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Web-Exclusive ReportFebruary 09, 2011 13:58

Cairo: The Protest Diaries


Voices From The Revolution

We first met Ahmed Youssry and Abdel Hameed Ezzat two years ago during the making of "Middle East, Inc." The story followed them across Cairo as they hustled their way through a nail-biting contest, one part of a regional effort to inspire a new generation of Arab entrepreneurs.

Ahmed planned to start a green recycling business. Abdel Hameed had designed and produced a multipurpose laptop bag. One of their ideas would ultimately win the competition. You can watch the original story to find out who took home the prize.

Both are 23, well educated, socially mobile, and belong to a demographic that represents almost two-thirds of Egypt's population. It's also the generation known as the "waiting generation," waiting, many say, for opportunities that never seem to materialize.

With an uprising this generation has claimed its own entering a third week, we got back in touch with Ahmed and Hameed via e-mail and Skype, and asked them to share their experiences of the last 14 days. They offered quite different perspectives.

Ahmed Youssry

Ahmed Youssry

Ahmed Youssry works as a production planner for a multinational corporation. He was among the first protesters to enter Tahrir Square.

It's a different world. It will never be the same again. It feels like I'm in a movie, but I don't know how it will end. Every day I have two jobs -- I go to Tahrir during the day and, at night, I protect the buildings in my neighborhood.

Right now, I am waiting for my best friend and then we will go to Tahrir. We decided to help injured people and to bring some medical supplies, like bandages and antibiotics and stuff. And then we'll go to the emergency aid points so we can help them out. If there are no injured people, then we'll join the demonstrations.

I think people are not scared anymore. But the first priority for the protesters is to cancel Emergency Law, which allows the police to arrest you any time, any place, and take you to National Security. That's why some people don't want to leave Tahrir, until they cancel that law. [According to news reports, approximately 1,600 people have been detained since Jan 15th.]

"We Were Only 500" to Start

I never imagined it would get this big. I was disappointed at first, because we were the first ones entering Tahrir on the 25th and we were only 500 or so. Five hundred people protesting Mubarak, and we didn't know what was going to happen. It was scary and we were like: OK, should we leave or should we stay? Should we do what we believe we should do?' Then, after a few hours, people filled in, and by the end of the day, I think we were 25,000. That's when I realized we were at the point of no return.

I would have regretted it all my life if I wasn't there from the start.

Tuesday, Mubarak's Speech; Wednesday, A Different Story

On Tuesday after Mubarak's speech, I felt like we got what we wanted; we don't want people to suffer -- if they need to go to work, to get food, then we don't want to stop them. We figured if Mubarak doesn't do what he promised we can go back on the streets.

But after what happened last Wednesday, we felt betrayed. Wednesday was like hell. Why would he [Mubarak] do that? People died. Over 1,000 were injured. We felt completely betrayed. That is when we realized we cannot trust him. We cannot stop until he is gone.

The Muslim Brotherhood Can't Own This

When we started, we had unity. Now there is division. Some people think that if we stop now we will lose what we have.

The Muslim Brotherhood is coming out now; they are doing a lot of the fighting [against Mubarak supporters] but they can't take over the movement. This is a youth movement. There are a lot of them [Muslim Brotherhood] but they can't own this.

I'm also afraid of external interference from the U.S., the U.N., Europe or Israel. We want to face this on our own. We have our own political rights now.

Cairo protests

Ahmed Youssry joins with other protesters at Tahrir Square.

Some people think Mubarak can change, and I want to smack them, because he had 30 years to prove himself. I want him out. But I'm thinking about what is the best solution, so we don't hurt our economy more and hurt our political situation more. I don't want things to be more ruined than they already are. So I'm confused about when to stop. I'm trying to figure a way out.

On Facebook, I do have friends who want the demonstrations to stop. I think they have some valid points. But I don't want them to judge me.

Reactions from Work and Parents

My whole company took the last week off. The whole country took the week off. The economy has already crashed, which is scary. I was one of only two people in my office that went to the demonstrations on the 25th. I was worried about their reaction, but they were just curious to hear what it was like in Tahrir.

