays the demonstrators as traitors. And why does the Egyptian public pay billions of pounds for it.

She tried to assure us that the Prime Minister is making every effort to release the activists captured in the last few days. Many voices around the table shouted “how about Wael Ghoneem?” Her response “we didn’t know his full name!” The activist who worked in google Egypt, who was captured during the first week of demonstrations and completely disappeared since is so well known. His image has been in the papers and on TV, but the current government does not know where is he exactly, because they do not have his full name to track him in their records. UNBELIEVABLE!

The conversation continued in that fashion for a while. Ms Privilege played the role of the facilitators, though she had promised not to talk and to let those designated speak. The atmosphere in the room was really suffocating. I felt they are stealing our souls. Not only did they take our “full” names and ID numbers as we entered the building, but they also have our finger prints on the lemon juice glasses they offered us. The political conversation is very different from the revolutionary discussions. I wanted to get out and go back to the square. Eventually I did. I left early and headed back to the air of freedom in Tahrir Square.
Since businesses opened today and normal life resumed, I was not sure what kind of crowd will be there. I was very pleasantly surprised. Thousands upon thousands. Many families with young children, many many new faces. It shows from the surprise on their faces, and their cameras capturing “Kodak moments” next to humorous signs and banners.
Tahrir square is vibrant. It really turned into a small city. Because of the rain the night before, there are so many tents, and tarp covers. Some of the tents have signs of support from the people of this city or that village to the “January 25th Revolution”! There are also so many street vendors, selling a wide range of things including: sandwiches, hot tea, biscuits, water, juices, popcorn, sweet potatoes, Egyptian flags of different sizes and even socks. Yes, socks. It must get rather cold at night, and warm feet are good for the revolution.
The fresh air of the square gives me back some of the hope I lost during the political meeting. There are so many people here, and they are going to stay. The festival atmosphere lost its urgency, but it acquired another power. Revolution is fun! Come and celebrate life and enjoy yourself. Bring your kids, during midterm break. I know the demonstrators are calling this week “the week of resistance”, but my friend is calling it “Tourism week”. Whatever you’d call it, Egyptians are here, filling the square day and night, and many more are spending the night regardless of the rain. This is a good sign.
A wedding took place in the square. I was invited, but the square was so crowded, I couldn’t cross it in time to attend the wedding. Another is planned tomorrow. The couple knew each other a long time ago, but never really connected till they met again in the square. The last 12 days of conversations made them realize that they care about the same things in life, and they care a lot about each other. Tomorrow they want to do their wedding, on top of one of the military tanks!
Something else is being planned, another meeting with a higher political power. I am afraid none of us are a match to this political fox. I am trying to get people together to prepare those who are meeting him. We’ll see how that goes today.
Have to go to demonstrate, and get some sweet potatoes to warm me up in this windy day. 
((You can follow my next updates on

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February 5

Dear Friends,
Thank you for all the good energy you are send Egypt and for all your support. I tried to write when I came back from the demonstrations last night. I started, but it was very late, and I kept receiving phone calls from young friends wanting to discuss the situation till 1:30 am, then I fell asleep.

I slept soundly in my bed for the first time, since the curfew started a week ago. I have moved to my parents house last Saturday, to be close to them, and to follow the news on television. (TV and parents deserve separate entries. I will write about them later.)

Here is my entry about my experiences on Feb 4th. Feel free to share without getting back to me, as it’s hard for me to respond to email.

I will not inundate you with more emails. Geralyin set up a blog for me, so you can follow my updates and earlier commentaries, if you chose on the gmail blog “Notes from Cairo”

Thank you,
Dalia Basiouny

5 Feb 2011, 10 am
I am very happy this morning. Yesterday was a grand peaceful day. There were millions demonstrating against the regime all over Egypt in the “Day of Departure” as it was dubbed. It is very hard to estimate the exact numbers that came to Tahrir Square, but I am sure that the numbers were more than Tuesday’s “Million People March”, which conservative estimates said exceed one million people, and Al Jazeera said two.

