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Frontline: Young Woman Becomes the Face of a Revolution

February 21, 2011 at 6:48 PM EDT
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Frontline followed 24-year-old Gigi Ibrahim, one of the young Egyptians who led the protests that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, as the movement accelerated and she struggled to explain her involvement in the protests to her family.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, a portrait of one young Egyptian woman. Her family urged her not to join the activists, but she did and became a symbol of the uprising.

Our PBS colleagues at “Frontline” met her while they were in Cairo preparing a documentary about the protests.

The correspondent for “Gigi’s Revolution” is Inigo Gilmore.

INIGO GILMORE: It was in the early days of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square, when we found 24-year-old Gigi Ibrahim.

GIGI IBRAHIM, protester: We will not give up.

INIGO GILMORE: She says she’s here to change a regime her family has accepted for far too long. She agreed to take us to meet them.

GIGI IBRAHIM: OK. Now we’re in (INAUDIBLE). This is a very upper-middle-class area, where Mubarak lives actually. He lives like five minutes from here.

INIGO GILMORE: Gigi studied at the American University of Cairo and spent some years in California. We have come to see her aunt and sister.

AZIZA IBRAHIM, sister of Gigi Ibrahim: All my friends, all my family, they have been calling me because I’m the elder sister to her. “Gigi is going to — probably going to go tomorrow. Oh, my God. Don’t let her go. Don’t let her go.”

I got like, what, 100 calls or something from my friends and family from all over.

GIGI IBRAHIM: She doesn’t even, like, listen to music.

I want to explain to you. I came to you many times to talk to you about what I’m doing. And I wanted to sit with you and talk with you and explain, like, what — what I do and what it means to me and everything. And you’re like, well, OK. And that’s not going to make any difference.

AZIZA IBRAHIM: People are resistant to change. People don’t want to change that fast. People are scared. OK. It’s been enough, what’s been happening. He changed enough. Give the guy a chance.

WOMAN (through translator): This is not right. Do you want to be like America — I mean, be like Iraq? Mubarak has to stay until his term is up.

GIGI IBRAHIM: My aunt now is intervening.

WOMAN (through translator): You are a bunch of kids who made a revolution and destroyed the country.

GIGI IBRAHIM: It’s not in my hands. I’m not the Egyptian people.

WOMAN (through translator): You’re an Egyptian, not an American.

So, why are you against your country, against your homeland?

GIGI IBRAHIM (through translator): I’m not against my homeland. I’m with my homeland. I’m with the nation. I’m with the people. I’m against the worthless regime, dictatorship and the tyrant.

WOMAN (through translator): Fine. What more can I say?

GIGI IBRAHIM: I don’t know why or how I was brought up this way in this family.


GIGI IBRAHIM: Somehow. Maybe I was adopted. I don’t know.


AZIZA IBRAHIM: No. I don’t think you were adopted. OK?

GIGI IBRAHIM: I mean, some people, like myself and her, have never seen another president. I mean, I have never seen another president. I have never even seen another regime.

AZIZA IBRAHIM: He’s a father figure. He is a father figure to a lot of…

INIGO GILMORE: So, you feel emotionally attached to him?

AZIZA IBRAHIM: Yes, I do. That’s why I cried yesterday for two hours. You don’t understand.

INIGO GILMORE: Why did you cry?

AZIZA IBRAHIM: When he was like speaking on TV, I felt like, OK, like, I saw him as my dad. I saw him as like a grandpa, whatever, you know. I saw him as someone that — when you — when you see someone for 30 years, and he’s the president for 30 years, you get attached to him somehow.

GIGI IBRAHIM: The whole movement is being undermined right now by people and by ignorance and by lack of political life in Egypt.

I’m worried about it being turned around, because I already see it happening in the streets with average citizens, with people like my family. Protests will never die out. But the momentum and the support for it, that’s — that might die out.

INIGO GILMORE: That same day, the pro-Mubarak supporters are trying to get into the square.

PRO-MUBARAK SUPPORTERS (through translator): The people want President Mubarak!

GIGI IBRAHIM: The swarms of pro-Mubarak supporters are trying to infiltrate Tahrir Square, getting really violent.

I’m trying to get as close as I can without like, obviously, being hurt. They’re telling me — they’re telling me to stay in because it gets violent and they’re throwing rocks. And it’s getting really bad. This is like war. This is war. This is a battle zone. They’re telling me one of the thugs is some traitor that got caught, and they beat him. It is escalating to a point of no return.

INIGO GILMORE: As Gigi films the violence, she gets a phone call.

GIGI IBRAHIM: That was actually my sister asking me where I am. I told her I’m in Tahrir, but I told her away from the battle zone, because she would obviously be so freaked out.

INIGO GILMORE: The protests enter the second week. The protesters return. Tahrir Square is full once again.

GIGI IBRAHIM: People are still coming in strong, strong numbers. Concerning all the violence and everything that happened, it’s just unbelievable.

INIGO GILMORE: It turns out we are no longer the only ones filming Gigi.

MAN: You — you think you’re witnessing the dominoes falling?

GIGI IBRAHIM: Absolutely. Tunisia happened. And people believed…

INIGO GILMORE: With thousands following her on Twitter, she’s becoming something of a celebrity.

And so your message for the young people of Yemen…

NEWS ANCHOR: Gigi Ibrahim, you were in the square. What was your reaction? What was the reaction of people around you?

GIGI IBRAHIM: Truly, this has been a people’s revolution, millions of people from all walks of life on the street.

INIGO GILMORE: She’s becoming a face of the revolution.

GIGI IBRAHIM: This is weird.

INIGO GILMORE: Now “Elle” magazine wants a picture. And she will even end up on the cover of “TIME” magazine.

By the third week, the protests continued to grow. There are now hundreds of thousands in the square.

GIGI IBRAHIM: I can’t believe this. This is a historical moment in the revolution. My sister is here. And that says a lot.

AZIZA IBRAHIM: That’s a revolution by itself.

GIGI IBRAHIM: It means — it means that Mubarak is this close of like stepping down, you know?

AZIZA IBRAHIM: I mean, it’s good, but Egyptians gather for anything.

GIGI IBRAHIM: If you were here earlier, when people were like dying and fighting, it was like a war zone here. People were being shot at. I think you would feel different. Now it’s only…

I told you this day was coming. You didn’t believe me. And now they’re here. I feel so, like, vindicated.

INIGO GILMORE: The next day, the word protesters have been waiting for: President Mubarak resigns.

GIGI IBRAHIM: I’m shocked.

The first person who calls me, my sister. I didn’t hear anything. I was screaming, and I was crying, and I couldn’t hear anything. I don’t want this moment to end. It’s like, I don’t want it to be over.


GIGI IBRAHIM: I mean, it will continue, obviously, but just this moment, this moment of victory is so sweet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tomorrow night, “Frontline” looks at the youth movement that helped spark the Egypt uprising and at the opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood. “Revolution in Cairo” can be seen on most PBS stations.