Tahrir: an Exercise in Nation Building

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine asked me what I was doing at the Tahrir sit-in. When I asked him what he meant by that, he commented that I was acting differently this time, that instead of analyzing and taking a macro view of things, I was actually on the ground, not writing, and doing things all around the square instead. He simply found it out of character, is all.

I explained that I was there because I believe in the demands, and that the “Tahrir dance” we have been doing – going to Tahrir to get the government to move its butt – has gotten tired, and that in order to ensure that they continue moving said butts, it’s better to simply stay in Tahrir. But that was only part of the truth: that’s why I went there, but what intrigued me and got me moving around, doing things and staying there, was the fascinating social experiment that the sit-in was creating. In essence, Tahrir was very quickly becoming a miniature-size Egypt, with all of its problems, but without a centralized government. And the parallels are uncanny.

It didn’t start off being this way: it started off being more of a camp. That first Friday was a mess, trying to find the appropriate spot amongst your friends, dealing with the sun and how it turns your tent into more of a sauna than a habitable environment, your friends showing up to show their support (and to also find a refuge from the horrible heat of the protest). That first night, we were a nomadic society, dealing with issues of habitation. But at night, after the Muslim Brotherhood left, more tents came, and it turned into a very relaxed happy camp environment for all those involved. The next day, I managed to get an electrical connection from those stealing it from the street lights, which changed things dramatically: immediately we moved into civilization. I went and got electrical plugs, a fan, and an ice-box , thus ensuring that the modern society experience was complete. And that’s when it hit me – I was facing a unique opportunity here, one that very few people get; the opportunity to create a new nation, alongside everyone else, from scratch. We were in a space without a centralized government or arbiter, where all the political movements and parties of Egypt had presence, and were free to duke it out or to work together to create the best nation possible. A chance to create the “Free Republic of Egypt” I spoke about before. So immediately I went to work promoting and helping to facilitate ideas such as the school, the cinema, the library and the radio, bringing in Mahmoud El Esseily to do a free concert, and discovering great talents like Ashraf the Rapper, thus creating education, art and culture. And naturally everyone loved them, worked on them, cooperated and financed them (great kudos go to Tahrir Square Nation, Darbel Bahlawan and the Andalus Center, along with the great people that made things happen such as Nazly Hussein, Ahmed Samih, Moataz Atallah, and last but not least Lara Baladi and Khaled Yusef) and some wrote about them, and it seemed like we were really creating utopian society, forgetting that there was no utopia. But how very quickly this utopian society turned into a parallel miniature Egypt, with all of its problems, took everyone by surprise, although in hindsight it may all seem very predictable. Paradise was found, and lost, predictably, but the lessons and insights it gave me made the whole thing invaluable. I will give you my experience, as I saw it and lived it, and you can see where the parallels are.

It all started with the tent area we were in: the first night the tents were next to each other, in an unstructured formation. Immediately we started having issues with those passing by: asking intrusive questions, staring at us (we had girls, in our tents, and we were talking to them in the open…imagine) and leering at the girls. So the next day, we changed the formation of the tents, to create more of a circle of tents with a big space in between, to allow our visiting friends and people without tents a place to sit, socialize and sleep, and creating a single entrance/exit into the circle of tents – all in order to protect us and shield us from the intrusive eyes and actions of the same people whose rights we were there to fight for. In essence, without noticing, we – the people judging suburban compounds as being elitist and classist – created one without noticing. And what made it hilariously worse, was that in our quest for securing the area by creating one passageway into the circle to control access to it, we also ensured that we wouldn’t be able to escape if we got attacked. Egyptian safety standards at their best.

And then came the street kids. Three of them showed up, 8, 12 and 13. I came into the circle one day and found them hanging out with us because the people in the camp, in their quest for equality , took them in and even started teaching them things and playing with them, while sharing our fans, comfortable habitat, cold water, juice and snacks with them. And when supplies started coming, we started unpacking and organizing them and they helped us in doing so without asking, and in cleaning the area. We got so comfortable in that dynamic that we started asking them when we got new stuff to put the water in the ice boxes and to help us in cleaning the tents and surrounding areas, thus effectively, unwittingly, creating what very much looked like a child labor situation (even though it’s not, and not a single child was forced to do anything but always asked to help), and one where the children worked for their food, drink, fun and accommodation, which is trickle-down economics at its most basic level…by a bunch of human rights activists and revolutionaries.