I decided to go early, in case they block the streets. The images of last Friday’s marches after the prayer and the violence that ensued are vivid in my mind. I want to be inside the square before the prayers. The friend who wanted to accompany me from Pyramids Road said she is going be late, as her husband cannot leave the house because there is a car waiting under his house to arrest him. This is not good news; they are arresting activists before the marches! I go alone toward downtown. I hear that they need more anti-biotic for those injured on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I want to bring some but another friend warns me that this morning the thugs attacked a friend of hers, took the medicine she brought and were about to abduct her. OK, I will not bring medicine or food, but I still want to go in.

The road is blocked two miles away from the square. There is a military checkpoint; they check people and inspect the bags. They want to know what’s on my camera, I said ‘nothing yet’. They let me in. I wait for my friend who comes from the other part of town by Kasr El Nil Bridge, the safest entrance to date. I get a phone call from Anna in New York, she wanted to make sure I am make OK before she sleeps. I received another phone call earlier from Sophie in Australia, making me promise that I will make sure I am safe. They too must have seen the images from Friday and Wednesday violence.

I run into a young friend. She seems a bit confused from what she heard on TV the day before. She asks me with innocence and sincerity “Are we right? How can we be sure that we are not destroying our country as they say on TV?” We talk a bit about that while walking toward the square, with hundreds of others.

All these people decided to come early, just in case. A good sign! Not so good when so many of us are crammed in front of a tiny entrance, at the checkpoint of the square. The people’s committees, under the supervision of the army, inspect every bag and parcel. They check our clothes and pockets. It takes time, and there are so many of us. A man comes in with a large bag, and says “I am a doctor, I am carrying medicine.” The crowd opens for him to pass quickly. People waiting start chanting slogans about the solidarity of the people and the army. Some chant against the president, but a few respond, as we are not yet in the safety of Tahrir Square, the truly liberated heart of Egypt. Then an impromptu chant arises “We want another entrance.. Open another entrance.” There are a few women in the crowd of men entering and they make way for us to go ahead of them.. one of the benefits of being a woman during the revolution. We are checked thoroughly and our IDs inspected vigilantly, to make sure we are here to support the demonstration not cause trouble. We are allowed in.

The square is busy, though it is only 10 am. It is usually not that busy this early in the day, another good sign. Our young friend who was a bit confused earlier, though she demonstrated daily since January 25th, leaves us. When she finds us again, she has a wide grin. Though a number of her activist friends were arrested at night, she regained her faith in the validity of her cause. Two groups of activists were being interviewed on TV on Thursday night. The four who were interviewed at Al-Mehwar TV were abducted after the show, and somehow they managed to inform the other four who were interviewed on Dream TV near by. These ran and hid in a mosque. They called the parents of the young woman with them to come get her. Later the three men found a way to return to the square, with stories.

The main story is about the celebrities they encountered on the TV show. The TV announcer who was said there are only 20 thousand gathered in the square, not a million, apologized to them, and said if she doesn’t say that, she’d lose her job. The main guest of the TV program is one of the intellectual celebrities, a writer and a publisher. His analysis of the situation was the reason my young friend was “confused”. This same man, after the taping, told the young activists “forgive me sons, I have no other choice.” I was happy to see my friend gain her faith in what she is doing, and start to realize that what she hears on TV is not wholly, and definitely not the whole truth.

Soon after it was time for “Salat El Gomma’” Friday prayer. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to pray together. A few thousands are not praying. Some are guarding the place.. The hubbub of the square calms down. The half million or more men and women praying create an amazing energy as they recite the Quran, bow and kneel together, row after row.

