Hassan El Ghayesh: a protester’s first-hand account of Tahir Square

This month is almost a year since Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt until February 2011, was forced to leave power after a popular uprising which brought millions of Egyptians out of their homes and asked him persistently to go. Though the revolution was experienced in different parts of the country from Alexandria to Cairo and other smaller cities of lesser importance, Tahir Square in Central Cairo became the focal point from where the world witnessed the fall of the dictator.

For many, it may seem that Egyptians woke up on a day of January 2011, particularly after the removal of Ben Ali in Tunisia the same month, and decided to get rid off of their own dictator who had ruled over their lives for almost 30 years. Things reached their tipping point at that period, but as Hassan El Ghayesh’s testimony as a first-hand active protester and witness explains in the book African Awakenings the emerging revolutions, what happened then was the result of a long and arduous work of different progressive actors of Egyptian society.

‘… Through school and university, I have already met enough bureaucracy and corruption to make me realise there is probably noway a young professional would ever make it in such an atmosphere without becoming everything I’ve always despised. … The call for protests started on Facebook through the group ‘We are all Khaled Said’. Said was a 28-year-old Egyptian from Alexandria who was beaten to death on 6 June 2010 for refusing to show his ID to two policemen. He was abducted in a police vehicle, taken to a police station, tortured to death and his corpse was later dumped in the street.

But still, the call for protests through Facebook had been going on for three years and it never really worked out for Egyptian activists. So why did the Egyptians show up in the streets in such great numbers? The success of the Tunisian revolution was the key factor. Some other factors may include the illegitimate parliamentary elections in November 2010, the rampant unemployment and corruption and a strong sense of solidarity among the Egyptian population after the bombing of the Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.

I am from the middle class… We are the educated few who get better chances and who get to spend a year or two abroad while studying. I got to see that things can operate on a different level, that we do not have to settle for what we have. …I might not have suffered the most from Mubarak’s regime, but I will stand for those who suffer the most. The middle class has a responsibility towards the working class, no matter how the regime tried to widen the gap between us or how it frightened us from ever interacting on a meaningful level. I knew that one day we would stand up against the regime to represent a working class that had no voice.

… I currently work and reside in Hurghada, a tourist town by the Red Sea, 450 km south of Cairo. I took a vacation from work for nine days, starting on Tuesday 25 January, to travel to Cairo and join the protests. …, suddenly, phone calls to my friends at Tahir Square were all met with the same message: ‘This phone cannot be reached at the moment.’ The government had managed to shut down all cell-phone communication in Tahir Square.

As I arrived in Cairo I received a call from a friend who told me that at about 12.30 the anti-riot police, who had surrounded the protesters for a few hours, viciously attacked the square and evacuated all protesters. Egyptian TV showed nothing of the protests. National newspapers run by the government totally ignored the protests, as if they never happened.

…the revolution was driven by the fury and the rage of the youth against an autocratic president who has not done nothing to make this country better; a government run by corrupt businessmen who are more interested in increasing the NDP than in offering better jobs and facilities; a state police that is so violent that it would lead to the deaths of 3000 protesters and the injury of more than 3,000….’

The whole article as reproduced by pambazuka.org can be found at the following online address: http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/70965.

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