Then you had the security situation, which in essence was always about keeping the entrances of Tahrir secured and manned at all times, all done by a bunch of volunteer individuals who kept checkpoints secure. You immediately started noticing that at some checkpoints people were not being searched by the people claiming to handle the checkpoints, and you started hearing that volunteers were leaving the checkpoints because the other “volunteers” were treating people violently or with disrespect, facilitating fights, or allowing women who have knives in their bags to come in, or allowing the street merchants access to the square for a fee, even though we didn’t want them there (border control issues: weapons and drug smuggling, and an undocumented immigrant workforce that is necessary to support the economy but is completely unregulated, thus causing all kinds of problems). At the same time, you have the Mogamaa situation, which is the central government building that everyone agreed to shut down for a day to pressure the government. A group decided to handle doing that, and when it was time to open it the next day, that same group refused to open it and called everyone else cowards and not revolutionary enough. You started noticing that this was the same group that wanted to get people to attack bridges, and allowed smuggling, and caused fights at the check-points. You and others who noticed the same thing started working together and connecting the dots and monitoring those, thus creating the Tahrir Intelligence Services. You noticed that they belong to three groups: the Free Revolutionaries, the Independent Revolutionaries and the Voice of Freedom, which no one knew or had heard of before that day, and were controlled by a man that calls himself “General Hassan”, who always caused problems and tried to do stupid stunts that would surely make the outside world hate us. When you finally forced them to open up the Mogamaa on Wednesday morning, they started running all around the camp side and doing all kinds of stunts and starting fights to upset people and get them stressed out and agitated. Upon monitoring them, you noticed that they are three groups of sixty working in shifts. One of us followed them on Thursday morning at 4 am, and he saw them leaving the Abdel Meneim Riyad exit to board three Central Security trucks. When he tried to film them, they noticed and attacked him. We had been infiltrated by a bunch of saboteurs working for the state. Their last stunt? Coming to our tents at 4 am, trying to put numbers on them and get our names for a mandatory security meeting to make the Square “more secure”. We noticed they didn’t try to mark all the tents, and in our group, they went for my and Nazly’s tents only. And then they started causing noise and trying to wake people – most of whom went to bed around 3 or 4 am – up at 5:30 am, to join them in a march, because the “lying State TV” was claiming there were no more people in Tahrir, so we should show them how many we were by marching at 6 in the morning. For real.

So, if Tahrir was a miniature example of Egypt in a controlled lab environment, those movements symbolized foreign intelligence services, spies and double-agents; basically external forces trying to destroy our state and foment divisions amongst our people. And then you have the street kids, which to us are the product of poverty and the failure of the state’s social services, all the while completely turning a blind eye to the fact that they are part of an organized street gang that stole our phones, laptops, sleeping bags and supplies, because apparently accusing them of that would be “classist” of us. And even if we know it, kicking them out would be wrong, because we are supposed to “reform and rehabilitate” them, so we continue to give them access to our circle, while the robberies are continue to happen, although on a lesser scale. The combination of those two forces – the “terrorist” spies and the organized crime units proved to be too much to handle for some tents, so they packed up and left the Square, which symbolically meant they were immigrating. We didn’t mind that much, because the empty spots were occupied by other tents, and we didn’t ask ourselves who the hell would join a sit-in on its sixth day anyway?

All of this forced us to contemplate the issues of security, crime and punishment, which are a hell of a lot harder to address in practice than in theory, especially with a population like ours, one that has no problem utilizing violence for disciplinary ends. We then heard that a group – which turned out to be the “Free Revolutionaries”- created a prison for “caught thieves and criminals”, in which they were gathered and tied up, hanging, in order to deliver them to the Military Police. So activists like Mona Seif and Ragia Omran from the “No Military Trials for Civilians” group ended up going to them and fighting with them against both the idea of the prison and handing them to the MP to be given a military trial, one of the main things this sit-in is trying to stop. And then we faced the other dilemma: who would we hand them over to instead? The police? Hahahaha!

And then we heard stories that two thieves were caught by people, beaten up, stripped of their clothes and tied, hanging, from a tree and beaten for all to see and the media to document – this in a protest that demands human rights for those arrested by the police and the end of police torture. So, when the news came that some people caught a 12-year-old thief that they wanted to torture, activists like Ramy Raoof had to secure him a human rights lawyer to go to the scene, because we had noticed that the people stop what they are doing if for some reason a lawyer tells them that what they are doing is illegal. And this hint later on developed into the solution that everyone agreed on yesterday: they creation of the security tent, where caught criminals are taken and investigated, and then handed over to the Public Prosecutor’s Office by a human rights lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center. One problem, solved, for now.

We started realizing the need for some sort of decision-making body, so attempts to create one started in earnest, by holding meetings at which at least one representative of every tent (whether for individuals or movements) met up to figure out what were are going to do, effectively starting another debate if this was even democratic at all, because, really, what does it mean to participate in a sit-in protest? Do you have to have a tent, or can you be one of those people who support and come when they can? And since the decision-making process is in favor of those who have tents (since they are the true sit-in participants), and not in favor of those who come and join the sit-in after work and go back to their homes at night, bringing supplies and ice with them (who in this scenario, symbolize Egyptians abroad who come to the country for visits and subsidize our fragile economy), it echoes the calls to prevent Egyptians living abroad from voting, since, really, only the true Egyptians stayed in Egypt and didn’t abandon it and escape it to greener pastures and only visited when it’s convenient for them (expatriate rights). But even that became a side-issue, since there were at least four such meetings every day, for the past seven days, not trying to reach a decision, but trying to create the mechanism by which we will take decisions. All of them so far have miserably failed (democracy building).

We also have 12 stages in Tahrir now, belonging to various groups and parties, which are all loud and trying to drown each other out, all playing the same patriotic music, and which have people yelling and screaming from about their plight, the abuses of the SCAF and the rights and the blood of the martyrs, each with varying degrees of eloquence and ignorance, on and on and on, making us sick of hearing about them and wish for some different music or silence. Naturally, they represent the current state of the media in Egypt. And in order to make the resemblance more eerie, while some of us manage to get on one of those stages every once in a while, the only true media outlet we have is Tahrir Radio, which is an online radio, broadcasting maybe twice a day from there. Oh, and 2 days ago, a bunch of Salafists attacked the stage funded by various groups including the FEP (the party founded by Naguib Sawiris), for playing music and poetry alongside news and speeches, and stole a laptop and two thousand pounds from the bag of one of the girls there. Does that remind you of something that happens all the time in Egypt?