They perform both Zohr and ‘Asr prayers together, because of the unusual circumstances. Then follow this with the prayers for the martyrs. The prayers end with saying “Assalmu ‘Alaykom” to the right, then “Assalmu ‘Alaykom” to the left. The moment they finish, without missing a beat, and without a prior agreement, everyone in square shouts at the same moment “Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees.. Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees.. Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Nezam.” (The People Want the President to Step Down.. The People Want the President to Step Down.. The People Want to Topple the Regime.) Over and over and over. With power, with determination, in defiance! I am covered in goose-pumps as I shout with them, in a voice I have never used before “Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees”. It’s hard to describe this energy; to be with a million people (literally) wanting the same thing at the same time. Their burning desire makes them all say it at the same exact moment! WOW! I am in owe of the power of the people. I am optimistic.

After the prayers we start to walk around the square. It’s very very busy, but my friend wants to make sure that more people are coming. This is our main card to pressure the government, our huge numbers today. That people would continue to come to demonstrate in spite of all the government’s tricks to deter them. The media war to brainwash the public for days; trying to connect the destruction in the country and the financial collapse to the peaceful demonstrators. In addition to days of surrounding people in the square, trying to starve them by confiscating food and supplies and beating up those bringing them in. They started a physical war using camels, horses, petroleum bombs, and eventual snipers killing and injuring many many demonstrators. All these tactics did not work out. People were flooding the square on Friday. Thousands upon thousands of peaceful demonstrators kept coming. Many performed their prayers in mosques in different neighborhoods and walked for miles to Tahrir Square. People feel triumphant as they arrived, just because they were able to enter the square. Most of the ones just coming in are telling those they meet; “There are as many people waiting to get in as those already in the square.” This is comforting to hear! We will be more than a million people. It’s hard to gage the number when you are inside it, especially if you are of a small stature. I climb on one of the fences and I am owed, with the sea of people swarming around the main circle in the center of the square and all streets leading to it.

The energy is even stronger than last Tuesday (February 1st, the Million People March). On Tuesday, there was a euphoric sense of a people discovering itself and its power for the first time. A bit of disbelief, a lot of relief, and a great sense of freedom. After all, we are standing in the center of Cairo, saying whatever we want about the government that oppressed us for decades and about the president, with the loudest voice possible, sometimes even on loud speakers. WOW! Can we really do that? Yes! We are doing that! Everyone on the square is doing it. To be here means that you crossed a few checkpoints and a larger number of fear barriers inside.

But being on the square on February 4th, “The Day of Departure” meant something even more. You not only conquered your inner fears, but also a lot of outside pressure.  To be here means that you heard on TV, and possibly from friends, family member, neighbors, co-workers or even loved ones that this has to stop. These “kids” demonstrators are destroying our country. They are paralyzing the economy, and allowing foreign forces to infiltrate Egypt. You also heard or saw the news of the Wednesday massacre. It’s not just a matter of starvation, but you know that the demonstrators have been and could be attacked, physically, and even lose their lives. But they here, in millions! How refreshing!
Many many Egyptians had stopped caring about their country, because they saw that there is no use. It seems that the spark in their hearts has not been fully extinguished by years of organized government brutality, corruption, or brainwashing. They are here from every walk of life. They are here in spite of the warnings. They are here and THEY ARE NOT AFRAID. This is something I never thought I would witness with my own eyes. I was not afraid. Millions are not afraid anymore.

Many people are on the square because they are desperate. They have NOTHING. So they have nothing to lose. But there are so many here who have good lives. They are middle class and upper middle class. (I can tell from their shoes!) They possibly drove in fancy cars, or walked from the near by rich neighborhood. They talk to their friends in English, in perfect American or British accents. They are not politically inclined. But being on the square on Friday was about more than politics. It was about freedom and dignity and witness a country wake up from a long slumber.

Many demonstrators are talking on their cell phones. The bits of conversations overheard are mostly people giving directions on which checkpoints are safe or temporarily freed from the government thugs, or people justifying their presences in the square, and explaining to those at the other end of the line what they are experiencing: People are really very civilized, honey.. Sharing food with others.. No foreign presence.. Cleaning the square themselves.. Please don’t worry!.. No, no sexual harassment.. Off course no one gave me money to come here!.. I am safe mum, I swear.. I did not see any Kentucky.. Why don’t you listen to me?.. Believe me it’s not like what they say.. Are you stupid? My sister is as dumb as a shoe! 

