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From Tahrir Square: It’s Not About Politics, It Is About Justice

11 February 2011 9 Comments

Sarah Abdel Rahman

Najuan Daadleh, Connection Point Project Manager, recently interviewed Sarah Abdel Rahman. Sarah was in Tahrir Square when the protests began on January 25th and has returned every day since then. In fact, she is there right now celebrating Mubarak’s resignation from power with millions of other Egyptians!

Read about how this protest has changed Sarah’s life forever.

***

Can you tell me a little about yourself to start with?

I am currently studying theatre at the American University in Cairo. My father has a company of import/export (trade) and he is also doing some tourism work.  Along with my studies, I work as an actress in TV shows and other small acting jobs. This is my last semester at the university.

The first time I attended any protest in my life was January 25th. I was always interested in what was happening at the university—for students` rights or employers’ rights—but anything that was outside of the university I didn’t attend, for fear of the central security. We would hear about how violent they are. Also, I didn’t go to protests because of the financial and psychological stability that I was enjoying.

So, January 25th was my first time to attend a protest and my life has changed completely since then.

What drove you to the protests? How did they get started?

What really encouraged me to go initially was the fact that it was supposed to be a peaceful protest. And it was, and still is, a peaceful protest.

Also, I joined because it became very obvious after the last elections that there is a lot of corruption in the government. I went down to vote and my name was already crossed out. They told me that someone had already voted with my name. That was a little fishy. The government’s corruption has become more and more obvious.

After the Tunisian “revolution,” people started an event on Facebook encouraging young people to come and express our opinion. It was a very youth-driven protest. When I went on the first day of protests I didn’t really tell my parents that I was going. Well, I told my mom but she refused to let me go—and I went anyway.

It was peaceful until we reached Tahrir Square, where they used tear gas and water. They sprayed water with large amounts of chlorine; I swallowed so much that it caused me to puke. And after I got a lot of tear gas in my system, my body started to revolt against me. It is horrible to feel that you are going to die and they are still firing tear gas at you.

That day really changed how I feel about the regime. It changed my mind and my perspective after the way the government handled our peaceful protests. It was completely peaceful—we were chanting for freedom and democracy and we had Egyptian flags.

Can you elaborate more on how your participation in this protest changed your perspective?

When you go to a peaceful protest and you expect that the police are supposed to protect you from everything that is going on but then tear gas starts getting fired at you by the police, the first question that comes to mind is “Why, why would the police do that? Why so brutal??”

Was what happened with the police shocking for you?

Yes it was…

You were shocked but at the same time, looking back at what has been going on in Egypt for the last 30 years, did you have the feeling that it was also expected?

Well, you know, because I was financially ok I was never really paying attention to what was happening. I am only 23 years old and I didn’t pay attention to the regime. I knew that there was something unfair in the system—everyone knew that it was an unfair system but we knew we couldn’t say anything about it.

What do you think made the shift in people’s minds and made them join this movement or even establish it in the first place?

I think that when the protest was initially planned every one, including my mom, was thinking “Oh these are Egypt`s angry kids.” But then she saw that someone like me, her daughter, was there and that I had to face tear gas. And the media started to pay attention to what was going on. It made a lot of people understand that what people were doing was peaceful and they got hurt.

What is your parents’ perspective now about what is going on? Do you discuss what is going on with them?

We haven’t been talking about it. Egypt is terrified—people are not sleeping at nights; they are putting up checkpoints to protect their homes from looters. My dad is always downstairs protecting our home and the neighborhood. This is affecting everybody`s life right now. We have a curfew from 05:00pm until 08:00am and people are not leaving their houses. But my parents support me more and more every day.

I think you mentioned that you are part of a group, is that correct?

I was never a part of any political group. I was always politically neutral. Politics were never part of my life; we never had political conversations. We always thought that things will never change, so we just tried to be positive about what we can do and focus on our careers. We were convinced that we could not do much.

I can tell you that most of the people who went to protest are not affiliated with any political organization/party or opposition groups. I went down with my friends from college and I knew that they are not part of a political group.

But there is a difference between being involved in politics and saying no to injustice. There is injustice and violence and we can see it.

What is driving the other students that you have been with? It is it Tunisia? Facebook?

I asked myself the same question. I knew what made me go, but I didn’t know about other people.

I think it is a combination of several factors. I think the Tunisian revolution is a factor and the last elections are another factor.  I also think that the talk shows that started five years ago—the late night shows that were discussing what is going on in Egypt—helped raise awareness. And of course, there is the power of the Internet—where people have the freedom to express themselves and to find other people with whom they agree. But I think the main drive was related to the fact that it was a peaceful movement.

We heard and saw on TV that women are taking part in the protests. What are the dynamics in terms of gender relations?

I was surprised to see certain people there and people were surprised to see me there. In terms of participation, I think it is equal. I cannot say that there are more men than women. I can tell you that it is well known that there is always sexual harassment against women in protests, but from January 25th until now there have been no sexual harassments cases.

