We the People of Tahrir Square

by Nile El Wardani

Yesterday my twelve year old son and I made our way to Tahrir Square to join 200,000 Egyptians gathered together to make two very clear demands of their new President,  Mohamed Morsi.  We arrived at one of the many meeting points, beside the statue of Saad Zagloul at the entrance to the Kasr il Aini Bridge. We sat on a short wall at the entrance to the Opera House grounds waiting for friends to arrive. We watched with fascination as private cars, mini buses, taxis and even horse drawn buggies unloaded their passengers. A group of four felaheen farmers dressed in their gallebeas arrived in a minibus. A BMW dropped off a group of ladies clad in Gucci and Michael Kors bags and sheik running suits. They felt so safe they didn’t even leave their watches and jewelry at home. Then came the students 1000s of them walking from their universities carrying signs “down with the declaration” “give us back our revolution.”

A kind man with a beautiful smile and a strong limp walked in front of us carrying dozens and dozens of flags. We bought two medium size Egyptian flags for 75 cents each. His hands and arms showed signs of severe burns, as we handed him ten Egyptian pounds. The elegant man sitting beside us on the short wall teased the flag man saying; “Today is Egypt’s day. Don’t sell any flags for Palestine or Syria. Today is Egypt’s day!” My son, who has always loved flags, immediately began waving the two Egyptian flags in the air welcoming the people pouring out of vehicles to join the march.

We watched young boys climb to the top of the statue as people from every walk of life; poor and wealthy elites, old and young, Muslims, Christians and Secularists, men, women, boys and girls, farmers, business people, taxi drivers, teachers, doctors, engineers and families joined in the gathering. As people found their groups they started walking across the sublimely calm Nile River, over the bridge, only a five minute walk to Tahrir Square.

I was warned by some that it could become violent, that I should not go and that I should not take my son. Others assured me it would be safe and a great learning experience for my son.  What we found in the Square was nothing short of amazing.

Despite the fact that there was not one policeman in the vicinity, there was total calm and peace. The Egyptian people and the independent parties had organized superbly. Meeting places were posted on FB and Twitter, tents were erected in the center of the square for each party, young men wearing yellow vests were trained as security guards to keep the peace and not allow troublemakers inside the square. The members of the Brotherhood did not come. Instead the Square was for all other Egyptians. It was a testament to me of the character of the Egyptian people. They are a people that honor human dignity.

The feeling in the square was electric. The people were festive and I saw many friends meet by chance and greet each other with kisses. Peddlers had come to the Square selling every kind of sweet; pop corn, dora on a stick, cotton candy, oriental sweets and fruit juices. A man with a hand painted cart sold peanuts and bright red candied apples on sticks. A few meters away was a woman and her daughter selling roz bil leban – rice pudding with a variety of nuts to choose from. Another was passing out the Egyptian national dish fuul wa tawmeya. Against the fence were peddlers selling Kafiya scarves, flags, flash lights and posters.

Everyone was calm, yet serious. There was not one report of sexual harassment. The independent liberal camp demonstrated on a scale unmatched by the Muslim Brotherhood that the vast majority of Egyptians (surveys point to 75%) are moderate, respectful of women and politically independent. In other words they do not align themselves with either the National Democratic Party of Mubarak’s past nor the Muslim Brotherhood of Morsi’s present.  And they are able to organize themselves and police themselves and represent clearly their political desires and demands.

From every corner of Cairo two-hundred-thousand Egyptians walked to Tahrir Square asking for two very specific demands.

First, Egyptians are asking that President Mohamed Morsi rescind the declaration he made last Thursday which “gives the president Pharaoh-like powers.”  The declaration renders Morsi’s decisions immune from any legal challenge for the next six months. Their second demand asks for the nullification of the Islamist-led Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a New Egyptian Constitution. Egyptians want a re-selection of the members of the Constituent Assembly so that it is a proper representation of Egyptian society and political dynamics.