I can understand the bits of conversation. I too watched TV and had my fears. I too had to call my mum to assure her about my safety, and she repeated what she heard on TV about the horrible situation there. I too had to promise my friends that I will be careful and not try to be a hero if violence erupts. But unlike last Friday, this Friday is not a day of violence. There is no police presence what so ever. The army is surrounding the square to protect us, not to harm us. What a difference a week of resistance makes.

Hardcore demonstrators who haven’t left the square in a week, might not be able to get enough food, or even decent sleep on the rough pavements of the square. Some left their families without food for the week or even the day. No one promised them a job, or guaranteed them anything, but the triumphant look in their eyes shows that they have already won. Now they have something that no one can take away from them. They have DIGNITY!

The hours pass quickly with so many activities in the different parts of the square. Slogans, chanting, marching, political discussions, meeting people you know, or talking with others you just met. It’s close to 4 pm, and the square is still filling up with incoming people. I move toward the entrance of Kasr El Nile Bridge, still the safest entrance with the largest influx of incomers. I see droves of people entering. With a big crowd on the inside cheering them after they cross the checkpoints and inspections. The impromptu welcome committee is making up slogans to chant. Those entering are getting heroes’ welcome; many are clapping for them and chanting as they come in, rhyming couplets, with some drumming sounds created from empty plastic bottles. “Welcome, welcome to the heroes.. Welcome, welcome to the men”, “Muslim, Christian, We Are One”, “Where is the press..We are millions.” These rhyme in Arabic and sound very motivating when sung in unison.

The large number of people entering makes a man sitting next to me say on the phone “Yes, now we are 30 million!” It feels that way energetically, but as for actual numbers his math abilities need some sharpening.

There are a lot of men of every age group entering but there is a considerable number of women, and of families. My favorite was an elderly couple, in their eighties, walking slowing supporting each other, with content smiles on their faces, followed by their young grandchildren in happy outfits. A few people are in disbelief when they first enter. Not just because of the warm welcoming chants and clapping, but they are owed by the huge numbers and the rising energies. One woman was so overjoyed by emotions, her face was full of tears at the sight of Free Egyptians.

The energies keep rising, and people walking in groups around the square continue to make up chants and riffs on popular songs. They are brilliant! Translation would rob them from the wit and humor, and the subtext and intertextuality would require pages to explain. So I will only mention the funniest that was freshly invented yesterday: “Wahed..Etneen.. El Kentucky Feen?” (One..Two.. Where is the Kentucky?) They are referring to the news reports that accuse the demonstrators of receiving monies and daily Kentucky Fried Chicken meals from foreign entities. This rumor is particularly hard to believe, not just because of the integrity of demonstrators and their self motivation to revolt against oppression and brutality, but also because KFC restaurants have been closed in Egypt for quite sometime. And it is a logistical nightmare to airlift KFC meals for a million people, and deliver them to Tahrir while still warm!

It is February, but the day is very sunny, and it gets hot after a while of walking around in the sun, with a million other people. My demonstrating body and I find a vacant spot on a shady pavement to sit. We are absorbing all the amazing things taking place around us, the sights and sounds and words and looks in people’s eyes. The comments strangers exchange as if they have known each other for years. There is a sense of community, comradery and solidarity, a powerful defiance toward the regime and a feeling of freedom in “liberation square”, the literal meaning of “Tahrir”. Suddenly, I scream out with joy: “Dragonflies!”. My very sensible architect friend does not understand what I am saying. I point above our head. She sees the two huge dragonflies, but she still does not understand. The dragonflies keep circling over us, and one of them almost touches my outstretched hands. I am exhilarated. My spiritual friends and my new-agy friends would get goose pumps when they hear about dragonflies appearing in a crowd of millions. New age is a whole other language, I won’t attempt to explain. I am just so pleased to realize that that not only physical human beings are here, but the angels are also smiling upon us.