Or how about the fact that we lose electricity in the morning, because the government started shutting down the electricity circuits and then turning them on at night, so we have to go buy generators (i.e. mini power plants) , which require gasoline to operate, and every single gas station – all of which are outside our borders- nearby has “instructions” not to sell it to so we have to get it elsewhere and incur higher costs of transportation, and yet still face power-cuts when a generator runs out of fuel (Egypt’s energy issues)? Or that our main focus every day in the sit-in is to get more people from outside of your borders to come to Tahrir and join to make us stronger and having them bring supplies with them, which causes more trash, more street vendors, and more “crime” and thus making everything uglier (Egyptian tourism and its side-effects)? Or that many of the new tents are now occupying areas of the circle used for sidewalks and many people have closed the entrances next to them and created the equivalent of backyards or terraces that they are imposing on everybody (illegal construction and settlements)? All the while, there are those who are camped next to the Mogamaa, and they have the natural fence protecting them and a security guard at every exit – we call them Qattamiya Heights. Are you noticing the similarities?

For some people what I just recounted will be heartbreaking, but to me it’s brilliant, because it’s a learning experience in governance unlike anything the world has ever seen, and it gives all of those new parties and movements that aim to rule the country a chance to take a much closer look at the issues facing us and figure out the limitations of their solutions and cracks in their organizational structure. While fissures were created, the challenges also created a huge number of alliances that were never possible before, since every group, no matter how hard they worked, started realizing that they can’t manage or carry the problems of the country alone, and that in reality, theoretical solutions are not always the most practical or effective ones. They were all driven to their breaking point, and humbled, but also learned all of their weaknesses and are destined to come out of this stronger than before. You see, an extraordinary experiment like this allows the activists to have a great learning curve, and it also allows innovation to take place, such as the crime and punishment situation. Egyptians, when confronted by figures of legal authority that they still respect, act accordingly and without a violent challenge to said authority. If we had human-rights-oriented law enforcement, we wouldn’t have the security problems that we have now, because then Egyptians would respect the law.

Or take the other lesson, which I learned while searching people at the checkpoint (which didn’t have enough of our people because many of those part-time protesters almost never assumed any responsibility in helping with the security situation, coming over to have fun instead – another lesson there about citizen responsibility) was that the checkpoint people, even if they had some bad apples in them, act right if an imposing figure shows up and treats people decently no matter how much they abused him with rudeness. I was there with 3 other young guys, and my demeanor in always politely asking people to be checked and apologizing smilingly afterwards got them all imitating me instead of acting upon their discretion. They basically need a good leader and a role model that they fear or respect (I am a big dude) around, and they will imitate his behavior, and start acting the same way, and discover that it makes things much easier.

But the ultimate lesson came from one thing: “No Military Trials for Civilians”. This group was started by a few girls who refused to compromise on that principle despite everyone attacking them or warning them against antagonizing the military (myself included at first, and I admit I was totally in the wrong there, and then I started supporting them in the ways that I could), and their persistence against all odds and huge pressures to keep this issue alive, drew more people to their cause, and made it the number one demand on every list of demands in all of the movements there. We might never control this country or rule it, but that may not be our role. Our role is to frame the debate and the demands, and push and advocate for them by explaining to people how they relate to them and benefit them directly. We get to frame the debate, and whoever frames the debate in a democracy has a huge effect on it and its future. And in reality, if we are not dictators, that’s all that we should aim to achieve, because our people, despite what you may think, are not stupid people, and if you are persistent enough, they get it. There is lots of work to be done, and apparently we were not ready for it, which is why I would like to send a personal thanks to the SCAF and Egyptian security and intelligence apparatus for this awesome experience, which is, without exaggeration, the best experience of my life so far. You provided us with much needed training in governance, made us understand our intellectual and social vulnerabilities and weak points, and in the meantime you showed us how you operate and how far you are willing to go. All of this is brilliant, and very well-played, but since you won’t end us, or the revolution anytime soon, because the equation is still unbalanced, you just basically helped us in a way you can never imagine, and one you will surely regret in the future. We were amateurs, you made us professionals. The game is on.

But as an ending note, here is some food for thought: If Tahrir is a microcosm of modern day Egypt with all of its issues, and it managed to get there in a week, then being there for the next few days is crucial to understand what might happen in the next few years and how to prevent it. The lessons that we will learn from being there now, about our problems and the proposed solutions to solve them is invaluable for a nation that is seeking a new beginning like ours, not one that we created from scratch like Tahrir was. All of those people with readymade solutions should go and try them out there before proposing it nation-wide. All of those people from outside who know how to best solve our problems should come and help us solve them, because as a nation we will also need this help from Egyptians from abroad, whether we like it or not. Basically if you are interested in figuring out what the problems facing our society and the best way to solve them, Tahrir is where you should be heading to right now. And you must stay with us, and help us in every way you can if you choose that responsibility. We no longer want tourists who want to have fun and give advice from afar, we want people who love this country so much that they are willing to get their hands dirty, even if it means standing at a security checkpoint for 2 hours a day, and spending the rest with your friends there. Let’s go, and try, and fail and learn with us there, because that’s better done in Tahrir than in Egypt. It’s really simple: If everything is hazy, and you want to know what’s going to happen next in the country, Tahrir, right now, even if this sit-in lasts for one more day, is the place to be.

