Thursday, March 17, 2011

Excerpts from My Tahrir Story by Salma Howeedy

Special thanks to Salma Howeedy for submitting her story using the University on the Square: Documenting Egypt's 21st Century Revolution contribution form.

My Tahrir Story

It is no coincidence that the revolution that began on Jan 25, 2011 is taking place in "Liberation Square". For the first time in decades, people feel liberated from the strangle of a corrupt government. For the first time, they're not afraid to speak up, not afraid to demand change, not afraid to claim what's rightfully theirs. They're screaming at the top of their lungs because for sixty years, they have always been threatened to remove the tape, threatened to challenge the status quo. During the Nasser and Sadat years, everyone in Egypt knew that the prison tortures were up and running. Both of my grandfathers were tortured because they fought for what they believed in: social justice for all. Now, that spirit of social justice is rekindled once again and a revolution is underway.

Today, Feb 8, 2011 marks the 14th day of this revolution. Ive been wanting to go to Tahrir Square since Day 1, but due to some security issues (and staying with a bunch of paranoid family members), I wasnt able to go. Finally, I went today with a close friend of mine and her family, and it was an experience I'll never forget.

We left an area of Cairo called Mokattam after Asr prayer, around 3:30 pm, and headed over to Tahrir Square. There was a beautiful blue sky above us, and we passed by Old Cairo. We passed by beautifully historical monuments: Mohamed Ali Mosque, Sultan Hassan Mosque, the old Cairo Library, the Museum of Islamic Art.....I thought it was amazing that we're driving passed all of this history, on our way to making history ourselves.

Sooner than later, we're parking the car on the famous Tal'at Harb street. This street is in Downtown Cairo and connects Tahrir Square with Talaat Harb Square. We walk down the street and before we reach Tahrir Square, we find a guy at a cart selling sweet potatoes. The aroma was too tempting, so we each buy one. It’s never too chaotic for a sweet potato, right? I also bought an Egyptian flag for 5 EGP (less than a dollar). With our sweet potatoes in hand, flags in our hand, and passion in our hearts, we get to the entrance of Tahrir Square. In order to get in, the young men and women have formed separate lines, and you have to show ID, and get your bag checked. It was such an amazing initiative and really proved that the people leading this revolution only want the safety and well-being of all egyptians. The girl that checked my ID was a beautiful girl in her mid-20's, and my purse got checked by a friendly woman in a niqab. We get through security, and there we are. History unfolding before our eyes.

The sun was close to setting, and the sky was a magical mix of blues, pinks, oranges, and yellows. All I saw was thousands and thousands of people stretching beyond my scope of vision. I saw huge posters of all the martyrs that died fighting for this cause, posters that had their picture, name, age, and occupation. Watching the news for the past 2 weeks, it seems like the media (international and local) has not shed enough light on the dozens that have died, so the people in Tahrir Square are making sure they arent forgotten.

You walk around the edge of Tahrir Square and find funny posters and caricatures of Mubarak. Dozens of pieces of artwork was taped on the windows of shops. Different groups are chanting different slogans. (They got really creative out there). I saw a man holding a white poster that said "Leave" in at least 20 different langauges. We also saw a man wearing a referee uniform and he had a whistle in his mouth and a red card in his hand. On the red card it read "Mubarak Out". One of my favorite chants was "Ya Mubarak ya Tayyar, gibt mineyn 70 milyar!". This translates to "Oh Mubarak, oh pilot, where did you get 70 billion from?" (Context: Mubarak was an officer in the Egyptian Air force and recently it was publicized that he has 40-70 billion dollars on him). I saw a young guy sitting on top of a really high pole waving the flag, with the sunset in the background.

And once someone on a megaphone started saying "irhal! irhal! irhal!", thousands of voices joined in unison. One man was walking towards us with a cardboard with a slogan on it, and he said "Im looking for a single girl to hold this sign". So I told him I'll take it from him. I look at the oddly cut out cardboard poster and it reads: "Ya mubarak ya ra2ees. Ya tir7al ya tigibly 3arees" Which translates to "President Mubarak, either you resign or you find me a husband" (it rhymes in Arabic). That must have been the highlight of my day. So i continue walking through Tahrir Square with this hilarious poster in hand and random women are laughing and taking pictures of it. One lady came up to me and said “trust me girlfriend, his resignation is easier than finding a good man these days”. I laughed and appreciated the sense of humor of the Egyptian people. They always find ways of making you laugh, no matter how tough the tides are.

I look in front of me and I see the Arab League Building. I laughed to myself. Few months ago, I was in that building for one of my political science courses. Who knew four months later a revolution would take place in its frontyard?

Shortly after, we hear the call to Maghrib (the sunset prayer). Men start laying newspapers on the floor and start praying, with a circle of men holding hands and surrounding them. My vision blurred for a few seconds as tears formed.  At that moment, I didnt feel Egyptian. I didnt feel American. I didnt feel like a graduate student. I didnt feel like a daughter or sister.

I just felt human.

 Its a strange feeling. I suddenly felt connected to every single person walking by. An old man sitting on the sidewalk was offering dates from a small, clear bag. 2 young men walked passed me and were picking up the garbage. A group of men were collecting empty plastic bottles so they can refill them with water and distribute them again. I just felt so..........human.

We continue walking around Tahrir Square a few times. Night set in, and we walked through an area where all the tents were. On the floor, someone had written the word "Thawra" (which means Revolution in Arabic), and next to it, drew a fist in the air. A barber shop had been transformed into a clinic, and I saw a middle aged man standing in front of the clinic with his white coat and gloves, taking a sip of water. It started getting a little chilly, and some guys on the sidewalk were laying down, taking a nap. At the heart of Tahrir Square, old national songs from the 50s and 60s start playing and hundreds of people sing along, waving their flag. You can tell they really love their country. That why they're there in the first place.

We soon made our way out of the Tahrir Square, and it was like entering a whole new world. It felt like there was a forcefield around Tahrir Square filled with this vibrant energy, and once you step out of it, its back to normal life. People are selling snacks and socks on the sidewalk. We stop by a little tiny market and soraya's dad buy some peanuts and 3asailliya (these honey sticks covered in sesame seeds). We're walking back on Talaat Harb Street, going to the car, and normal life was resumed. A man on a bicycle passes, holding the handle with one hand and balancing a HUGE tray of bread on his head with his other hand. The noise from Tahrir slowly starts to quiet down. We reach the car, hop in, get through terrible post-curfew traffic, and make it home.

Im sitting in my friend Soraya's room now, eating an sandwich with feta cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes. In front of me is my flag and under it, my funny cardboard poster. This is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

We all have a Liberation story. Something worth our time and effort. Something worth fighting for. Something that liberates us.

Thats my Liberation Story.
Whats yours?

Salma Howeedy
Feb 8, 2011

If you'd like your voice to be heard, visit University on the Square: Documenting Egypt's 21st Century Revolution and share your experience.