It is almost time for the curfew that is loosely followed by Egyptians. Part of the crowd is leaving, while other continue to come in. My friend leaves, and I start to walk alone, and I run into so many people I know.. co-workers, students, many artists, friends from college, and even a classmate from Junior high. I am so owed when I meet Egyptians who flew to Egypt this week to participate in the revolution, from Arab countries, Europe and the States. They left their jobs and their lives and came to witness this amazing moment. I met many of them. This balances what I read in the papers about artists leaving the country, and two of my friends who took their families and left. I understand how scared they were, but I am so glad to know that others were not scared to leave their comfortable lives abroad, and to come back just to stand in the square. One of them tells me with such a matter of fact voice “If this works out, I am not going back to Italy. I will stay.” Hhhhh! Egypt is no more a one way street; a country that pushes its people to leave, to immigrate, to find any kinds of jobs anywhere else. Legally or illegally they try to leave, some even drown in the Mediterranean while trying.

The sun sets and the energy of the square changes again. The nighttime crowd is cool. I meet some artist friends. One is playing music and others are in heated political discussions. One is on the phone explaining to a journalist why it will NOT be a chaos when the president steps down. More people, many more conversations. It’s like a reunion. I hear of them saying “I want a revolution every day to meet my friends.” I agree! Those in the square are my friends. I don’t know most of them, but we all share in creating this amazing moment of our history, just be being there.

I do hope that the eleventh day of the revolution will be the eleventh hour for this corrupt regime. I am happy, and so proud to be Egyptian.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Melodrama and the Egyptian Revolution

by Dalia Basiouny on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 10:44am
(I wrote this this morning before it turned bloody. I came home
Melodrama and the Revolution
9:00 am Cairo 2/2/2011
As I sit and write this on the morning of February 2nd, 2011, the Egyptian television is spewing very painful coverage of the people's revolution.
A huge number of callers are calling all the morning talk shows, to declare their love for the president. The tone is nauseating melodramatic. I was teaching a course on melodrama last semester and I can detect the signs. Callers say how much Mubarak cared for us and how much he loved us as a people, and invariably all of them tend to use that air in their voice, for maximum effect, and almost choke with their passion and love for the president.
Now the caller is young woman from the fancy suburb of Maadi, she said it’s unfair what “they” are doing to him. “They” are the demonstrators we’d have to guess. She pleaded in an accent that shows subtle hints of foreign education that don’t we have corruption or famine, and added that we are going to be like Iraq and other countries.
I know that most of the calls that appear on air are scripted. And as I writer and a director I feel that the writers are very sloppy. One of the worst problems that Egypt is facing is Corruption, capital “C”. It’s a huge problem, in every level of administration one can think of. There so many examples, it deserves a list of articles. It is so widespread that is considered part of daily existence, those asking for bribe do it as an acquired right and most people know they simply have to accept it to get things done. The writer of this call was really off to bring the “C” word to the conversation. But at least the caller didn’t give the audience the standard choking voice from the overflow of emotions.
Right now this Egyptian guy, calling from Emirates, is talking about his enduring love for Mubarak, that if he has his phone number, he’d come back and bring his kids and wife and sit under the president’s feet. I don’t get the connection between getting the president’s phone number and sitting under his feet. But that guy does not tell the audience why is he in Emirates. I suspect that he, like many young Egyptians, can’t find a decent job in Egypt and managed to find work in one of the gulf countries escaping the grueling economic situation. His melodramatic performance is so effective that the TV announcer has tears in his eyes.
I taught my students that melodrama’s high days were in the 19th Century, and it continued in the Egyptian movies till mid 20th Century. But I am forgetting the hundreds of sloppy soap operas that plague all the Arabic TV channels, almost 24/7.
The next call was the funniest. The voice of a young child is calling to say that she wants it all to end, in order to go back to school. This I have really never heard of before. A child is wanting to go back to school.. during midterm vacation. I’d have understood if the sweet voice of this girl said, “I want to go out to play” or “I am tired of the curfew, and I want to leave the house”, but to “go back to school”!! This scriptwriter should enroll in a better writing class.