Comments

  1. Mostafa Sadek says:

    Wooow AMAZING !! 3ash ! ohh and am coming after tomorrow to #salonelmonkey again :)

  2. Let me tell you something. I have been watching you for a while. & I have noticed that you only write motivational posts/ tweets when things on the ground aren’t in favor of the jan25 group.

    Anyway … take care.

    The game is on as you said but won’t be on for long.

    • John Blacksad says:

      “I have noticed that [...]”
      Now what’s your point?
      You sound like a menacing State hack.
      If that’s the case,
      go fuck yourself

  3. interesting,, i am coming to tahrir now,, woould love to meet u..
    sara: enty ka2eeba shwaya wala eh?

  4. Daniela Mastalli says:

    The only problem,for me, is that I live in Rome! I allready wrote you thanking you yesterday ( after Cafè interview) but now, my THANK YOU is bigger !!!
    I really hope that this article will be read all around the world. If I can do something, from here, let me know ( by the way I was very close friend of Lara’s father, and all the family) Ciao and Thank you again million time, thanks

  5. Shaimaa says:

    Keep the good work up man!! I have to admit i enjoyed reading your magnificient piece!! You took me to the sq life, let me know if i can be of any help !

  6. I’m so sorry it has come to this….a psycho-analyst would tell you that what you are doing in Tahrir with the kids etc. is a personal compensation to your own inner child and a compensation to you mentally that you are able to form and control a mini-Egypt, mini-environment because you cannot control the bigger macro-environment you inhabit. In other words “what the hell are you doing? Have you totally lost the plot? “

    • Well I am one psycho-analyst who wouldn’t tell you that! I wonder why everything has to be pathologized from an analysts’ perspective? LOL. I stumbled on this post by chance….and now I know it was much more than chance. I am overjoyed to know someone else in the world can think at meta levels and gain wisdom! Bravo!

  7. Reggie Sanford says:

    well, you destroyed my utopian vision of Tahrir, but strengthened my understanding. What a keen piece of writing. It is this spirit that will overcome and lead Egypt to its new self. Democracy is hard work and you are doing it, the people are doing it. And not only are you learning you are teaching the world how to be a better place. Long live Tahrir !

  8. Demented Bonxie says:

    A ranting good analysis of Tahrir

  9. Thanks for this thoughtful and true to life report from the microcosm that is Tahrir Square. Often, I think that we’ll never really come to a full answer, but perhaps that answer is really missing the point. To test, to try, to explore, to learn, and to navigate–these are the things that allow us as human beings to function with ourselves and with others. Building and sustaining a society isn’t about getting to the answer, but about always moving and looking for new ways to make thing work in harmony with one another. Let us not forget that, no matter what country we live in.

  10. I wish i coule be there. Thank you for transfering the experience

  11. Well , that is the whole picture of Tahrir. I believe that Egyptians are protesting to gain their human rights that haven’t exist before 25 january. You conveyed a message o that the nation is formed f street children , lack of security and differernt socioeconomic classes that are divided among elites , hugs and students. I hope you can be part of the rehabiliation and reformation of New Egypt as you build up your analysies for various problems as a miniature of our nation.I recommend that you can give a big hand to those in charge as you mentioned NGO to improve Khairallah through donations as an example and action in reality ..

  12. Just a little a comment about the compounds you mention: I am moving in to one of them since I have come to realize it’s the only way for me as an expat to live in Egypt. It’s either that, or give up living in Egypt. So, I chose a compound.

    Your analyze is excellent by the way. Coming from an old democracy (Norway), I really never thought about all the things I have taken for granted before I moved to Egypt a year ago.

  13. A German from Berlin says:

    And just as the girls who kept on pushing for no military trials, all you revolutionaries have to keep on pushing and pushing your whole country in the direction you want it to go. That’s your job.
    Most of the time people are against changing the current state and the current system. But if you keep telling them about your ideas and about the benefits they will start thinking and moving. You just have to be persistent and you will succeed.

  14. Very very very thoughtful. Thank you for sharing. It does remind me of “Lord of the Flies”, of course.

  15. I am so in awe of the power of your writing! In this article you have made Tahrir come alive to your readers, giving those of us who can only sit on the sidelines and marvel a chance to feel the realities of this revolution instead of simply believing the utopian fantasy that is too easy to create.

    I’ve posted a link to this on FB, and will to my blog as well because I believe people should read this, and learn from it. What a unique situation you all are in as you learn, grow, and develop new perspectives about your country and your place within it.

    Thank you for sharing your insights! I eagerly look forward to learning more as New Egypt emerges. Yalla Egypt!

  16. Fouad al khamy says:

    Ur descriptive talents r OUTSTANDING to say the least! I propose starting an official online mag with bloggers participating in the sit in contributing as a counter media for the public, up till now I was aggressively against the sit in now I am seriously having second thoughts! I salute u!

