Monday, April 4, 2011

SandTurtle -- Expats' right to vote

The speed at which Sandmonkey makes his leaps intimidates me… Not because he’s so young and politically active. But because, like many post-revo activists.. he’s too quick to create blueprints and the leader-hungry Egyptians are fast to follow in total devotion. That’s what I call counter-revolutionary! When we start following a herd mentality and stop thinking for ourselves.

Maybe I should branch out of my blog and give my political doppelganger the name Sandturtle.. for I, for one, sure take my time to digest what is going on the Egyptian political landscape. And I like to stop and graze at every little minute detail till I fully appreciate it.. No wonder I’m miles behind on his tracks!

So we didn’t vote in the referendum.. when I did the math (can’t even recall how I did it), I figured my NO vote wouldn’t have tilted the balance in my favor even if it was loaded with 8 million expatriate NOs. Mainly because we have already made a few wrong leaps: 1- all expats would have voted.. 2- they would have unanimously voted NO.. 3-their new found Egyptomania is really founded on what’s best for Egypt not for their personal interests as dual nationals and Egypt’s foreign policy.
But that’s a different issue… for a future blog post!

We were simply defeated in the first round, but who’s counting? we went down face first but we’re up again , before the guy with the whistle counted to ten and raised the MB’s hand in victory. I know I’m up again and I’m more focused and steady on my ground.

Too bad I’m standing on the wrong side of the ocean.. and unless I take the plunge and fly to Cairo every time the Military Council holds an election, I’m afraid I have no chance of getting even the tip of my toes wet..

But I don’t just want to wiggle my toes in the wet political sands. I don’t want to sit and gaze at the shifting tides of Egypt.. I want to get soaked in its politics and I want to feel the waves of campaigns, grassroots movements, political education efforts and galvanizing forces leading to our first ever presidential elections!
I want to be part of it without having to drop 3 kids and fly 12 hours to go cast a vote. I want to put my long years of communication work to spread voter awareness and mobilize expat voices here in New York.

How hard can it be?..

Last I checked, we were over 300 thousand Egyptians registered in the Egyptian Consulate here.. I have to update the numbers.. And if we started here.. it will go viral.. do I dare ask how many we are across the US?

Just imagine,,, running an elections-campaign for the first Egyptian president.. But here in New York, for New York based voters. And another for Chicago voters.. How about LA voters, any takers? And we won’t have to either be Red or Blue? We’ll have a real democracy with real choices and too many hues to choose from.

Obama said it.. he wants American youth to learn from our example. Wouldn’t be fun to teach American youth how to build a truly functional democracy on their own turf?
Now that’s an idea… if only we expats could vote…

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Revolutionary Egyptian In New York

I was really hesitant to blog about politics… First, I didn’t want to get arrested at the airport and be subjected to body search and electrocution. But really, what stopped me is FEAR of RIDICULE. Simple and clear!

I thought and still think we’re all political amateurs; brought together to share a game but we barely know its rules. We know we broke its old rules. We know those didn’t work well for us and the game was neither just, nor fun in the end. We know the old rules discouraged many and left us all quite ignorant and apathetic. And we know we have just created a chance to make up our own rules. The only problem is…. We’re too many, and we’re too loud and we’re still too ignorant. But very few concede!

The thing is.. I need to be 10 years younger to really break into this virtual world and mould it to my will. But I have the leverage of having a foot in each generation.

I’m a revolutionary girl at heart and when people say, it’s the youth revolution, I nod my head in agreement. In my mind, I’m included!

But I’m also a mother.. This alone, empowers me and gives me the credibility no teen-ager can amass. You see… just by virtue of being a mom, I have to think selflessly. I want the best for my kids. I want freedom, justice, a good living standard, education.. most of all, I want hope!

But I’m also young enough, to want all that for ME!.. I want to breathe Freedom, to speak Honesty, to work Justice. And I want to reap the ROI in my lifetime…
I leave the big problems of democracy and autocracy and technocracy and all this revolution lingo that I can barely understand, to the experts and I tackle the issues that concern me directly.. namely EXPATS' RIGHT TO VOTE.

