Sunday, August 18, 2013

That Time I Lived Through a Revolution

There is no fancy angle here. No narrative from my past, no interesting anecdote to grab your attention. My feelings are too mixed-up to produce anything well written or thoughtful. I am too sad to be hopeful, too afraid to be confident, and too amazed to be descriptive. No matter how I write this, it will not do Egypt justice. And justice has been denied to Egypt for so long, that I almost did not write this at all.

We planned for June 30. As the Tamarod protesters gathered in Tahrir, we stocked up on groceries and kept track of each other. The night before, I locked my front door and charged my phone. Very little violence erupted from those protests. The thorough planning, mostly by young adults frustrated with a religious government, helped make the June 30 protests appear celebratory and demanding at the same time. A couple days later, when the military declared their support for the Egyptian majority, Emily and I walked down the street clutching recently purchased Egyptian flags and smiling at the celebration happening around us. The day the military removed Morsi from power, we gathered in my apartment to watch the news and then moved to Emily’s 14th-story terrace to observe the rejoicing spilling into the streets. We were prepared for it to get scary, but it never did. Aside from a few isolated incidents, the second revolution seemed successful. I was impressed with the petitions, protests and dedication of the millions of people throughout Egypt.

It soon became apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood was not going down without a fight. They had worked too hard, and for too long, to make Egypt an Islamic state. They appealed to the West’s sympathy by crying about democracy, military coup and free, fair elections. They made demands and continued to refuse to negotiate (which they had been doing for months). They acted like children, and eventually, the military and Morsi opposition started treating them as such. The public and media stopped taking them seriously. The nation started to progress without them.

Perhaps this was the mistake we made. Not just the opposition, not just the Egyptian military, but also the media and the Western world. Maybe we underestimated them a bit, and their willingness to fight, and worse, die for their cause. Could this have been prevented with a stronger hand in the beginning? Were there peaceful ways to appease them before they took to the streets with weapons?

When I left Egypt briefly to meet my parents in Spain for a week at the beginning of July, I was excited and energized by my international home. Political protest is so admirable, and here was a movement that had successfully overthrown not one but two oppressive governments. I had so much hope in a future in Egypt without religion preceding common sense. The rest of the summer, in a hippie ocean village at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, I felt proud and safe, confident that the pro-Morsi sit-ins would eventually dissolve and I could truly be a part of a new Egypt. Though tourism was low, and Dahab lacked commerce, Ramadan passed without incident. Protests continued on both sides but I was never worried about returning to Cairo. I was even a little excited to get back to my apartment, start fresh a new school year, and meet the incoming teachers I with whom I had only corresponded over the internet.

I returned to Cairo early morning, August 13. Later that day, I went to the spa and on a leisurely grocery shop. Feeling tired, I left before acquiring enough groceries, figuring I would finish the next day. The 14th, I was supposed to meet Emily at 10:00 a.m. to run errands. I overslept, and when she called me, I awoke to chanting protesters in the background, who she could hear from the rooftop of her 14-story building.

And then the news flooded in, faster than my Twitter-following mind could digest it. The military had cleared the sit-ins, which seemed effective until they relocated to Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, about two kilometers from my apartment. A few hours passed. People started to die. A few more hours passed. I heard gunshots.

I stayed inside for more than two days (a privileged confinement, with fast Internet, Wii, television and cell phone service). Eventually I closed Facebook and Twitter, unable to read about where some of the bullets I heard were landing. Churches burned. People cried. The Brotherhood stood firm. I kept thinking of a quote I heard on a television program, about religious extremists, living with expectations and ideals of the 8th century, but weapons of the 21st. They don’t mix well.

I slipped out for a few hours on Friday morning to meet the new teachers. The brave, amazing people that got on a plane despite the recent events. I could tell immediately that this particular group of new arrivals were above-average individuals, fearless but thoughtful, readied and well-informed. And the little information that I was providing them as an orientation to Egypt will likely pale in comparison to the things they will teach me this year. They gave me hope.

After stopping at the grocery store, I literally ran home to be inside before the end of Friday prayer, a planned “Day of Anger” protest by the Muslim Brotherhood. Later that afternoon, though I felt safe locked-up in my apartment, I decided to take a break and move out to the suburbs for a couple days. My friends, Emily and Joe, joined me, and we made camp in our director’s beautiful home. I felt lucky, because I know that not everyone has the opportunity to take a break.

That’s the story of that time I lived through a revolution. It’s not over, but I felt like I had to write something. I would like to ask a few favors of my readers, as well. Please do not believe everything you see on CNN. Do not judge the Egyptians, military or Brotherhood, based on your understanding of how democracy or religion or justice works. Do not simplify events into “fair elections” and “peaceful sit-ins” and “military coups”. This is a complicated set of issues, and the Egyptians deserve better than our judgment. It is best to admit we don’t understand. It is best to admit we will probably never understand.

I am okay, safe, staying. I am proud to be here, even when it is a bit scary. I hope, once this all dies down a bit, we can all see Egypt for what it really is: a beautiful, historical, inviting country full of welcoming, kind, smiling Egyptians…my home.

Alternative non-Western-biased news sources:
Facebook: Egyptian Streets


  1. Thank you very much for the author of the article,
    I feel honesty it.
    Especially in the point not to believe some of the media, because it is complex and different in Egypt
    It is like trying to solve a password
    Can not be solved except those who lived and worked hard, learning and made real revolution, January 25, and pursued by June 30
    Who’s Did not give up throughout the last 3 years of besetting their dream of change in this great country (Egypt), who has been lot of lunges over the past decades.

    posted by sherif el senosi
    egyptian citizen

    1. Sherif,

      Thank you so much for reading. I hope only the best for Egypt. Please feel free to share with your friends.

      Megan (writer)