“Soccer is a national passion. The only time Egyptians take to the streets in flag-waving celebration is when their team wins.”
– Journalist Michael Slackman in a New York Times article, November 2009
I was lucky enough to be at home in Egypt during the revolution. I was planning to come back to the USA on the 18th of January, but I forgot a document during my interview in the embassy, which delayed me for another 5 weeks during which all these events happened.
The author, Hossam El-Asrag, in Tahrir Square. El-Asrag is a PhD Student in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
I remember sitting with my father, staring at the TV with mixed emotions — surprise, excitement, fear, happiness and disbelief at what was really happening.
Things started to look serious on Friday the 28th, when all the police officers disappeared from the streets, and news broke that most of the prisoners had escaped and were out in the streets, and police properties and stations were burning. Until the end of this day, Mubarak had been completely silent and absent form the public scene. When he showed up on TV, he gave a very short speech, declaring that he had decided to have a vice president and change the government.
I looked into Mubarak’s face during the speech. He seemed tired, old and unorganized, but yet collected and showing at least that he is in control. But in my opinion, it was this speech that ignited the revolution — when the Egyptian people knew for sure that they could achieve what they want by being persistent and willing to pay the price of freedom.
Over the past thirty years, the people of Egypt have continuously asked for a vice president by all means available to them, and Mubarak refused to even talk about it. Then in 3 days, he just decided to do it. From that day on, all Egyptians knew that it was time to change and fix it once and for all. Eleven days later Mubarak stepped down and the Army took control.
The revolutionary wave showed the real essence of Egyptians. When the prisons was open wide and the police disappeared, nearly all the Egyptian youth and middle-aged people came together in self-defense, in organized groups to protect the streets and the homes. This act that showed a highly modern and civilized behavior of these people. During this time not a single sectarian act was committed, the churches were safe, and people seem to depend solely on themselves and on their confidence in one another.
Last year Michael Slackman of the New York Times published an article that described Egyptians as a people who only knew how to protest for two things: bread and soccer. When I read the article I felt a rage inside me at how wrong he was. I sent Michael an email telling him that he was wrong, that Egyptians knew politics and knew how to protest for their rights, and that we had three revolutions in our modern history already. He replied to my email with this:
“…And if you read the story — in fact if you read all of the stories and the academic reports — you will see that the protests are all about money, not politics, but pocket book issues. That is exactly what I reported. Bread and soccer.”
Time passed and the revolution broke out, proving how wrong not only Michael Slackman was, but also the majority of western media, and all the people who described the Egyptian character as politically inactive. They ignored the fact the Egypt had the first known organized government in history.
Last year I was talking to a professor at MIT in the Math Department, and surprisingly he mentioned the Egyptian army. He told me that the army was on the side of Mubarak, and that was why he was protected. I told him that he was wrong, that the Army stands only beside the Egyptian people. Again, time proved how right my confidence was in our blessed Army.
Before I returned to the United States, I felt that the young people had real determination to continue what they started. They kept protesting every Friday, expressing their political requests for reformation. The Army responded by putting most of the corruption figures in jail and changed the government that Mubarak had recently chosen, before he stepped down.
The reformation is still in progress and it will take time. I think that in the next couple of years, the rate of success will depend on some sacrifices from the Egyptians and possibly hard times until the economy is built up again on strong foundations. Time might not be on our side, but the braveness and persistence of the Egyptian people will be the real key for a new democratic era that is full of justice and prosperity.
Hossam El-Asrag, a PhD Student in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was at home in Egypt during the revolution.