A Young Revolutionary Meets an ‘Honorable Citizen’ in Cairo

One of Egypt’s “honorable citizens” was sitting in the coffee shop after sunset prayers. He was puffing away on his water pipe and sipping mint tea. A young man in jeans and a Palestinian keffiyeh approached. The young man smiled and handed him a leaflet, “I invite you to come to a peaceful demonstration on January 25th, to fulfil the objectives of the revolution.”

The honorable citizen threw the leaflet on the table, “Shame on you. There’s enough trouble already. What do you want? Tourism’s come to a standstill. Production’s stopped. You’ve wrecked the country.”

The young man smiled—he was used to such accusations. “Instead of insulting me, perhaps we can have a quiet discussion?”

“Okay, but I want to tell you something. I won’t allow you to insult the Egyptian army, the best soldiers on the face of the earth.”

“The Egyptian army belongs to the people. Every household in Egypt has an army officer or soldier. My uncle’s an officer and so is my cousin. I love and respect the army as much as you do. But I object to the decisions taken by the military council.”

The honorable citizen shrugged, “Are you stupid? The military council is the army command. If you object to it, you’re disrespecting the army.”

“I’m not disrespecting it; the military council is performing the functions of the head of state, so I have the right to object to its political performance.”

“And that’s all you’re good at—big talk that no one understands.”

“Sir,” the young man said quietly, “suppose you had a toothache and you went to a dentist who also happened to be an army officer. If the dentist broke your tooth, wouldn’t you have the right to go to another dentist?”

“Of course.”

“When you leave the first dentist, would you be disrespecting the army?”

“Of course not, but what does the army have to do with my teeth?”

“That’s exactly your logic. We object to the political role of the military council, not to the army itself.”

The honorable citizen took a deep puff from the water pipe, “But what do you want, young man? Hasn’t Hosni Mubarak been deposed and put on trial?”

“Deposing Mubarak alone won’t bring about change. Changing the system itself is more important than Mubarak. The aim of the revolution is to make our country decent and ensure that Egyptians have rights and some dignity.”

“And that hasn’t happened yet?”

“The regime is just as it was. Nothing has changed. The senior police officers are the same. None of those who killed demonstrators have gone on trial so far. The judges who rigged elections in Mubarak’s time are still in their jobs. State Security is the same.”

“But change can come gradually.”

“It’s been a year now and there hasn’t been any change.”

“Okay, but didn’t we elect parliament to speak in our name?”

“The parliamentary elections weren’t rigged, but they weren’t fair either.”

“Why not?”

“Many reasons. The constitutional declaration says that there can be no political activity on the basis of religion. Are the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists religious parties or not?”

“Of course they’re religious parties. Why else would we have voted for them? Because they’re honest and people of God.”

“The military council violated the constitutional declaration that it made. It allied with these parties and gave them the opportunity to commit every kind of irregularity in the elections without doing anything to stop them.”

“You mean the Brotherhood wouldn’t have won?”

“Of course the Brotherhood would have done well because they’re popular. But the elections were made so that the Brotherhood and the Salafists would win the majority.”

“Look. You really are too much. Nothing’s good enough for you. What should we do with the parliament? Boycott it too?”

“For Egypt’s sake, we’ll have to cooperate with the next parliament because despite the irregularities, it is the only elected body.”

The honorable citizen looked at the young man in disbelief. “Good,” he said, “then why do you want to have a demonstration on January 25th?”

“Parliament’s no guarantee. It was set up against a background of agreements and deals. Parliament might press the objectives of the revolution, or it might take the military council’s side against us. That’s why millions of people have to come out in peaceful demonstrations on January 25th to show they insist on carrying out the aims of the revolution.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We have to show we’re committed to the aims of the revolution.”

The honorable citizen smiled, “Apologies, young man. We got carried away and I forgot to ask you what you’d like to drink.”

The young man looked grateful and asked for a cup of Turkish coffee with medium sugar. The honorable citizen said, “Please don’t imagine I’m with the old regime! My God no, I’m for the revolution.”

