[Prelude: Read my post for background information about what happened during the Egyptian Revolution.]
Saturday, January 29th – Evening
Amira was sandwiched between women to her right and men to her left. People flooded into Tahrir Square. The crowd condensed. The men and women clambered closer towards Amira. The young man standing on a fence to Amira’s right lead the chants. An Egyptian flag tied like a cape around his neck. His arms flew up in the air, beckoning God to answer their plea. The crowd roared and heaved after every statement he made.
Safwat Hegazy, a famous Egyptian TV commentator, popped up on someones shoulders. Everyone shifted their attention to him. Amira could only make out a few words. He was very passionate, his arms flailing and his facial expressions fierce and fiery. Amira roared, cheered and lost her voice with the crowd. Amira was sweating despite the cold February breeze. Amira could feel the heat pulsating from the bodies around her.
Safwat Hegazy finished his speech. He was engulfed into the crowd at the front. A minute later the crowd started to part. Large men pushed through the crowd to make room for Safwat Hegazy. The crowd pushed farther back towards Amira and the four girls beside her. They inched backwards bumping into a wall of bodies behind them. The crowd kept pushing back. Amira tripped. Amira’s body glued to the woman behind her. Amira tried to regain her balance. A hand appeared inches from her nose. Amira clasped the hand and regained her footing. She looked up at the young man who had helped her. Amira smiled. The young man smiled back.
Suddenly he flung forward almost crashing into Amira. Someone behind him had slammed into his back. The young man turns around and signals to the guy beside him to come closer. They stand shoulder to shoulder. Another five guys join them on either side. They form a wall. Amira stared in disbelief. The wall of men surrounds Amira and a few other girls with her. The men’s backs were to the girls, their shoulders and arms ward off the crowd’s violent shoves and pushes. The women were protected.
But of course the revolution wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies and happy people who just did the right thing. Like any other revolution and in any other country, there were the typical problems from harassment to hypocrites and spies.
“Don’t you dare! Keep your hands to yourself!” Amira hears a screech coming from behind her. Amira looks back to see a disheveled woman pointing and sneering at a man. The woman’s scarf was slipping off her head, her dark brown bangs creeping out from below. Amira looks at the accused man, his expression vacant.
“I didn’t do anything, I swear!” The man looks around. He shakes his head and hands wildly, his eyes wide and in shock. He wore a tight blue plaid shirt and faded jeans. His greasy hair was combed back. He looked to be in his thirties.
“Matestahbelsh! Ehna el etnein arfeen inta amalt eih!” (Who are you kidding? We both know exactly what you did!) The woman spat, her face a deep shade of red. People began to gather around. Two men interjected. They pull him back.
“Just go stand somewhere else.” One of the men told him. The man disappears into the crowd. Amira calms the woman down.
“This is disgusting! I thought the harassment and disrespect was behind us.” The girl huffed, fixing her scarf and looking in the direction the man walked off in.
“Ma’alesh (sorry), maybe it was an accident or something? It’s very crowded in here and we’re all bumping into each other…” Amira reasoned with the woman. Amira didn’t know what actually happened but this wasn’t the time nor place for a conflict or fight to arise. Prior to the revolution, women in Egypt put up with harassment on a daily basis. However, many women had expressed surprise at feeling safe and not being harassed at Tahrir Square.
Friday, February 4th – Evening
Amira needed to buy something from the Metro supermarket down the street. The roads were blocked off by several vigilante checkpoints dotted the street. These checkpoints emerged in response to Mubarak removing the police from the streets. Men of all ages left the safety and shelter of their houses to protect their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives.
Amira drove up to the first checkpoint, rolled her window down and was greeted by two young men in their twenties. The red piece of cloth tied around their arm made them look like a boy band. They held sticks in their hands.
“We’re really sorry about this, but we need to ask where are you going? And why?” One of the boys asked apologetically. They look familiar, Amira must have seen them around their neighborhood before.
“I just need to go to Metro? But I don’t even know if it’s open..” Amira asked.
“Oh okay! Hold on, let me check.” The guy nods and yells over his shoulder at a man walking between the checkpoint barricades.
“OMAR, IS METRO STILL OPEN?”
“AHMED! IS METRO STILL OPEN?” Omar yells over his shoulder. Amira hears a distant voice behind Omar yell something indiscernible. A minute later Omar yells “YES, IT’S OPEN UNTIL 12!”
Amira is only one woman out of the of hundreds that played an integral role in the revolution. Let us not forget Asmaa Mahfouz’s video. Many believe her strong and passionate words in the video were one of the main catalysts of the revolution. I myself wouldn’t have hesitated to take to the streets on January 25th had I not been in Egypt. I felt proud to be an Egyptian woman for the first time in a long time. I would go around my campus advertising that I was Egyptian because I wanted people to know those brave women were my sisters. It takes courage to stand up to ones government, but it takes even more courage to stand up to the patriarchal voices in society that tell you, you can’t do it, whether it’s joining the revolution or even becoming the president. Those voices were silenced during the revolution.