My parents support the demonstrations but they don't want me going. But they cannot stop me. My mother wants stability; she is afraid of chaos. But she hates Mubarak.
When my father talks to me and says, "That's enough," I tell him we just did something that you didn't manage to do over the last 30 years, so you just need to be silent now. [laughs] And he, somehow, agrees. It's our time.

We are no longer the waiting generation; we are the revolution generation.

My mother and others think we youth created the situation. But in my opinion, the corrupt system created the situation, and they have to figure out how to solve it.

We believe there is only one chance for each generation to start a revolution. No generation can do two revolutions. If it's not now, it will be never.

Started on Facebook; Empowered by Google

We hit a tipping point because of people like Wael Ghonim. And his ideas stuck. Most of the youth know that Wael Ghonim [Google marketing executive who was detained for 12 days and released Monday] started everything. He started a page for Khaled Saeed, a guy who was killed by the police a few months ago.

And Wael Ghonim started a fan page for him and called for demonstrations. That was in June. Then after Tunisia, Wael called for revolution on Jan. 25 from the fan page [English version].

He's an amazing person, but we never expected this from him. It's not about who is the leader ... in history, every revolution has a leader. But in this case, it's the revolution of the people.

I watched Wael Ghonim give an interview on TV. It touched everybody. He was so honest. He said every word we wanted to say.

I think Facebook is the number one actor in this revolution. I saw a sign today that an old man was holding, and it said in Arabic, "Thank you Facebook; we'll take it from here."

Abdel Hameed Ezzat

Abdel Hameed Ezzat

Abdel Hameed Ezzat is a business trainer. His father, who passed away seven months ago, worked in the military.

I didn't hear about the demonstration until after it started. It didn't start that big. I was busy with work, so I wasn't on Facebook, but it was Facebook that drove these issues.

On behalf of most people here I can say that most people don't like what is happening. We have supported that everything must change and that Egypt must have a better future, but we don't support that everything has to stop and people lose their jobs.

We were pro the 25th [the political movement that mobilized on Jan. 25] until it changed.

When President Mubarak announced the amendments to the constitution and that he wouldn't run for president again, I claim that 95 percent of people were satisfied with that. I have relatives all over Egypt, and everyone was very happy; they thought it was a solution, and at the same time, that's all he can offer. What else can they [the protesters] want?

What is happening in Tahrir [Liberation Square] is all that the world is seeing. But what you see on TV is not everything that is happening in Egypt. People here want to get back to work. We want to get back to our lives and correcting the wrongs of the past era.

Wednesday's Violence; Protecting Our Streets

The violence was not caused by the NPD [Mubarak's party]. I have a lot of friends who are police officers, and they went there with no guns and no weapons. The Muslim Brotherhood fought with them, but the police officers had no guns. The violence was created to attract the mass media and to give the impression that everything was going wrong in Egypt.

Everybody in Egypt is trying to help each other. If anybody needs food, we give them food; if anyone needs security, we organize so that our streets are guarded. We sleep in shifts. I am responsible for our neighborhood. We don't want chaos - people in Egypt hate chaos.

Something happened the other day in Tahrir: Muslims were praying and the Christians formed a ring around them. This is one of the best scenes I have ever seen.

Cairo protests

A ubiquitous slogan of the uprising, calling for President Mubarak to go now.

Mubarak Is A Very Brave Man

Based on what I've known my whole life, I'm not sure that Mubarak will leave. He's a very brave man. He's going to respond in a very strong way. And he's not going to accept leaving in a bad way.

What is really irritating Egyptians now is how other countries are trying to push the government; people are very mad about this; you can hear it in the streets.

When President Obama says Mubarak has to leave. No! Even the people in Tahrir Square say he has to leave but only how we decide -- not America, not Russia.

Egypt's Future

We will have a better future. I'm in the streets now and I can see it. I live in a very big building, and everyone is out talking about the same goals. It is happening in every neighborhood in Egypt -- we are more connected to each other, we have forgotten about our problems, and we are optimistic about a better future.

New leaders will emerge from the movement of the 25th, especially youth leaders -- people who know unemployment, people who are my age. The focus will be on jobs and the economy.

My generation is the generation that changed everything.



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posted february 09, 2011

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