People are protesting from all over Egypt—educated, non-educated, rich people, poor people, religious and non-religious people. People from all the different sectors of the society are here and there is no sexual harassment, not even the looks that we usually get from men in the streets.

At the protest, I would sit next to someone with a beard or someone religious and we would start a political conversation and I would really feel equal. Before these protests, I’d never had conversations with Egyptians who are not from my same social class or background and felt equal.

Where do these political conversations that you mention take place?

In Tahrir Square. After the first Friday and after the burning of the NDP headquarters, there were no security and people started camping in the Square. It was almost like a festival. People were having conversations about the future—we had very open conversations about what could happen. There were people chanting, others eating, others collecting the garbage, and a lot of creativity making all the signs.

It was like a political festival, but people were alert of what was happening.

There is a lot of concern and fear among the west that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over. I will not ask you what do you think, obviously it is not an easy question. But from what you have seen, what type of groups are involved in the protests? Is it a homogenous group or can you address the different political streams?

The majority of people in Tahrir Square are the youth, and they are not politically affiliated with any group. The other main group is poor people—they agree with the youth and that is how they got the guts to leave their houses and go down to the Square. These are the two dominant groups. These people are there because they want a democratic regime. I can’t deny that there were people there who were from Al Azhar or the opposition groups but their presence was minor.

How do you see the future of Egypt? What is your future vision for your country?

I certainly want to see the economy get better. I want to see educated people rebuild Egypt. I have faith in myself now and in the people who I have seen in the protests—those who really want what is best for our country. We need more and more education for the people; I feel that this is our biggest problem. People need to use their energy to build something positive.

On the basis of women’s issues, what type of change do you want to see?

I think the change is already happening. I think the more we work and get involved in what is happening in our country, as women, the more we will get opportunities.

***

Watch this inspiring speech that Sarah gave describing her experience as a political activist in Tahrir Square.

The views and opinions expressed by the authors of Voices from the Frontlines do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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9 Comments to “From Tahrir Square: It’s Not About Politics, It Is About Justice”
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kat Tansey, Andrea Moe, Gary Runn, GowerBizAngel, Hassan Shabbir and others. Hassan Shabbir said: RT @KatTansey: A young woman's experience as part of the protest in Egypt – http://ow.ly/3ULv0 [...]

  2. irit says:

    Dear Sarah
    Just now – in these very moments, Mubarak has resigned.

    you are very young, and brave.So are many of the youth of your country. I wish you much success and good days ahead.
    I hope the right people will take the reins, and a real Democracy will take its place in your country.
    You are making History, let’s hope for a good future.

    My best regards, hope and love
    Irit
    from Israel

  3. Jennifer Green says:

    Mubarak resigns! Peaceful, non-violent, courageous protests have succeeded. May the next steps in this historical transformation continue to serve as a model for the world to respect and admire!

  4. Kamotho Patrick says:

    Hi Sarah Abdel,very Courageous, thank you very much for the insight on how the great Egyptian Youths began and achieved this Wonderful and inspiring victory. We Kenyans are joyful of this victory. I am in Dakar Senegal participating in World Social Forum thousands of people have signed petition in support of Egyptians call for resignation of Mubarak!!! Today after news came (although very scanty…..Someone shared with us the news via satellite phone) we immediately began to sing and the entire arena was awash with praise to the people of Egypt, with all people from around the globe. It was moving to see that different people from all over the world were following the event in tahrir Square. Long live Egypt. Long live the Youths of Egypt. Personally I promise to one day visit the venue of history making.
    In Kenya we say this to you all *You are Unbwogable*
    Now you need to very vigilant on the army. Keep up the spirit.

  5. SALLAMA SHAKER says:

    EGYPT IS ITS YOUNG GENERATION. EGYPT AND THE EGYPTIAN PEOPLE MADE HISTORY. WE ARE WORTH OUR FREEDOM. THIS IS THE POWER OF OUR DIGNITY AND INDEED IT IS THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE WHO IS INSPIRING THE WORLD. SOLIDARITY AND UNITY AND THE DREAM OF A BETTER TOMORROW. THIS IS CREATING THE FUTURE ANBD WINNING IT. STAY YOUR COURSE AND ALL OUR DREAMS WILL COME TRUE.

  6. Lana says:

    Najuan … Sara … Thank you :)

  7. Fay from the United Kingdom says:

    What has happened in Egypt has happened for the whole world. The words peace and justice now have real meaning and for existing tyrannies their days are numbered. No longer can people excuse themselves by saying ‘there is nothing we can do’
    because the Egyptian and Tunisian people have shown us we can.

  8. Dr. Lee M. Yoder says:

    So nice to see Sarah Abdel Rahman active in Egypt! She was one of our students at Narmer American College when I was the Founding Superintendent of this new school. She was active in drama in the school program and now nice to see that she is studying at AUC. She is a leader who will make a difference in Egypt.

  9. DianeF says:

    What an insightful, brave young woman you are! So proud of our NAC alum!

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