We Arab youth have memorized countless poems and songs about Arab unity and Arab revolution, about freedom and liberty. We have been taught countless lessons about the magnificent history of the Arabs, and have memorized the names of the world’s great Arab scientists, historians, mathematicians, philosophers, poets and writers. We have been memorizing for as long as we can remember, twenty years or more. But never did we get the chance to chant the songs or recite the poems, or see that the grandchildren of those great Arabs are living up to the legacy of their ancestors.
In university, we had innumerable debates about “Arab identity,” which we — almost collectively — agreed was a dream that was buried with twentieth-century Egyptian leader of the pan-Arab movement Gamal Abdel Nasser. We spent so much effort and time in Model Arab League, where we would approve the best resolutions and make the toughest decisions. We played the role of Arab countries the way we thought and knew they should be. But deep inside, we knew it was only a role play, and that none of it was ever going to turn into reality.
In university, we also marched and protested. We chanted for Palestine and the Palestinian cause. We were convinced that the Palestinian cause is a matter of the Palestinians because Arabs lost interest ages ago. We weren’t impressed when non-Palestinian Arabs stood with us, because we were told for as long as we could remember that the Arabs had sold out the Palestinian cause. And we had no reason to believe otherwise.
My good memories in Egypt were limited to the four years I had spent at the American University in Cairo. I felt bitter towards Egypt as a country because the now ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and his government never failed to complicate my life as a Palestinian in Egypt. That country demanded of me an almost impossible-to-get visa, depriving me from crossing the border to visit my family by closing the Rafah border. The government also prompted the media into blaming the Palestinians for everything wrong that happens in Egypt.
And Egyptian pop star Tamer Hosny! How could the same country that gave birth to Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez also give birth to Tamer Hosny and to people who enjoy his music? This was a serious indication of the country’s deep cultural fallback, which was only evident after Hosni Mubarak’s seize of power in 1981. The biggest proof of that is that Mubarak’s government had Hosny tearfully defend Mubarak and his regime on state television, and it also sent Hosny to Tahrir Square to try and convince the protestors to “go home.” However, Hosny was beaten up by the people who used to be his fans and he was sent home.
As my undergraduate studies came to an end on 12 February 2010, and as much as I love my Egyptian friends, American University in Cairo and university life, I was happy to graduate. I longed for feeling at home, where I could enjoy a deep sense of belonging without having to apply for a visa every few months (ironic, is it not, given that my home is in Gaza, Palestine).
Who would’ve guessed that exactly one year later, on 12 February 2011, I would become a student at the school of Egypt: the school of freedom, justice and free people’s will? That I would lament my bad luck for not having graduated from American University of Cairo a year later and witnessing the rebirth of Egypt! That from Gaza, Palestine, I would call my friends in Egypt to make sure that they were safe, and teasingly offer them safe shelter in Gaza! That I would so genuinely wish that I could exchange a year of my life just to spend a day in Tahrir Square? Tahrir, that square which to me, and many others, was no more than a busy, high-traffic square that was best avoided on the road to the old American University in Cairo campus, but is now the square from which Egyptian heroes will be reborn?
Up until recently, I chose to skip all the revolutionary songs in my music library. I put “Arab” to the side when stating my identity. I lost faith in the Arabs, and in the Palestinian factions and politicians who have cut through the veins of our noble cause with their sickening selfishness, greed and hypocrisy. But when the revolution came, like a wave of hope, justice and freedom that swept through the entire region, it breathed life into the Arab within me.
The “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunis, “January 25 Revolution” in Egypt and the ongoing uprisings in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain are the true Arab awakening, for they are being led by the people and for the people.
Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, thank you for rejuvenating my Arab identity. Thank you for finally showing me what its like to be a proud Arab. Thank you for allowing me to raise my Arab head high. Thank you for making me entrust you with my noble cause. Thank you for making me brag about my Egyptian great-grandmother. Thank you for helping me understand the late Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Identity Card: Record! I am an Arab!” Thank you for ridding the world of Tamer Hosny and preparing it for the rebirth of Umm Kulthum.
To everyone who taught us that the Palestinian cause is the responsibility of only the Palestinians: you belong to the old order, and if I were you, I would follow ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, Mubarak and soon, Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the rest of the Arab dictators.
To the US, Israel and whoever still doubts or questions the glory of the Arabs, today we all have reason to believe that there is absolutely no power in the universe that can stand in the face of Arab will and determination. Our revolution is only the beginning.