  17. Eleanor Mercer says:

    I live in the US, have been reading your blog since you started it, am now following you through your tweets and posts. The analysis in this one is not only very important but is also mind blowing. It should be picked up by media. I send empowering thoughts your way. I thank you for all your efforts through these many years. Stay strong and well.
    Eleanor from the US

  18. Thank you for this excellent article. I am Canadian and admire you very much and have been following since Jan25

  19. Essawi El Takadomi El Librali says:

    Well Buddy, If you want to get a masters in political science pay for it. Don’t try to learn it by trial and error at my own expense, destroying my country in the process. And if you are fond of camping, i know a couple of good places but please clear the road.

    • Friedel says:

      Should every citizen pay for learning about democracy before getting involved with politics?
      This attitude is excluding the majority of your country from any democratic changes. There will be a lot of trial and error, as in any revolutionary process, so better get used to it. And be thankful for it to be so peaceful, an not with guns in the hands of the trying and erring.

    • @sandmonkey: Amazing analysis & constructive criticism. Simple enough for everyone to understand, educated or not, yet so complex it presents issues that politicians, academics and authorities on governance & social studies will struggle to suggest solutions to.

      @Essawi El Takadomi El Librali: What makes it your country and not ours? What expenses, if any at all, have you endured that the rest of us haven’t? Everything in life evolves & nothing withstands the weathering effects of time & change. Starting with religion (which is open to changing interpretations based on the CURRENT factors of life) to politics, society, governance! There is no “right” way, no perfect system! All beings change and evolve, its only natural, so what makes you think that political science isn’t subject to the same?

  20. God bless people like you sandmonkey, you are someone to listen to and be inspired by, indeed :)

  21. Iulia Bullough says:

    I suggest it’s time to apply all this amazing knowledge outside Tahrir square. It is good that you are talking to the other parties – it may be time to make an election alliance with some of them.

    Same as in February, staying only in the square is what SCAF wants you to do, that’s why they create only minor inconveniences. And those infiltrated security people are in the square illegally, you should request they leave and the media should wite about this a lot.

    In my opinion you should organize marches and protests at other locations during the day. News outlets interviews and twitter articles should be written about some of the leaders of the revolution: who they are, what they stand for, what are the important parties, who are the election candidates, electoral platforms.

    It would be nice to see that revolutionaries are getting more organized (you can use the AIESEC (economic students association) organization structure as a start point for example (or any other existing organization)). It seems from the above that you are doing a lot of things instead of writting.

    I suggest you set up a private TV station broadcasting the truth about the revolution. It could be internet only and the quality of the signal does not have to be good (eg. Mo Nabulus’s private TV station in Benghazi made a big difference in Libya http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Nabbous). Freedom of speech and exercising it is an important human right.

    The party you belong to should issue statments everyday requesting reform, changes, exposing corruption, updating on revolution progress. It is important Egyptians clearly know what your party stands for and how it’s going to benefit them and their children (part electoral campaign).

    Try to exercise all other human rights and identify which are the laws or other obstacles in achieving human rights and democracy. Cairowire was mentioning several human rights issues in the Consitution yesterday for example.

  22. Sikander Memon says:

    This was a fantastic article, so realistic of life in Egypt. I have been there in Tharir, though not enough and I have not contributed anything. But the hats off to all you people in Tahrir. Even at this young age of yours, you have become our leaders in so many ways. I salute you sir, and your comrades. Egypt will overcome, inshaAllah.

    Sikander Memon or uncle Sikander to you.

  23. ِAgirah says:

    Excellent analysis and a brillian, vivid imagination making this semblance between Tahrir and Egypt. It’s interesting to think that a few weeks in Tahrir symbolize the future of Egypt, well thought really. I specifically like the lessons learned as they symbolize what’s missing Egypt to make it a modern developed country: respect for law / rules, respectful leader & role model figure, citizen responsibility, and proper advocacy. Food for thought: if you set “Tent behavior Rules” at the tent where kids go to draw and help out, do you think kids will abide to these rules?

  24. Michele Dickinson says:

    BRILLIANT !!! I love the symbolism and parallels you’ve drawn…
    Enjoyed reading it very much

  25. Excellent piece Monkey and rest assured a lot of us, even the “kanaba party members” are for the continuation of the sit-ins. PS kindly admit that anyone who goes to Tahrir, even if just to contribute with supplies is as patriotic as the campers, but in his/her own way, Not all of us can physically withstand the long sit-ins…and….some of us also believe that by going to work and keeping the wheel turning they are contributing to the prevention of a total economic collapse, so….be kind…remember, we don’t want a predujiced Egypt either….! ;o)

  26. A tourist says:

    Your analysis matches mine entirely but you feel positive about it while it makes me sad.
    But what makes me even more sad is a tone that you have acquired, a transformation. It’s a pity that you see the daily visitors as “tourists” because many of those tourists are the support system to Tahrir both emotionally and financially, and have been since the 29th January and I believe until now.
    It makes me sad when I see people assuming superiority and giving more credit to their role over others.
    Watch out my dear revolutionary comrade that you do not contribute to turning Tahrir into a mini dictatorship.
    signed,
    a “Tourist”

  27. Tahrir Tourist + Egyptian Abroad says:

    I enjoyed your analysis and yes, I do believe that Tahrir is a perfect place to create a study on democracy-building. It is every PhD student’s dream to have such a controlled environment where they can monitor the variables.

