Saying “We tried almost everything and yet nothing worked!” and running away from the heartbreaks and losses is much easier than walking through each experience trying to learn objectively from it. This article is my attempt to stop running away from the past years hoping that I have the strength now to learn from them. This isn’t a history documentation or a comprehensive report, these are my thoughts on actions, campaigns and movements that I took part in directly or indirectly from 2011 till mid-2014.
After Mubarak was thrown out in Feb 2011, tens of movements and campaigns rose up to work on achieving the objectives of the Egyptian revolution “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice”. They all tried through different tools and styles, their audience and messages varied across years as a reaction to the ongoing changes that we faced as individuals taking part in the revolution and as a country. Campaigns and movements targeted mainly three society categories, people that didn’t take part in the revolution but also didn’t support Mubarak’s regime were the first category. Proactive supporters of the revolution who were taking part in political decisions and individuals and families who were impacted by the military or police brutalities formed the other two categories.
For the first category, “Silent Majority”, many awareness campaigns were initiated to reach people in many poor or rural areas to help them understand politics basics! The main topics that any campaign tackled were what is a constitution and why it is important, what do we want the president and the parliament that we’ll elect to do and how we need to be proactive and take part in decisions that will shape our future. Activists tried to reach people through different ways as mingling with them in cafes, passing through gatherings or homes if activists were part of the same community and they even tried just creative graffiti and motivational quotes. This type of campaigns took place during the romantic phase that we passed through the first months after Mubarak’s removal which unfortunately ended so quickly!
When protesters started to get attacked brutally by the army and police forces a campaign went viral that was calling out the lies of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The campaign depended on presenting videos or pictures in streets and universities using pieces of cloth and projectors. They showed the forces killing unarmed protesters and SCAF representatives saying that nothing happened or twisting facts about their plans for a peaceful transition of the country’s leadership. The campaign was subjected to violence mainly from people who supported the army, they were blinded by the fear monger that media was feeding which got them agitated by the campaign’s name “Askar Kazeboon” (Lying Military). And after all, it was too hard for people to believe that army soldiers whom they looked up to as if they were saints and reason of their safety can do terrible atrocities as grabbing a woman from her dress, taking it off and kicking her breasts! This category was usually targeted before elections, however, most successful campaigns in impacting them were initially Muslim Brotherhood party’s campaigns and later on were the campaigns backed by SCAF.
For the second category “Proactive Supporters”, activists created tens of political parties, movements and initiatives to build bridges between them and direct their energy towards more organized actions and stands. During the sit-in that took place before Mubarak’s removal, a group of millennials, each is from a different movement/party, gathered and initiated a coalition to serve mainly as a network. The coalition worked on a road map for the transition phase, they stated several goals, some of them were achieved with the support of riots that backed these goals. Many coalitions were formed on different levels such as university students and blue collar workers for general and more specific objectives that affected them directly. New parties were everywhere that I started to get confused with their names, only around three of them were popular and close to the revolution’s supporters.
One of the revolution’s gains was that it raised its supporters’ sense of ownership and responsibility. People started to stop accepting corruption and mediocrity that were ruling the country and wanted to see change. From these supporters, came most of the initiatives that targeted engaging communities with decision makers and parliament members in their areas to hold parliament and municipalities accountable. Initiatives started to analyze infrastructure issues that they were facing within their neighborhoods and addressed them directly to their areas policy makers. Communities engagement activists expanded their approach, some of these individuals were assigned to official positions while others provided counseling service to different ministries. Persistent groups and individuals were able to have many success stories that continued till around early 2013 when they started fading out.
The third category was where all the passion and empathy, facing the inhumane attacks of military and police forces and helping individuals and families subjected to it. This included political prisoners, families of martyrs or prisoners and activists themselves as a group taking part in the revolution’s phases. Sitting-in, standing, marching and any form of organized and unorganized protests were their main actions to push for their demands, however, this wasn’t their only tool. When activists, who were part of the great revolution whose martyrs were saluted by the army, started to be prosecuted in military courts and girls were subjected to the humiliation of virginity tests, another campaign went viral that was calling for putting an end to military trials. Many of the campaign’s members were lawyers, this helped them speak out against these trials from the legal and constitutional perspectives. The campaign also followed prisoners’ stories and names to encourage supporters’ to perceive their cases with empathy rather than just numbers.
