It’s been almost two weeks since the Egyptian uprising began. I type these words sitting in my dirtied and blood-soaked jeans, as I have no change of clothes. But all that really isn’t important now, because we are in a state of revolt.
Even though I’m not Egyptian, I use the term “we,” because at this point all of us in Egypt on the side of truth have become a part of the revolution. As the US-backed dictator and his forces try to repress all activists and journalists, just to be here and to type these words — to witness the struggle of the Egyptian people — is in itself an act of defiance and revolution.
To be “balanced” in Egypt is not possible — there are two sides and we all must choose one. After all, for the past 30 years if not more this has been the most unbalanced of societies. On one side is a dictator who has enjoyed unwavering backing from the world’s lone superpower, and on the other is a diverse majority calling for his overthrow.
The government has always done whatever it can to control its people and all information coming out of the country. It’s been able to consolidate its repressive security apparatus due in large part to tens of billions in US financial support over three decades.
The state’s security apparatus, which has rounded up dozens of Egyptian human rights activists in recent days, is also targeting foreign journalists. While the recent attacks against journalists are certainly cause for alarm, they are by no means unprecedented. Egyptian journalists, bloggers, activists and others have always been targeted over the years. A key ingredient to any dictatorship is keeping people inside and outside the country in the dark about what’s happening on the ground.
Journalists, whose job it is to see that information travels freely, therefore, must resist the system of control and make sure the people’s voice is heard.
But that darkness is being whisked away by the masses in Egypt’s streets. While practicing journalism is still difficult, the people have raised their voice to such a level that no amount of government suppression can prevent the world from hearing of their struggle. Even some American and other Western media outlets have done a surprisingly good job at covering events in Egypt, and because of that, even they have been subjected to attacks by the state’s plainclothes thugs.
First it was the plainclothes forces targeting journalists, but in the past couple days, the Egyptian army which is now moving its circle of soldiers and tanks tighter and tighter around the protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, has also prevented journalists from operating freely. Many are being turned away upon trying to enter the square by the army. Tomorrow, I’m not sure that I’ll be able to access Tahrir, nor am I certain that my equipment will be safe.
Meanwhile, on Egyptian state television, the people’s movement that encompasses almost every segment of Egyptian society, is being vilified as a foreign “conspiracy.” The state media have even resorted to anti-Semitic and sectarian incitement. They have accused “Palestinians” and “Arabs with non-Egyptian accents” and even the United States and Israel — Mubarak’s closest regional ally — of being behind the protests.
The state’s army and its thugs have also made traveling outside Cairo to cover the many protests elsewhere around the country close to impossible. While massive protests were held in Cairo last Friday, they also erupted in the northern coastal city of Alexandria.
Estimates even suggested that in proportion to the city’s population, the protests were much greater in Alexandria than in Cairo. Although journalists have mostly been unable to document them due to the government’s clampdown on foreign media, the word is still getting out. And while many foreign journalists have left fearing for their safety, many of us still remain in Cairo.
The people have already taken unprecedented acts against the dictatorship, pushing beyond the point of no return. The fact that they have yet to give up and they remain in the streets speaks to their deep desire for an end to decades of brutal repression.
I thought about this the other night in Tahrir Square. As the sun set on the horizon, I expected the protests to slowly wane as the darkness settled. I walked around the square and visited an apartment overlooking it, speaking with friends and others. Before we realized, it was 1AM, and the demonstration still carried with it the same energy as it had twelve hours earlier. When I finally went to sleep at the flat, I woke up at sunrise and the mood was the same: the people did not stop the chants, songs, dances and other creative acts calling for the downfall of the regime. While they may be physically exhausted, there remains a sense that freedom is closer than it has ever been before.
Freedom is not just some empty concept: Egyptians have made it something real. They’ve even given it a physical form. What is happening now in Tahrir, or Liberation Square, is an example of that freedom.
And the movement is exhibiting the kind of free society that it hopes to be once Mubarak steps down. As someone who has witnessed numerous movements for justice not only in the Arab World but in the Americas and Europe as well, I’m still amazed by the diversity of the protesters at Tahrir Square.
From all class, religious, and political backgrounds, they stand side by side in the square demanding their rights. While volunteers manage security at the entrances, others go around and collect trash. The Hardee’s fast-food outlet on Tahrir Square has been turned into a point where drinking water is distributed. Women friends are telling me it’s the safest they’ve ever felt in Egypt, where they’re often subject to harassment. People are going around offering snacks to each other, while donations of food, medicine, blankets and other items continue to flow in despite state security forces trying to block them.
If this revolution can succeed and keep with it the spirit that is now present at Tahrir, it has the potential to form a democratic government unlike the world has ever seen. Forming such a system will of course be up to the wants and desires of the Egyptian people as they continue their struggle. As for non-Egyptians like me, we will continue to get out as much information as possible. That is the act of solidarity and revolt that we can and must offer.
Matthew Cassel is based in Beirut, Lebanon and is Assistant Editor of The Electronic Intifada. His website is justimage.org.