February 3

These are some notes on my experiences in Cairo, today Feb 3rd. The 10th day of the revolution.
Feel free to share this entry with others.
After a very turbulent in Egypt, the morning finally came. The attack on the demonstrators in Tahrir Square seems to stop, leaving so many casualties. I got a couple of phone calls from friends saying they are heading to the square with supplies. I called the friends who live by the square to see what the injured needs are, and to find out if I can get into the square. The images of Tahrir on TV are showing the aftermath of the battle that took place there overnight. It looks like a war zone. No news if they are allowing people to enter. Rumors about thugs blocking the entrances. After a couple of phone calls, I got a list of medical supplies needed. I called a medical student I know he gave me some suggestions on the kind of medicines, etc. I headed to the pharmacy and got all the anti-biotech they have (thankfully in Egypt it’s over the counter), and passed by a number of other pharmacies to get “neck support”. I drove to downtown. I usually park a mile away, and walk across the bridge. Today, I was carrying medicine and water (even a few bottles are rather heavy) I parked as close as possible to the check point at the entrance of Kasr El Nil bridge.. Signs of destruction.. Piles of Garbage.. People were gathered. It’s not clear who is who. I saw a familiar face; a journalist who came from New York to cover the uprising. We walked to the entrance together, but we were separated as men and women enter from different places for inspection. The inspection of bags and ID by the people committees was more vigilant. They were very polite. They apologized profusely before checking us to make sure we are not carrying sharp objects. I was carrying sharp objects. My medical student friend said take medical scissors. I bought two small ones that I fit into a side pocket in my bag. I know they will not find them. They didn’t. I passed the first check point operated by the people, guarded by the military tanks. There was another inspection. I saw Samah, one of the graduates of the theatre department. She was very happy to see one of her teachers there. She said she’s been coming everyday since Jan 25th. She was entering the square with other friends who were also bringing medical supplies. When we passed the check point area we were taken aback seeing the broken parts of the pavement and the garbage. Samah was especially disturbed by the sight. She was one of many who created daily patrols to clean the square. It’s really the cleanest demonstration I have ever been to. People are careful not to litter, and there are so many people who volunteer to clean and sweep the square, throughout the day. Some use the activity to express their political views. Walking with large garbage bags, instead of saying drop your garbage here, they call out “Donate to the National Party” (Mubarak’s party which abused Egyptians for decades.) We make our way across the square to the make-shift hospital. I am surprised that there are many people there. A whole night of violent attacks did not stop so many of the demonstrators from continuing to demonstrate, peacefully. And many people were flocking to the square in support. The “hospital” is a tiny corner street mosque, in a back alley. A few square meters. There are a few injured people, resting on blankets on the floor, under cardboard signs designating areas for the different departments. Bone injuries are the most obvious as they have casts.  A number of other head injuries with bandages over their eyes, or foreheads, possibly from all the rocks thrown at them by government thugs. The volunteers in the hospital are very grateful. They are sorting out the supplies. There are many plastic bags with supplies. I apologized for not finding any “surgical thread” at the pharmacy. The doctors said they don’t need any more. Good! That means they sewed up the big wounds. As I drop the few supplies I got, I look around the small busy space. The pigeon holes, where people leave their shoes as they enter the mosque, are filled with different medicines, and supplies. Piles more are gathering in front of the volunteers to sort. It’s so heartwarming to see that so many people came throughout the night and the morning to donate, and to help, and many more were flocking in. While I was there, one of the doctors climbed on a plastic stool and said. “What we currently need is two laptops and two people to enter data about the injured.” I call a friend to inform her about what’s needed. She finds people who can donate a laptop, but needs more information. I go back to the hospital and ask for details. One