Activists in this group used graffiti all the time, it was a media platform for attacks documentation, revolution’s demands and was one of the strongest tools of sarcasm. My favorite ones were by a group of artists on concrete blocks placed by the army to block certain streets, they drew the other side of the street on the blocks and called their drawings “there are no walls”. Many other events/campaigns took place to provide legal and subsistence aid, psychological support, training and mentorship. One of these campaigns collected books wishlists of political prisoners and got them the books through donors, many of these donors wrote them dedications in books to show solidarity. Most of the campaigns were short termed and didn’t reach a clear closure, usually ended as a reaction to sudden changes in the political scene or tragic attacks on sit-ins and protests that involved campaigns’ members or acquaintances from their circles.
Campaigns, movements and protests that I highlighted for each category shared common characteristics and pitfalls. It wasn’t a coincidence though; they were all initiated by almost the same group of people!
- Most people who were engaged in the revolution were part of several campaigns or movements across the three previous categories depending on priorities that kept on changing across time. So basically almost each movement/campaign could easily reach other groups through its own leaders or members, this pattern which might seem a great thing happened to be a curse later. From my personal experience, I was always over-occupied and got lost with priorities several times which I didn’t notice back then. Now, I believe if each of us kept on focusing on one category or a specific action it would have been more efficient and less hectic.
- Although we were from different backgrounds and ideologies, we became very predictable even by ourselves to the extent that you could find sarcastic posts from activists mocking the actions they’re expecting they’ll take. This pitfall might be dependent to the previous one or to a lack of maturity that got us exposed when we started facing more attacks and betrayals. Over time, we lost our position as initiators and became sucked in reacting to either attacks, agitating statements or side debates. Several attempts were done to break this pattern, one of them was calling for an alternative leadership for the country other than Mubarak’s regime, SCAF or Muslim brotherhood party. However, most of these attempts weren’t developed enough to create the change they were aiming to.
- At the start of any revolution, people are united against a dictatorship, once this dictatorship falls or gets shaken, divisiveness replaces this unity and different flags replaces the one demand signs. Egypt wasn’t any different, I don’t mind that everyone gets enthusiastic to his or her ideology and raises its flag as long as each one will focus on the main goal but unfortunately this didn’t happen. We were facing our own divisiveness and our terrible education system outcome that didn’t prepare us to perform fruitful and professional communications. I remember how much I used to hate attending meetings that gathered representatives from different groups, any meeting that didn’t have someone that’s respected from everybody and really good with conflict resolution was a waste of time.
- Non of us had a media platform that could face the fear monger of mainstream media. Mubarak’s regime and SCAF have always been the media directors and businessmen funded these directions. After the revolution, media had to present some of the millennials who took part in the revolution but this started decreasing and replaced by a new list of accusations to anyone who opposes SCAF’s policies. Any attack on any sit-in became blamed on supporters rather than SCAF and in such cases, the media’s audience preferred to blame the victims since it’s easier than feeling threatened or forced to take action. Having no alternative media other than social media that isn’t accessible to everyone, people started blaming the revolution for any real or fake signs of instability.
- Since most of us were new to politics, we didn’t have a previous political platform or achievements that can get us majorities in parliament elections. From some parties and coalitions, a unified list of nominees were chosen for the parliament elections in 2011 under “the revolution is ongoing” slogan, awareness campaigns were encouraging people to vote for when feasible as the list didn’t have enough members to cover all areas. From my perspective, there were adequate activists that could have applied for more seats or fit for more government positions but many of them preferred to stay in their frames for different reasons.
- After tens of attacks, hundreds of lost friends and family members, tens of thousands imprisoned and countless betrayals from ones who we were considering our leaders and even mentors, we lost hope gradually! Change can’t be achieved without hope, we had courage, persistence, energy but it became almost impossible to believe that we can reach change now or anytime soon. We started realizing how small our impact have become, lost our connections with the majority of people then lost connections between each other, islands were increasing. After the coup that took place in mid-2013, almost all these groups stopped their work except for few that continued their activities on a smaller scale and under higher risks and constraints.
Malcolm X once said, “There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.” It’s too hard to live these words especially when you feel somewhat responsible for the adversities you and others are going through, I hope that I succeed in this attempt.