Many of the 200,000 Egyptians in the Square are not members of any specific party yet they all agree on these two demands as do the numerous political groups that participated in the rally. They include: the Egyptian Popular Current, the Constitution Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Karama Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Freedom Egypt Party, the Revolutionary Socialists movement, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Maspero Youth Union, the “Ahmed Maher Front and Democratic Front”, part of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Youth for Justice and Freedom Movement, the Free Egyptian Movement, the National Association for Change, the Kifeya Movement, the Free Front for Peaceful Change and the Lotus Revolution movement

What was most clear to me, as I stood amongst the 200,000 Egyptians was that the Egyptian people will not give up until they get what they want. It has been nearly two years since their revolution started and it continues stronger than ever.

God Bless the Egyptian People with the will, the strength, the courage and the organizational prowess to carry on and TRIUMPH over those who want Egypt to remain dictatorial and downtrodden. Unfortunately they are many (inside Egypt, regionally and internationally) who are doing all they can to undermine Egypt’s blooming revolution towards an open democratic civil society.  Their motives are many and heinous.

Yesterday the vast majority (75%) of Egyptian showed Pres. Morsi and the world in an unprecedented tour de force that we the people of Egypt will continue to have hope and will not give up on our dreams of freedom, justice and democracy.


Obama Won and Nothing will Change: Reactions from Cairo Egypt

Obama Won and Nothing will Change: Reactions from Cairo Egypt

I am an American living and working in Cairo, Egypt. Unfortunately I was not able to cast my vote. Despite THREE attempts at registering for my absentee ballot and several email exchanges, I never received my ballot. Believing in my country, I thought it was user error on my part or perhaps I had applied too late (6 weeks in advance). My worse fears were verified when I heard from eight other American colleagues and neighbors, here in Cairo, that they too did not receive their absentee ballots.

We can only hope that it was government inefficiency and not a deliberate act to stop us from voting. On second thought, does it matter which it was, we were not able to exercise our democratic right to vote. The American system still has lots of problems.

No ballot for me, but I was certainly not left out when it came to soliciting funds for campaigning. I have been receiving anywhere from 3 to 8 emails per day from various individuals, political entities, pacts, and parties asking me to contribute to various election campaigns. Each one had a sense of URGENCY about it – that if I did not contribute all could be lost. None of these emails contained content as to how things might be better for me or America if I was to contribute – NO – just a plea to contribute to the ongoing fundraising competition between Obama and Romney. What seemed to matter most was — who raised the most money — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly.

Out of frustration, I began to answer the emails: “Are we Americans supposed to BUY our President?”

What kind of democracy is based on how much money you can raise and spend on a campaign? Can this really be called a democracy when corporations can donate unlimited amounts to presidential candidates?

Man do we need campaign finance and media reform immediately!
If we don’t reform, we run the risk of loosing our democracy entirely.

Despite it all, I am glad that Obama won, mainly because I cringe thinking of how things could have changed under Romney, making things even less democratic. I’m fed up with the BS from the Republicans condemning the Democrats for “big government” — Has everyone forgotten about the Federal Agency of Homeland Security —- built by the Republicans under GW Bush — the LARGEST government agency in the history of the USA. Tell me now which party is making government bigger?

And what about the enormous Federal Budget Deficit? Has every one forgotten that after eight years of President Clinton (Democrat) the US government had the LARGEST SURPLUS in its history. GW Bush (Republican) followed, and after eight years in office the US government had the LARGEST DEFICIT in history. So which party makes bigger government and overspends? The Republicans.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no lover of the Democratic Party, I just like the Republican Party even less. In fact, to me, the two parties have become so similar that one could say we have a 1.2 party system in the US. Not even —- a 2 party system.

So we Americans, and the world, have four more years of Democrats and Obama.

I am hoping that Obama will be REALLY BOLD during his second term and make the changes that he has been talking about. I am hoping he will stand up to the corporate interests, the military industrial complex and special interest groups and do what is best for the American people, the world at large and our environment.

