Egypt in My dreams
Its lonely and I am thinking (and dreaming) in 140 characters or less. The only people I have spoken to in the last few days are friends in Egypt, friends from Egypt in the US, my boyfriend and a few reporters. I have turned down requests to be ferried between television studios in midtown Manhattan. That job is best left to career pundits whose only moments to shine come at times when countries collapse ad the middle east ofcourse is very fashionable.
Un-showered for three days and with little food or sleep it has even become hard to write these pieces, because all I have really been doing is sending out upto 40 tweets a minute into the ether based primarily on the fragments of conversation which till yesterday were all on landlines when friends like the two Yousry’s returned home to Zamalek and Mohandessin after spending entire days at Midan Tahrir, the ground zero of the Egyptian revolution.
Twitter, fortunately and unfortunately has taken over my life to the extent that the hash-tag of Jan25 is the date my mind is stuck on. I had no idea what day it was today. This second conversation with Yousry brings home a few points that I have stated before but are important to repeat.
· The vast majority of protesters on the streets are not “tweeting”. Approximately seventy percent of them are not regular users of the internet and atleast half of them have never had an email account—in Cairo’s slums like Mashriyat Nasser which more than a million poor call home basics like electricity are stolen from over-ground power cables and even then the supply is infrequent. Phone calls are still made from kiosks in the streets, even though having a very basic mobile phone has become increasingly common. The idea of having smartphones like iPhones and Droids is unimaginable—the idea of what “social networking” means or what Facebook and Twitter are is unknown to most
· Friday is the holiest day of the Muslim week and the first day of the Egyptian weekend. On Friday Hosni Mubarak had successfully wiped off the few Egyptians who do have internet access and social networking savvy off the map of the worldwide web. But the revolution in any case was no longer about any of that. People instinctively knew that if you were in Cairo, you needed to leave home. Taxis were not available anymore (a basic taxi ride in Cairo costs 5 Egyptian Pounds—which to many of the protesters by the way is a lot of money) so if you were near downtown you could walk to Tahrir square.
· If you were in the further outposts like Madinat as Sādis min Uktūbar (6th of October City) it became harder to get to Midan Tahrir. If you were in Mohandessin (literally means Engineers) which also now goes by Dokki or its enclaves of Mo'alemeen (Teachers) Ateba'a (Doctors) or Sehafeyeen (journalists) you can walk. It’s a longer walk than walking from the island of Zamalek or other areas where Cairo’s rich live like Garden City or Maadi. Heliopolis where Mr. Mubarak is probably camped out in the Presidential Palace is pretty far from ground zero Tahrir. To walk to Tahrir from the outer areas of this sprawling mess of a city like Helwan, Boulaq, Muqatam, Nasr City or 6th of October city.
· To walk from Manshiyat Naser takes a great deal of courage. Manshiyat means garbage in Arabic and Manshiyat Naser, the biggest slum in Egypt is literally Garbage City. Cairo’s garbage is sorted in Manshiyat by the industrious zabaleen or garbage collectors.
· I now know that Zabaleen from Manshiyat have joined AUC students and journalists/bloggers from Sehafeyeen and Dokki and Zamalek hipsters every day at Tahrir and even the “beards” (as my friends call members of the Ikhwan or Muslim Brotherhood) and in other parts of Cairo. This has never happened before in Egypt. This uprising and this revolt is an unprecedented popular uprising never seen before in Arab lands.
Most importantly—these different classes of people don’t usually talk to each other. They certainly do not tweet at each other or send texts to each other and they would have few if any common Facebook friends (The Zabaleen and the other poor do usually have smartphones)
To me it’s simple, really. In Egypt this is almost entirely a very popular uprising and revolution, not orchestrated by social networking. But outside Egypt this revolution has definitely been tweeted like nothing else in history, and certainly Arab history. (And a very small but critical number of “tweeters” manage to send the most important updates via Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, email and text messages)
Here is a remarkable conversation with Fouad after he returned home at 11:30 pm Egypt time on Sunday night. I have so many friends in Cairo and thankfully I have now spoken to most of them, but Fouad really who does not tweet or speak in camera ready soundbites seems like the most articulate of them all to me.