    That being said, I was extremely turned off by your passing and somewhat scathing judgments of the Tahrir “tourists” as well as Egyptians abroad. As an Egyptian abroad, who spent my entire life abroad and moved to Egypt in recent years, Egyptians abroad have often fought and worked harder than Egyptians in bringing about change in their home country when Egyptians were apathetic.

    Also another quick note on the “tourists” – at the end of the day revolutionaries are calling for people to come out in masses to the protests, yet at the same time you’re disparaging of them. This actually stops people from going. I was someone who was active in the square from January 25 until February 11 and continue to as I could. However, I have a job and important role in an NGO in Egypt that is working with a coalition of NGOs with expertise to bring change in various sectors (increase civic participation, women’s rights, education, income-generation and employment projects, etc.). Working in the NGO requires traveling and working on ground in places like Fayoume, Minya, Beni Soueif, Bahariya, Qena, etc. Many of these places didn’t have protests yet these people are Egyptians, who have grievances that are not being addressed and they feel they’re being ostracized and not heard.

    With all due respect, the people who are constantly camping in Tahrir for the most part (and I know there are exceptions) are unemployed people, students (high school, university, post-graduate), freelancers, and people with flexible work schedules. We are not all as privileged to have such flexibility and furthermore we are also working on our own way to rebuild Egypt.

    So please do not diminish the role of these “tourists” and Egyptians abroad in the rebuilding of Egypt otherwise you seek to alienate yourself from a large community of people working behind the scenes to recreate a country that we all love and are proud of.

  28. Outstanding article and comparison. Please translate to arabic so that it is read by a wider segment of the egyptian society.

    Keep up the good work.

  29. Since I have read practically every single post you have ever written. I can safely say this is probably your best post ever. It is borderline scary, even my visitations to your compound in Tahrir accurately depict my position in this society . . .
    Excellent work.

  30. Publicola says:

    It’s a long way to Tipperary,
    It’s a long way to go.

    Thank you for your realism and open-minded attitude.

    take care

    Publicola (Germany)

  31. Salma Arafa says:

    As usual, a very insightful analysis. Brilliant!!!
    Building a society is a trial and error process. Democracy should be the channel through which the society expresses and mechanism of a continuous self-correction in a dialectical manner.

    Keep inspiring us.

    • Salma Arafa says:

      Sorry… I meant to say in the comment above:
      Democracy should be the channel through which societies express themselves and the mechanism of a continuous self-correction in a dialectical manner.

  32. Excellent open-minded post, great stuff

  33. karima Khalil says:

    This is the best post I have read on the entire revolution. VERY insightful.

    Your description of visitors to the square as ‘tourists’ or “expats’ is very apt, and not loaded at all in any way. I fail to understand why these are seen as offensive. Two societal roles, just like all the others you so thoughtfully pointed out.

  34. Shekeeta says:

    Ok, this is a piece of Art!! this should be turned into a movie..

  35. Shekeeta says:

    and yes.. please translate in Arabic and try to post it in newspapers..how come u’re not a journalist! this is really needed now

  36. Brilliant, just pure genius. I felt I was there with you, and I totally loved your analysis.

    I highly recommend making a youtube video vlog telling your experience. Even better if you had a short documentary with footage from Tahrir with your narration. This is how you reach a larger audience.

    Beltawfe2. You’re our future, you got our prayers form the U.S.

  37. Hi Sandmonkey!!!

    If you have some time I would really recommend this movie: http://www.sockshare.com/file/CD3A3ACC540D6EAB#

    As we are trying to get across the media propaganda against tahrir and reach out for democracy this film is relevant to what Egypt is facing these days.
    I hope we don’t have to learn democracy the hard way.. and prevent mistakes done by others…
    have a good day :)

  38. We visited Egypt about 40 years ago. It was a great experience and hopefully, whatever happens, we can visit again some day.

  39. All you had to do was read “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, but, then again, the experience would not have been so existential.

  40. Just as in the early days and the initial occupation of Tahrir, the roundabout is a crucible manufacturing a new purer Egypt. If you can stand the heat!
    However in this furnace the bonds formed will be unbreakable. So form as many as you can.

    To add to your parallels: Many of the bonds formed by the old regime and the current Junta were formed during the heat of a battle.

    But with less camels!

    One hopes that the planned Hotel ‘next door’ can be turned into a building with a more fitting purpose and that Tahrir itself never go back to just being another roundabout.

    I would throw this idea into the melting pot for the future Tahrir: a permanent “Freedom Hotel” (in bronze) with the names of the martyrs!

    Wishing you every success and that I could be there…
    Salam

  41. I found ‘Lord of the Flies’ to be very sad – nothing improved.. but I don’t believe that to be the case for Egypt if Egypt will only let herself grow, learn and face the unknown with determination to make the best of whatever comes her way.

    What you have learnt in Tahrir is life as we ‘Westerners’ know it. The aim in democracy is to get the wheel moving with out pain, grind or conflict. It is not the making of all to think a particular way but the all to find the foundation to exist together. The foundations have to be strong to hold that which would reach to the heavens. But it does not mould itself into one. You discovered diversity in all its antagonizing, compromising glory.

  42. Robbie Jena says:

    No Technology and movement to improve the economic prosperity….so this is what happens.