“So why don’t you want to defend it?”

“I’m worried about the country going to pieces, worried it will become like Somalia. I mean, do you like the way the country is now? Thuggery, rudeness, chaos, recession, and everything at a standstill.”

“But in Mubarak’s time Egypt was in decline. People used to die in queues for bread and cooking gas. I’m sure you remember. Besides, the revolution hasn’t been in charge for a single day. The only ones responsible for the country’s decline are the military council, which has been ruling the country. If it had carried out the aims of the revolution and truly changed the regime, the country wouldn’t be in such a state.”

“How so?”

“Suppose you’re a State Security officer and for twenty years you’ve been torturing and abusing people. Suppose you’re some senior official and a thief. Would it be in your interest for change to take place and for a decent government to come in and put you on trial for your crimes, or would it be in your interest to cause chaos?”

“Of course, it would be in my interest to set the country on fire.”

“The reason for all these problems is that the military council has preserved the Mubarak regime.”

The honorable citizen started to look uncertain. In a low voice, as if speaking to himself, he said, “My God, boy, I no longer know where the truth lies. When I watch television, I’m sure the revolutionaries are saboteurs and criminals, but what you say makes sense.” He waited a moment, then said, “I have a slightly embarrassing question.”

“Go ahead.”

“Is it true you get funding from America?”

The young man burst out laughing and said, “If we had funding, do you think I’d be in this state? I was a computer engineer. After the revolution my company closed down. Now I get an allowance from my family until I find another job. Thank God I’m not married and I don’t have many expenses.”

“So what’s all this about funding?”

“There are organizations that get funding from abroad but the funding is legal and with the government’s knowledge.”

“How can patriotic people take money from foreigners?”

“You’re right. I’m against funding as a matter of principle. I want you to know that all the young people who made the revolution are against funding too and haven’t taken a single dollar.”

“Now you’re talking straight.”

“People have the right to know where funding comes from for any organization working in Egypt. And the military council has the right to investigate and make it public.”

“Now you’ve seen the light. Finally you’ve agreed with something the military council has done.”

“Of course the military council has the right to monitor the funding of non-government organizations, but unfortunately it never monitors funding for the Brotherhood or the Salafists.”

“What do you mean? The Brotherhood and those Salafists have amazing amounts of money. They came here, giving away all kinds of things—cooking oil, sugar, gas cylinders, cloth, meat.”

“But don’t we have a right to know where they got all that money from?”

“What’s to be done now? The country’s split in half, you on one side and the military council on the other.”

“We’re determined to carry out the objectives of the revolution, and the first objective is the trials.”

“Trying who?”

“Do you have any children, sir?”

“I have Shayma at secondary school and Walid in middle school.”

“Did anyone ever try to pester Sahyma?”

“It happened once and I went down and gave the guy a beating.”

“Why did you hit him?”

“If anyone comes near my kids, I’ll bite his head off.”

The young man opened his bag and showed a collection of photographs to the honorable citizen, who looked shocked. “What on earth! My God! How could that happen?”

“These are some of the pictures of the women who were dragged along the ground and abused by the police and the army. That’s apart from the people who were killed or lost their eyes. Haven’t you seen these pictures before?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t read the newspapers and these pictures weren’t on television.”

“When the families of those killed and injured call for trials against those who killed their children, do you think they’re in the wrong?”

“They have a right.”

“And when the people who did the acts are under orders from the military council, should the investigation be by an impartial body chaired by an independent judge?”

“That would be fair.”

“Take this CD and have your daughter play the video for you; then you’ll know why we’re calling for the trial of those who killed the young people and abused our sisters.”

The man took the CD and put it carefully in the pocket of his galabia. Then the young man stood up and said, “Thanks for the coffee, sir.”

“It’s me who should be thanking you.”

“You might come out with us on January 25th?"

“I’ll be there with you, God willing.”


Photo Credit: Floris Van Cauwelaert

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