Me: Have been worried-managed to speak to a few others on their mobiles while they were at Tahrir, but they got cut off
Y: Yes, some mobiles had signal today at Tahrir. I just got home. Today I took the Qasr al Nil bridge instead of 6th October. You know—now all the burnt police vehicles have become garbage cans! And someone had uprooted a stop sign and placed it in the middle of a burnt police car and it said basically-We the people are not the ones who are destroying, please keep the revolution clean, please keep it peaceful…I took a picture but cant email—still have no internet
Me: I have some numbers being passed around for dial up—gave them to your wife earlier
Y: Cool man. Now everyone knows that when you get up in the morning you need to walk towards Tahrir-its instinctive-no one needs to text you or tweet you to tell this, and in any case most of the people anywhere in this amazing country don’t have tweet or Facebook or all that shit. So I got there by 11 and there were army checkpoints…and the men were in one line and families were in another-very organized-the men were being frisked and I asked this soldier why and he said that they did not want police or security forces in plainclothes who might be armed to disturb the “peaceful” people
Me: Fucking unbelievable!
Y: Yup. You know thugs who are probably cops anyway have been looting abandoned or partially burnt police stations and stealing weapons, man. How else would 20 year old boys get Kalashnikovs?
Me: Mubarak wants you all to know that this is what will happen if you get rid of me…
Y: Absolutely…yaani..and then we heard that Baradei was coming…and people got really excited—Parvez this is very important to understand—people are tired and impatient—so many have not slept and have been living there—there is not much food shops open or water around…so they were excited…everybody sat down…and waited…5 minutes…maybe more…no Baradei…and then we started walking away…
Me: Yes, that’s because he was on Al-Jazeera talking to TV cameras
Y: Fucking bullshit man. He lost a huge opportunity—to show leadership. Why talk to TV and not to us? I don’t think he gets it! He has been gone too long to know how really impatient and angry we are…I mean I would probably choose him over Ikhwan but he needs to really talk to people---and this is really important Parvez—he needs to show the people that he, Baradei is as determined as they are. He has been so fucking bland—I had walked away but then someone said that he did speak…I have no idea what he said.
Me: I know. I have been tweeting non-stop about it—and how people may not be imagining him as their saviour right now you know! This guy I spoke to briefly said that he was feeling unwell so I tweeted that and said maybe he should have joined the protestors for Isha or Fajr prayers and they are guaranteed to cure nausea if you pray with true niyat you know…with good intention and focus…
Y: That’s fucking funny! Anyway I think now more than any other day people know what they want. I spent the whole day talking to people—even Zalabayeen from Mashriyat who I have never spoken to! Its like –you know we want this guy to go—we are so glad that the Ikhwan has not been able to piggy-back on this and who the fuck is Baradei anyway—you know they are all saying…lets have a transitional government for 6 months or 1 year and only the army has charge of security in that time—and fire parliament and hold fresh elections and a leader will emerge FROM the elections…the people will decide…
Me: Wow…that’s so true…I just wish Al Jazeera was not focusing so much on pundits and on analyzing every word Baradei or someone says—their cameras even are all on very wide shots of Tahrir, which to me almost looks like the Kaaba sometimes with people circling around…I wish their reporters would climb down some more and walk amongst the people with their cameras…
Y: So true man! So true! Anyway I have barely seen TV. You know you can either sit and watch TV or keep on fucking tweeting or you can go out there and chant slogans! And this is very important the slogans have been changing man! First it was Fall of government-then it was Fall of President…today it was Trial of President…they want him to be punished and not to run away…sorry its hard to translate these slogans in English for me…and then also they were saying Illegitimate Soliman! Illegitimate Shafik! And then they were chanting The People want a civilian government and not a military government! You know I went to a foreign school and so did so many of my friends who are also there…but you know everyone is chanting the same things…Egypt has never been like this before…I am so proud of my country…so proud man
Me: What about all the Salah and all the beards being there? Is this about Islam?
Y: La la la not at all! Its amazing—usually the beards are so righteous and expect you to pray with them and be a good Muslim and all that bullshit…but those who want to pray at salah time, pray…others don’t…yes, when someone chants a slogan then people ask you to repeat it…but everyone respects each other—Muslim, Christian, religious, Niqabi, non –Hijabi…everyone man…There was the big charter of demands in Midan tahrir also today…and also you know that slogan from yesterday…Muslims! Christians! We are all Egyptians! Fucking amazing man…that too all day today…
Me: This really is a peaceful uprising
Y: Yes totally…all the violence is caused by them and their people…this is a peaceful revolution…it’s a revolution of the people…not of the Ikhwan, not of Baradei, not of Soliman, not of Facebook and Twitter…no this is a people’s revolution…that’s it really yaani that’s it…
Me: OK you need to sleep now…but before I go—let me give you all these numbers and things which may help you guys to get online…it will have to be dial up…and there is some tweetspeak thing as well…
Y: No man…no tweet bs for me…I don’t even know how to do it…but getting on internet and putting up my photographs would be fucking amazing…let me get a pen…shit man! Haven’t even written with a pen in so long! So used to typing…thank you Mubarak for teaching me how to write with a pen and for giving me a day off, maybe this whole week off in such a long time!...