Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jan 17, 2011 - Whispers of a demonstration

One year ago today, 49-year-old restaurateur Abdou Abdel Moneim Gaafa set himself ablaze outside the Egyptian parliament. A stark reminder of the young vegetable seller whose self-immolation weeks earlier catalyzed an uprising in Tunisia, the question inevitably arose: will this be Egypt’s Mohamed Bouazizi?

Egypt remained silent.

“Some… predict Tunisia is but the first of the tyrannical [Arab] regimes to fall,” I wrote at BikyaMasr.com on January 17, 2011. “Others see little chance that Egyptians, typically apathetic when it comes to politics, will be stirred to action.”

There was talk. Analysis. Articles in newspapers – but no revolution. No uprising. Not even one single demonstration.

The next day I wrote, “Egyptians are still too afraid of their government and its security forces… to go to the streets in the numbers that a revolution requires.”

After a year of watching Egyptians’ apparent inability to act, I was already somewhat jaded. I suggested that Gaafa’s act would join Khaled Said on a long list of painful sores for the Egyptian people, but would not be enough to stir action.

Three nights earlier Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had fled Tunisia. I was at an Open Mic in Cairo when the news broke. The crowd buzzed. In between performances there were whispers of, “Did you hear??” and “Is it true?!”

Some couldn’t peel their eyes from Twitter applications or frantically searched for news updates on their mobile phones. Others – including myself – relied on text message updates from friends following the news at home.

Young people in my circle of friends were frustrated, but many more remained apathetic even as they praised Tunisians’ courage.

“No one will move,” wrote one young Egyptian woman on Facebook. “We are not Tunis.”

It seemed she was right. Egyptians were angry – at their government, at their police, at growing inequality, at their own inaction – but it seemed they were not yet angry enough.

I remember so well the frustration, the yearning in the voices of my friends as they talked about Tunisia and how they wished Egypt would be next. Even the boldest and most optimistic hardly dared to dream that Egypt would rise up - but they did dream. They dreamt and they talked and they planned, and there were whispers of a demonstration on January 25.

And then, just one week later, Egypt rose in all her glory and fury.

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