I sit glued to my laptop for days on end watching fearfully and excitedly the events that are dramatically escalating with every hour. I forget to feed myself, barely sleep, cannot bring myself to put down my phone through which I am updated while I try to focus at university – unsuccessfully.
No matter what happens in the coming days, for this Egyptian girl, there is hope. Before 25 January I saw no hope for Egypt and I was convinced that its people were beyond salvation. I was convinced that we had given up on ourselves. Now I am looking at footage of the citizen who is cleaning the dirty streets of Egypt, protecting his neighbour’s home and controlling traffic on the roads voluntarily. I see the Egyptian who finally believes in himself. And I am bursting with such pride that I feel my heart might explode.
But the sense of pride is not enough. I believe we are still oppressed. Emancipation will not take place unless the ruling regime who is in denial steps down. I am an Egyptian, I am a citizen of humanity and I believe in truth and freedom and love and kindness. I believe criminals should be brought to justice. I believe the world should support any nation who asks for human and political rights in the 21st century. I believe my people have the right to vote for a president who does not unleash thugs to terrorise his own people just because he thinks it’s his birthright to rule the country. I believe my people are entitled to a dignified life, free from oppression, humiliation, tyranny and brutality.
I had heard from my friends back home in Egypt that protests were going to take place in Cairo on 25 January, 2011. However, no one I knew took the news seriously. As with most “protests” in the country this one was going to constitute no more than a few hundred people chanting about the injustices of the regime or some crime or the other committed by the government. After an hour or so, such demonstrators would be arrested by the riot police, some possibly never seen again and that would be that. The next day life would go on, as if nothing happened.
Then something phenomenal happened. People showed up by the thousands. People showed up carrying banners and posters with President Hosni Mubarak’s face cropped on the body of the Sphinx. People, for the first time in 30 years, were chanting “Down with Mubarak”. The world was stunned and I knew that my country would never be the same again.
Immediately, Facebook and Twitter were overflowing with videos, pictures and links of the events that were taking place in my homeland, in my city.
Then the police vanished from the streets of Egypt. By vanished, I mean they mysteriously retreated and were nowhere to be found. Just hours later there were reports of prisons being torched and inmates being set free across the nation. Egypt was under attack by Egyptian prisoners who were making their way to residential neighbourhoods.
We got word of people, our own friends, taking the law into their own hands when they set up makeshift militias and community watches in their residential areas.
“Andrew and Ahmed are sitting in front of their buildings with kitchen knives and brooms as weapons. We’re hearing guns go off in the middle of the night. They’re saying that those escaped people have guns”, said my friend Sarah Abdel Moneim just before the line was disconnected.
It’s difficult to find the words to accurately express the worry and sheer helplessness Egyptians abroad have been sensing. It is unlike anything anyone has experienced before because the issue is out of our hands. It’s so much bigger than us.
Then on Tuesday 1 February, more than five million people protested throughout the nation, two million in Tahrir Square alone. I can say in all honesty that I have never been so jealous in my life. To be able to take part in such a magnificent event that has fuelled so many people with optimism and empowerment would be the best thing that could ever happen to me. To get the opportunity to make a change and contribute to ending to this corrupt, revolting regime would be a 21- year-old’s dream come true.
“I want to be there,” I found Egyptian friends all over the world repeatedly saying, despite the unstable situation the country is facing.
“I don’t care about my education, I don’t care about anything. I just want to be with family right now,” said Yasmine, an Egyptian graduate student.
During the weekend I attended one of the protests in London; I had an incurable need to scream with people. It wasn’t just the massive number of people who attended or the optimistic view and certainty of Mubarak’s near end that made the atmosphere electrifying. It was the feeling of emancipating freedom the people were experiencing, that astonished and caught Egyptians themselves off guard.
“Yes, let’s vent! We’ve been unable to speak up for years. Come on!” an elderly woman was saying to the protesters.
I’m still here, helpless in a foreign country, unable to contribute to a change that could give my future children a better life. All I can do is live the uprising through the news. I do not know what tomorrow brings or how the next days will play out. All I know is that things will never be the same again for my people.
I am sure I am not alone when I say I feel helpless and afraid because I have no idea how things will be unfolding in the next few days. There is talk of clashes among pro- and anti-government protesters which could lead, according to some, to a civil war. There is turmoil now in Egypt like never before and there is a heavy cloud of uncertainty and fear hanging above people all over the world today. I urge everyone, Egyptians and non-Egyptians, to spread the word and help and give hope to us.
Here are some links for others who are in my situation, in need of any feedback about the events:
Live Twitter updates following events since 25 January here.
or call +16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855 to leave a tweet and hear tweets.
Hala El Nahas is a Goldsmiths student