  43. CampbellH says:

    People who have never been free to discuss things openly very often do not develop the ability to listen to others and temper their opinions accordingly. Oppressive societies breed oppressors. Just a thought. Based of 27 years dealing with Arabs. (I’m married to one)

  44. Just learned of your blog through an interview you did on NPR. You are an excellent writer and shedding light on a subject that unfortunately doesn’t always get the needed attention it deserves, or at least in the USA. Thank you again and I will be back again and again. Many Blessings. :)

  45. Great job:) very inspiring!!! Keep up the good work and lead by example, you are brilliant:) god bless

  46. thx for sharing

  47. A very uplifting post. Which is good because the news has been disheartening.

    Great to see that you have an open mind and are learning from the experience. Too often, people have ideals that are so bright that they blind them from reality. You once thought of gated communities as too elitist but now see that they may be necessary. What you are experiencing will be of great help when it comes time to establish a rule of law.

    Keep your mind open, learn how society interacts. Then put it to work.

  48. Please try and give your opinion about latest events. Information here is rare.
    Youtube shows videos with molotow-cocktails being thrown at demonstrators. Could it really have been people from the neighbourhood? Looks more like the notorious paid thugs to me …

    Greetings from Berlin !

  49. I met somebody several ppl from Egypt, in Caux ,in Switzerland, and we talked about you- apparently all agree- you have to join in politics- your country needs you!

  50. Younaneya says:

    Excellent analytical report, and so refreshingly reassuring. As someone who lived the first 22 years of my life in Cairo and only a breath away from Tahrir square too, by heart goes out for Egypt, Egyptians and this generation of yours that is trying to build a better nation. Oh how I hope you succeed! But please — and you know that of course — be patient and always be hopeful.

  51. Mohamed Nabil says:

    Can I translate this ranting into Arabic for you and resend it to you? There are loads of people who need to read this.

  52. Aly Salah says:

    “will be heartbreaking”… nope, actually its not. its eye opening, believe me. is that what you’re doing in tahrir then? “building a nation”. i went to tahrir a few days ago and i found was a sad collection of ppl fighting for, well, nothing!!! do you realize what you’ve reduced tahrir to with your shinanigans? instead of it staying a place that represented something profound, you’re just burning it to the ground with your antics. dude: a disco ball! seriously! “come chill with us at the monkeytent” (or whatever its called). u’re enforcing a rule of law of your own concoction. you might just be the next president of tahrir! congrats. you’re the man of a handpicked people, not “the people”. i congratulate you, really. so, who decides who stays and who leaves? who decides who should be lynched and tied to a tree? who decides anything over there? “the council of tahrir wisemen”.. i had a lot of (ok, not that much) respect for u, with u being the champion of bloggers, etc, etc, etc… but honestly man, this is crap. and the fact that so many ppl r blowing smoke up your ass isn’t helping none either, get me? wake up and come to school dude. there’s more at stake here than tahrir and what has already happened.

    • “there’s more at stake here than tahrir and what has already happened.”

      No doubt sandmonkey is very much aware of this, but do people expect him to solve every problem of Egypt? Do they expect him to be serious about everything, everyday? What exactly do people want him to do with regards to Egypt? I know he’s a clever guy, but is he supposed to come up with solutions to every issue that ails the country?

      Egypt is going through growing pains, trying to find it’s footsteps on uncertain feet. There are people who are revelling in their newly won freedom, and others who are taking advantage of that freedom for their own ends. There are people who are threatened by the freedom and want things to return to ‘normal’. There are people who are angry with the uprising and are determined to crush it, one way or the other.

      Then there are those who are spending time in Tahrir, and other places in Egypt. Those people who have sacrificed jobs and time with family, and risked their lives in some cases, to be out there, visible, vocal, demanding that the rights of the people be recognized. These are the people who are fighting for the freedom of ALL Egyptians, even the ones who are bitching and complaining that things are all messed up. One day a new Egypt will have replaced the old regime, and people will be living a better life, thanks to all those reckless people and their “shinanigans”, wasting their time taking over a square, partying, planning, talking, singing, yelling, demanding, and standing steadfast against the dicatorial remnants of the old Egypt.

      Change doesn’t happen overnight. It may start that way, but it takes time, and growth. It takes people who are dedicated enough to keep working at it. People who are willing to try, by whatever means at their disposal, to educate their fellow citizens, to spread the word, and to insist that demands be met because those demands are just and worthy.

      Sandmonkey, and most of the people in Tahrir, are working for their fellow citizens in the only way they can right now. They are shining lights into all the still murky dark corners, trying to flush out the remaining people who would undermine this new Egypt. So if they party a little in Tahrir, or they seem like they aren’t taking it all uber seriously, believe me, they are. They may have made some mistakes along the way, and will probably make more as things progress, but they aren’t perfect. There is no manual that says how a revolution is supposed to happen, or how to build the perfect democracy. At least they are Doing Something! Better than sitting back complaining about the government but not taking any steps to change it.

      No doubt you mean well by your criticizm, but maybe it could be directed towards the remnants of the dictator that kept your country in bondage for 30 years. Maybe you already are doing what you can towards a new and democratic Egypt, and that’s good.

      Please know, regardless of the glitter ball in the tent, or the metaphoric blog post, Sandmonkey is doing his part too.

