By Parvez Sharma
January 28, 2011
Cairo is burning. So is Egypt. Twitter is exploding. Everyone seems to have an opinion—many who do have never even been to Egypt but feel a strong sense of solidarity with the most remarkable revolution in a generation, perhaps. A revolution which importantly is not really caused by Twitter or by Facebook—as much as the self congratulatory social networking types in the West would like to believe.
Full disclosure: Sleepless but still sitting in relative comfort in my Manhattan apartment I am one of those relentless tweeters. However my obsession stems from a long love and association with Egypt and the presence of way too many friends who have jumped into the chaos not really knowing what consequences their actions might have for themselves or their friends and families.
I must also be clear. At this point, on this the longest Egyptian night in a generation, perhaps longer—most Western self professed Islam/Middle East and other assorted pundits have no clue about the harsh reality of Egyptian life. Many have probably never taken a walk down Mashriet Nasser, the largest slum in Cairo. This is why the do not realize that this “revolution” is not about social networking and its success. The majority of the 80 million people of Egypt live in abject poverty. They do not even have cell-phones let alone smartphones like the iPhone or the Droid. They go to kiosks to make calls. A pretty substantial number of them have NEVER used the internet and do not have email accounts: the complicated mechanisms of self-promotion and information gathering and sharing on social networks is not a part of their lives—they have never had the money or the resources to get access to this other world which often lives in the relatively more affluent neighborhoods like Zamalek or Garden City or Mohandaseen—all within some walking distance of where the dissent started in Tahrir Square.
The majority of the protesters in Cairo, in Suez, in Alexandria, in Luxor, in Mahla, in Manoura and all over this ancient land which is the very heart of what it means to be Arab—are not “twittering” or “facebooking” or “emailing” or even watching the landmark live coverage that Al-Jazeera is providing. They are out on the streets—and yes, without phone access—risking their lives and giving vent to three decades and perhaps more, of anger.
They are fighting for very basic human rights. They are fighting for affordable food. They are fighting for dignity. They are fighting for accountability. They are fighting to somehow improve the non-existent financial opportunities in their lives.
They are not interested in Mohamed AlBaradei’s Nobel prize or his rather recent and opportunist political ambitions. Most of them have not really seen him and have no idea of what he has been up to for the last three decades as they have suffered. They are angry that he decided to show up just last night and started posturing immediately as the potential savior and the best person to lead them into their uncertain future. Many here in the West would be surprised to know that a lot of these simple folk would actually prefer the “Muslim Brotherhood” taking over. Atleast they recognize the “Islam Light” the Brotherhood has honed to perfection after a pretty radical and conservative beginning with an idealogue like Banna.
My friend Fouad Hani though has had access to all of the above including a very nice smartphone. That has not deterred him from stepping out every night and after about six hours of trying I get him on the phone.
As always here are his primary bullet points unfiltered in his voice from a brief phone conversation (and yes, he has been dodging very real bullets today)
Fouad is one of the smartest young Egyptians I know. He has a ready wit. And I have always had a crush on him. He doesn’t know. Maybe he will after this? (if he can get online again).
- My beloved city is on fire. My country is on fire. But each one of us on the streets is also on fire
- I am exhausted. Mobinil is down. So is Vodaphone. I have no idea what is happening beyond what I have seen myself. Facebook and Twitter seem like a joke right now
- I live in Mohandaseen and decided not to go the big Mostafa Mahmood mosque near my house, because I know that “they” would be there.I went to pray at a smaller mosque. It was beautiful to pray. I had tears
- But as soon as we stepped out they pelted us with tear gas and with tear gas canisters. We threw them back. But my hand got burnt
- They tried to separate all of us as we walked towards Tahrir square
- Police were throwing rocks at us
- There are bruises and bumps all over my body
- I saw two bodies on the ground in Tahrir. Like an animal I just kept on walking past them
- We threw Molotov cocktails at the police
- Is there a curfew Parvez? Really? I had no idea—it certainly did not look like a curfew when I was just walking home
- Has Obama said anything? I don’t expect much from him anyway, this Mubarak is his “puppy”
- Mubarak should go and share a room with that asshole Ben Ali in his Jiddah hotel! We were chanting that in Tahrir.
- This is a joke. Btw can Obama find a working fucking phone in this country? I guess Mubarak’s phone is working rt?
- Pray for us.
As has happened with every one of my phone conversations with my friends in Cairo, I get disconnected. Silence again.
One more friend, for me to pray for.
Mubarak meanwhile stays in hiding somewhere possibly in his presidential palace in Heliopolis. The army is rolling through Egypt’s battered and smoky streets. Al Jazeera continues to televise this “revolution” like no other network has ever done before. Perhaps the pro-Israel lobbies in the US will start to respect this amazing network and allow it to broadcast freely in this nation?
Last night I said—Will it be the scent of Jasmine or the smell of blood in Egypt today?
I now have my answer. We all do.