of the young doctors explain that they don’t want a donation of a laptop, just one they can use to enter data about the people they are treating, and other patients that were taken to other locations in case people are looking for them. They also wanted someone to start a facebook page for the hospital, so that they can share the info of the people they have been treating since the beginning of the uprising. I want to volunteer for the job. I can type fast, but I am not an expert with Excel program. A few minutes after I get back on the square I hear on the microphone that they found two volunteers to do the data entry, and they are still waiting for the laptops. The guy on the microphone, I couldn’t see his face because of the thick crowds, repeated a few times that under no circumstance people should collect money. Whatever they need, they announce and people provide it. No money collection. The crowd cheered and clapped.  It’s close to noon, and the square is filling up with people. Definitely more than the number present at the same hour the day before. I walk around the square many of the pavements on the far side, where the major attacks happened, are gone. The street tiles were pulled out and used by the demonstrator to defend themselves in their night fight. While I stand near the Egyptian National Museum that the demonstrators protected from the petroleum bombs of the thugs last night, I hear a loud banging sound. A young man is using a stick to bang on the metal street fence. Another man picks up a metal bar and starts to bang. It takes me a moment to realize what’s going on. The watchmen on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings saw pro-government crowds trying to enter the square. They warn the watchmen on the ground, who bang the fence to alert the demonstrators. Flocks of men come to that area, to stop the thugs from infiltrating the square. Impressive! The young demonstrators are protecting the National Museum, the square and our future. Seeing these enduring, well-organized demonstrators, still hanging in there with faith in change, even after a horrific night of defending themselves gives me so much hope for Egypt and the Egyptians. This is dampened by the news about the thugs circling the square, intimidating people and preventing them from getting in, and confiscating the food and medical supplies. I was waiting to hear from a friend who was driving in with a car full of food and supplies, so I can gather people and go pick it up from him. He called to say the thugs took everything from them! One of my students called to say that they weren’t letting her into the square and were telling her that there are gunshots and people are being arrested inside. Another had to walk three miles to find an easier place to enter. He was intimidated by a guy who is carrying a sword. Yes, as sword. Yesterday they attacked on horseback and camelback, today swords. Which century do they belong to? Another friend who lives nearby comes to the square in the morning and in the evening. Today he couldn’t enter in the evening. The thugs stopped him and accused him of being Israeli. They took him to an Army officer, who “advised” him to go back home. I made it home safely. Tired. More hopeful than in the morning, but  worried about tomorrow. The eleventh day. The Friday of Departure. It’s going to be a turning point. Please direct your prayers to Egypt and to Peace on Friday. I know the people defending their rights in a decent life will be triumphant. I deeply hope their path to change will be peaceful. (Sorry if my sentences are incoherent or unclear. It’s been a very long week, with little sleep.)  Dalia Basiouny Cairo, 3 Feb 2011

February 2

"The government is threatening to “Clean Out” the square tonight.. meaning to KILL EVERYONE. As I write this (10:35 pm) the peaceful demonstrators have one dead and 400 injured. (The number is higher, 3 dead, 600 injured)They are surrounded in the square, are not able to leave and help or medical services can’t go in to rescue the injured. The official TV is preparing the grounds, not only are the peaceful demonstrators blamed for the paralyzed economy, and destruction and looting, today they are also accusing them of being “paid”, “foreign traitors” and “trained abroad” to topple the government. Most of the population is charged AGAINST the youth who are sacrificing their lives for the rights of their countrymen and women."

From Noam Chomsky (whose interview on Democracy Now this morning is a must hear, 'case you missed it)

"It’s very ugly.  And we don’t yet know what the military command has in mind, or even whether they are working with Mubarak to organize this.  Could get a lot worse."