The New Cairo District of the Egyptian metropolis was my refuge from my fast-paced and routine life in the United States. Nothing matched the feeling of being in the midst of aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, while the iconic songstress Um Kalthoum’s songs played in the background. However, Cairo – my escape from my reality – was a stifling and suffocating reality for those that called it home. Although I was always aware of the government’s implementation of emergency law, the emaciated civil rights regime, and the culture of fear repressing every Egyptian, the events of January 25, 2011 highlighted – in a most explosive fashion – that the status quo was not a government for the people.
For more than two years, Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with tweets and updates about a planned “revolution.” I casually followed the pages of Egyptian students and young professionals who organized from afar, but brushed aside the idea that their social (or political) networking would ultimately manifest into the images we view today on the CBC, CNN, or Al-Jazeera. I marveled at the mobilizing power of the very Internet portals we used for merely social purposes or entertainment. However, after closer scrutiny of the intolerance for dissent on the ground in my native Egypt, resolved that virtual platforms like Twitter and Facebook offered the only forums for free speech and association in the entire country. Therefore, since students could not meet in cafes or public parks to discuss their political strategies, they took to cyberspace. This, more than any other characteristic of the popular revolution in Egypt, reflects the youth-oriented, secular, and innovative spirit of the movement.
The January 25th rallies throughout Egypt swelled with no trace of foreshadowing. The image of throngs of Egyptians galvanized in city and village squares and streets was surreal, principally because Hosni Mubarak and his three-decade long stranglehold on power was a lifelong fixture I thought would never end. Mubarak, a dictator of the purest order, debilitated the Egyptian people by extending no modicum of liberty, pervasive poverty (the average Egyptians lives on roughly two dollars per day), and a political monopoly presided over by his National Democratic Party. In addition, Egypt was a staunch ally of the United States, and the Mubarak regime received roughly $1.5 Billion per annum in military aid. However, in spite of these obstacles, the Egyptian people were sowing the seminal seeds of democracy that very afternoon – and perhaps, more importantly, confronting the very culture of fear that, for too long, preempted any viable call for democracy. “Could the regime change, and Mubarak be deposed, by an indigenous, popular revolt?” I thought. I was heartened by the events of the 25th, but became a full-fledged believer when more than two-million Egyptians came together in Tahrir Square on January 28, and embodied the secular and integrated democracy that could one day be manifested in the Egyptian government. When or whether the government would change was of secondary importance, because an underlying revolution of the Egyptian psyche was in full swing, as articulated by one of the protestors, “It does not matter if government will change, because today, we have changed.”
I leveraged my advocacy and leadership skills to generate consciousness, mobilize supporters, and influenced our elected officials in the United States. Along with fellow Egyptian American, and Georgetown Law graduate, George Naggiar, and established Free Egypt Now (www.freeegyptnow.org), which has overtaken my life in reflection of how the revolution has subsumed my countrymen in Egypt. I felt empowered yet fearful, optimistic but concerned. However, one salient realization emerged from the competing set of emotions – the efforts in Egypt, and our friends in Tunisia, commenced a revolution of perception toward Arabs and the Arab Diaspora. I opened up my MacBook Pro, and typed:
We are not your terrorists – we are revolutionaries. Children of modest means who circulate in squares, chanting in unison for a dream deferred. Youth marching in concert, a human spectrum vibrant with hues of poor and rich, Muslim and Christian, man and woman.
We are not your terrorists – we are revolutionaries. Mothers yearning for their rights while their sons burn, and ignite, a rebellion of jasmine felt beyond their sight. Christians standing as Mosque sentries assuring prayers’ not harmed, and denying evil an entry.
We are not your terrorists – we are revolutionaries. Waving banners of dignity and our flags of hope. Dodging stones of oppression, bullets coated with fear, while dangers still looms, our freedom is near.
We are not your terrorists – we are revolutionaries. A Diaspora of dreamers, my liberty your efforts will earn. You lived vicariously through me, today it is my turn.
We are not your terrorists – we are democracy.
Following the example of the Egyptian youth who orchestrated the movement for democracy from behind their computers, I Tweeted and Facebooked my piece, and decided to take my tomorrow into my own hands, and help in the creation of a new Dawn (www.facebook.com/arabdawn) of democracy in the Arab World.
KHALED BEYDOUN, founder of Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN), can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org