“The people want the downfall of the regime” was the demand that rang in every Egyptian street. Everywhere, a sea of red, white, and black rippled endlessly amid angry chants and occasional patriotic songs. Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags brushed up against synthetic burqas. Priests called for freedom alongside sheikhs. Young children tugged gently at their grandfathers’ hands, wanting to paint their little faces with the colors of the flag. Farmers, judges, doctors, workers, young, old – people flocked from all over Egypt – for different reasons, with one cause.
These were the scenes that colored Tahrir (Liberation) Square and the rest of Egypt for the 18 days before the Mubarak regime finally fell.
Why I joined the protests
When I decided to join the protests on Friday, Jan. 28, I had no idea what I was embarking on. Although I have a BA in both history and political science, and thus consider myself to be fairly politically aware, I had never engaged in a protest or belonged to a political party. In Egypt, as in much of the world, textbook politics is one thing, and political participation is another. As an upper-middle class Egyptian, I lead a comfortable life compared to the 42 percent of my compatriots who, according to the UN, live under the poverty line. However, this wasn’t enough to keep me off the streets.
This time I was determined to take action, because I believed that "enough was enough." For the 22 years of my life, the same president ruled Egypt with an iron fist. And matters were only getting worse. It was widely believed the president was grooming his son to take the presidency by the end of the year. I felt the responsibility to participate in ridding the country of oppression and corruption. Even though I never really thought of myself as being personally “oppressed by the state” like millions of other Egyptians, I was yearning for freedom, to express my opinion, and to have a cause to belong to. Above all, I was longing to play an active role in shaping my country's future.
And in searching for this Egypt, I found myself.
A unified cause overcomes differences
I saw people of all classes, occupations, and ideological orientations protesting. They, too, all wanted to feel that they were part of this struggle for Egypt's future. This revolution debunked many class and gender misconceptions that I – and many others – had lived with. I never before thought that one cause could unite such diverse people. Everywhere I looked, people appeared so different, yet seemed very much the same.
Where I might have normally seen division according to class, gender, and religion, I only saw acceptance and understanding. For the first time in my life, men didn’t deal with me as a woman but as a fellow citizen. That sense of unity still doesn’t cease to impress me. It was as though everyone suddenly had an epiphany and discovered they were all Egyptians.
This is my Egypt. And I feel it’s my Egypt for the first time – a feeling shared by millions of Egyptians who took part in this revolution. This newfound freedom and sense of ownership resulted in an unprecedented sense of individual ethical responsibility. People’s morals and behaviors literally changed overnight. Verbal harassment stopped, as well as littering in the street – two widespread behaviors Egyptians used to complain about. The shift was noticeable in even people’s basic interactions. Everyone was especially polite, as if to prove a point: We’ll do everything we can to make this revolution succeed.
With peaceful revolution, 'impossible is nothing'
A new spirit was born out of the events of the last three weeks. If it can be summarized in one sentence: “Impossible is nothing.” Ordinary people felt their power for the first time, and the sense of empowerment was overwhelmingly palpable. Millions of Egyptians now believe that if they were able to overthrow a dictator who had been ruling for 30 years and change the entire regime in 18 days, they can simply do anything. A new spirit of optimism and hope is swaying the country. I have never felt anything like it in my life.
In seeking their freedom, Egyptians were able to gain the world’s respect and admiration as well, by showing an astounding ability to adhere to the principles of civic responsibility, respect, and peacefulness. The civility of the revolution surprised the world and challenged many of the Western stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims being dogmatic and anti-democratic. During the protests, not a single church or mosque was attacked, despite police absence. “Revolutionaries” made it a point to keep their activities peaceful until the very end, asserting and reasserting that the demonstration was selmeya – peaceful. After the protests ended, in a rare post-revolutionary scene, protesters actually made sure to clean all the streets and even painted the pavements and walls.
I feel so blessed to be of this generation, the generation who not only made this change possible, but also led it. Today I feel I am Egyptian and proud. I feel liberated. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I feel born again, because Egypt, indeed, has been born again. Something in the Egyptian psyche, the Egyptian mind, heart, and soul has changed – hopefully for good. We discovered a new Egypt and a new “us”.