I even have day dreams that one day soon Obama will stand before the world and say “As the commander and chief of the US Armed Services I command all our American troops to come home. We no longer need combat troops, we only need peace keepers. I have decided that we no longer need to go to war, but rather we need to spend the money at home on our schools, health care, our roads and our damns, our infrastructure and our people, yes our American people. I think it is time we exercise diplomacy in dealing with other nation states. It is time we turn our perceived enemies into allies by helping them with what they need, job creation, independent food creation, schools, teachers, housing and much more. WAR is passe. I reject the notion that war is good for the economy. We will make PEACE PROFITABLE! As for the corporations which make billions from making military hardware (i.e. Lockheed Martins, Bechtel) we know that you will not loose such contracts without a fight, so I say to you, we will continue to give you the large contracts, but we ask you to utilize your technical expertise to make new weapons — weapons for peace — such as mobile health clinics, mobile school units, mobile water desalinization and purification plants, alternative forms of energy formulation, cures for cancer and much more. We ask you to use your enormous creative energies and technical expertise to invent and produce products that will help people’s standard living increase and help in healing our Earth. We are fully convinced that you can MAKE PEACE PROFITABLE.”

This is my dream.

So when it was announced early this morning in Cairo that Obama had been re-elected I began to ask the Egyptians around me for their reaction.

Ahmed, my trainer at the gym, said “Yes, I am happy for Obama. Romney does not understand us in the Middle East and he doesn’t know about Islam. At least Obama knows a little about us.”

Ali, the door keeper, said “I don’t think it will change anything, for either one. America does not understand us. America does not care – only about what is best for America.”

Suzie, a Coptic Christian student, said “she did not believe that the American President can change anything about US Middle East relations because no matter who is President, America will always side with Israel.”
Person after person, told me that nothing will change, that they had given up hope that America will ever be a fare broker in regard to Israel, or that America will ever treat the people of the Middle East and especially Muslims with dignity and respect.

Egyptians don’t believe propaganda easily any longer. They have awoken from a long long slumber. They are aware and awake.They question everything now. They see no reason to have hope in American foreign policy that will effect them. They have seen torture and death and felt the sting of American tear gas in their eyes. They have witnessed the American Administration’s continued support of their puppet Mubarak even when the Egyptian people had spoken, in the millions, against him.

Year after year, decade after decade, young Tunisians and Egyptians watched as America and the EU continued to support Bin Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt even after young Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionaries lost their lives, limbs and eyes for the cause of democracy, justice and freedom. These brave young people in Tunisia and Egypt have made the ultimate sacrifices. American propaganda, no matter how slick, will not be swallowed whole by Tunisians and Egyptians ever again.

There were no celebrations in the streets of Cairo. In fact, it was just another day in Cairo with people paying little or no attention to the news that Obama had been re-elected. Everyone seemed to know about it – but the general consensus was “NOTHING WILL CHANGE.”


The New Arab Debates: This House believes democracy has had a disappointing start in Egypt



This House believes democracy has had a disappointing start in Egypt

President Mursi has completed 100 days in office as Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. Has he started to make a difference? Will a more just and equal society begin to emerge? How much free speech does the system allow? Democracy has had a poor start in Egypt, according to an audience at the New Arab Debates – a free speech forum, founded in the wake of last year’s political turmoil.

My Comment:

No Democracy is born mature. It takes time to mature. Democracy must be born within the nation – by the people – as it was born here in Egypt. For democracy to grow and mature (like a child) it must also be supported by the family – THE REGION in which it lives – as well as International players at large. Countries that are supported in their transition to democracy (as were Portugal and Spain by the European Community just a few decades ago) are more successful.

I don’t believe that Egypt has been supported well by it’s region. In fact some countries in the Gulf have done their best to undermine Egypt’s efforts towards building democracy. This is also true of international players, specifically the US, that did not support the Egyptian people in their revolution until it was obvious that they had no choice and were looking very hypocritical. The American administration/pentagon/war-machine continued to support the Egyptian military during the revolution and even to this day, very much undermining efforts by the Egyptian people to build a new democracy. 

Had Egypt been given regional and international support (political, expertise, incentives, etc.) towards building DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS and PROCESSES perhaps we would not be asking this question: Has democracy in Egypt had a disappointing start? Rather, let’s ask the question: Why hasn’t the region and the world done more to help Egypt’s transition to democracy? And why not? Are there nations that would rather not see Egypt succeed at democracy? And why not? And what can be done to convince them that their “national interests” are short sighted and ethically wrong?

The Egyptian people created one of the most peaceful revolutions in the history of the world. They deserve every support towards the building of their democracy – from every country in the MENA Region as well as international players – especially the US.

In my next post I will discuss how Regional and International players can support Egypt’s transition to democracy in real ways.