  53. Publicola says:

    @ Aly Salah – Ever heard of the literary device “metaphor” ?

    A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to indicate resemblance *)

    here between some characteristic scenes on Tahrir Square and problems to be solved by the democratization process in Egypt
    ______________________
    *) source: “figure of speech.” Britannica Student Library. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010.

  54. Aly Salah says:

    @Publicola: Is that your witty attempt at sarcasm??… oh, i’m laughing uncontrollably now. ha.. ha.. ha.. haha.. ha… oh, i can’t stop… ha ha ha, laughing… ok, enough!!!

  55. Hello! I am not Egyptian but learn a lot by reading your blog – a LOT. Thank you. While you and your fellow citizens work to build a new model country, perhaps you can also tackle this gigantic issue: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=38936&Cr=green&Cr1

    I know, it is never a priority, right? There are so many things to do FIRST! But we won’t be around for enough centuries to enjoy our (hopefully) egalitarian, educated societies if we don’t deal with this.

    Because the oil dependence has to end – not just for the West, but for everyone – and the only time to start moving away from this resource dependence is through political revolution. Seriously. How should my country (the U.S.) even start, considering the way we are structured (if you see what I mean – don’t want to babble on)? Maybe Egypt is in the right place to show the way on this.

  56. When is that book coming?

  57. hummingbird says:

    we miss you sand monkey! are you okay?
    lin

  58. There’s a serect about your post. ICTYBTIHTKY

  59. like so many other nations have pillaged parts of the Middle East for their resources.

  60. CyberDave says:

    Dude. That article was amazing.
    From America,

    Cheers!

    CyberDave

  61. Sorry to interrupt this discussion with a nonesense question that has to do with the justice system:

    ANY NEWS ON THE ATTACKERS OF LORA LOGAN?

    THERE ARE FOTOGRAPHS. THEY CAN BE INDENTIFIED. ARE THEY GOING TO JAIL?

    THANK YOU.

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  64. What if, Obama and UN approve a new law to be internationally passed in the future that will make mandatory for every voter to use digital electronic tools like cellphones, laptop etc. through any of the social business networking programs such as Facebook for voting , banking, job, education etc, allowing unrestricted UN / Governments access to the activities of every citizen of the ‘to be crime-free new world’ then, good citizens shall have nothing to fear but be happy to enjoy safety and freedom and bad citizens wouldn’t have no choice but become better!

    When a single or a group of individuals becomes too caucious about privacy laws etc. it has surely something to hide.

    If all they wanted is money, they got it and still can make it elsewhere like China, India, Pakistan etc. But for what? There hardly one can nitice signs of happyness or smiles in on their face. Why? Are there some mysterious CIA facts yet to be learned by global public? I honestly say: Kudos to the… more

    If all they wanted is money, they got it and still can make it elsewhere like China, India, Pakistan etc. But for what? There hardly one can notice signs of happiness or smiles on their face. Why? Are there some mysterious CIA facts yet to be learned by global public? I honestly say: Kudos to the dysfunctional smartness of human brain including the negatively powerful side of it too, which can turn boredom into exitement to make societal living for all, a bit colorful for a while. What would be the world without mind boggling incidents but some groups unfortunately, having too much money at their disposal cannot smile as a natural expression of enjoying life.
    Obama is blessed if he may continue smiling naturally as he is doing…..

    Now a serious fact follows: Because of Media heads’ intentional or poor understanding of the scenes behind the scenes, up until now, the few heads in operating government powers confusingly undersood by the global Public as land pieces of Country-power which are in fact fake-powerful like parer-tigers; e.g. representing North Korea, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, China, Pakistan, India etc. By the grace of Cosmic Creator the above are in serial for gradually becoming possible cosmic targets in an unprecedented “Non-violent, secularly occurring manner without usage of weapons by the opposition” of regime change after Syria. The Public of above pieces of lands should not feel threatened at all, as “Latest fashioned New kind of Politics will avoid old ‘Do or Die, Kill or be Killed etc. situations and strategies and must not cause anyone to perish by guns but monetary sanctions only; moreover, shall try to save old minded political leaders from being killed by the unwise mob-like portion of the agitated public or put on pre-determined dishonest trials.
    The maximum non-capital punishment administered by UN’s ICC type totally unbiased body the failed leaders may receive is “with some conditions, “Suspended death sentences” for committing crimes against humanity. No territorial part of the mankind and /or proved good leaders (who dishonestly never blasts bombs and points at others like old style IAHs’ secret manner) are to be blamed for secularly occurring new ways of changes, rather all should praise the gift of greatness: the digital communication tool of Microsoft technology for making the change easier through awareness to the benefit of humanity on earth!We need not to believe anything that does not make common sense. The intuitive sense of mankind constantly getting sharper and can perceive what actually happening behind apparent scenarios, therefore, do not take blindly for granted whatever news the Medias broadcasts! Now, the first questions they got used to in asking is something like: ‘How do you know for sure who is claiming what? Dirty old style dishonest politics?However, all these prove that hereditary style transfer of ruler-ship has already become unpopular in the closely connected and digitally communicated public minds of the rapidly changing world!But I am glad that my Canada’s actual ruler: the Queen is wise enough not to make her hands dirty by doing any of the nasty things like the other small rulers do. I am so proud of her honesty and intellectuality! God bless her.

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