Two months into the revolution, I think it’s time to write about the things that will change the course of my life..

When I went back to Cairo to protest, I went looking for my voice.. Luckily I found it in Tahrir Square… I wasn’t sure I had much to say but I chanted and screamed anyway. I was happy with my new-found power.

Today, I’m not searching for a voice any longer, I’m searching for something to say. I got my voice back.. the question is: what do I do with it?

My options are clear:
- I can spend hours furiously debating with my virtual friends on FB and Twitter and Skype.. But as the March 19th referendum has shown: my virtual community accounts for less than a third of the Egyptian population. Besides, they’re already sold to my ideologies and judging by the fact that I still can’t vote from afar… we don’t have much leverage when it comes to influencing public opinion.

- I can join a party and start rallying for support. I don’t mind especially that one specific party has already lured me in with its liberal ideology and very charismatic leaders. But will that be an effective utilization of my skills and resources? Especially that I don’t live in Egypt?

- I can launch a campaign to allow expats to vote. Now that’s a start…

If I could gather a group of friends, living in and around New York City..

If I could brainstorm with them on messages we want to send out, what would we say?

- We are Egyptian
- We have a voice
- We want to vote because.. We can… and We should
- It’s not just our right… it’s our responsibility.. it’s the price we pay for democracy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Egyptian Women living abroad. The Revolution and Tahrir Square

We Are Egypt Too!

Experiencing the Tahrir Square uprising from Afar – the Expat turmoil

Chronicles of a Virtual Egyptian Revolution

Monday morning in Westchester New York, my friend calls me from Cairo and tells me: Hey, we’re having another demonstration tomorrow. Why: I ask him. People are high on the Tunisian revolution and they want to ride the wave. Cool, I say. Yes, he answers, looks like it will be big this time.. They always are! I tell him.

Monday evening my sister tells me: we have the day off tomorrow. Why? I ask her. It’s the Police forces day. I can’t help but laugh. Is this a joke? I ask her. Of all the forces we have and the police celebrate their..what? corruption? Terrorizing techniques? Bullying?. No, she says, but I think they’re also watching the demos closely tomorrow, I think it will be big this time. Yes of course, haven’t we seen it all? I remind her.

Apparently NOT.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

My sister calls and says she heard it was a huge demonstration. Did he respond? I ask her. No, she says.. Oh well! So how was your day off?

Meanwhile in Tahrir, my cousin was tear-gassed and interrogated and crowds were dispersed. Egyptians didn’t know, local media showing turmoil unfolding elsewhere in Lebanon and Tunisia.

Wednesday - Thursday 26, 27 January 2011

My sister says they won’t leave the square. What are they asking for? I ask her. They want him out. I smile. They want freedom. My smile widens. They want the whole system to come undone. Now I was laughing.. Wishful thinking, I say.

Later on Thursday she calls and says she passed by the square earlier and it was empty. She also saw police forces marching towards it. Best traffic today, she says.

The First Friday, “Friday of a Million Man March”

4:00 am New York time, I wake up, fiddle with my remote control to find CNN and BBC. I log on and connect to Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera. I upload the guardian’s minute by minute blog updates and its Arabic equivalent from Al Shorouq. I look for my sister on Skype and she pops up and says: ten more minutes.

I connect to Facebook and wait… a wait that would soon become a daily ritual for the two weeks that followed.

From New York to Tahrir Square

Two weeks later and on a flight to Cairo, I put my pen down and close my diary. I was too scared to bring in any cameras or laptops after the horrors some journalists friends have seen. The airport was empty but for our small group which boarded in Munich.

Hours earlier I was still glued to all my visual gadgets collecting news, aggregating facts and posting them on my Facebook wall. I have developed a growing following; mostly expats who have come to rely on my updates and the accuracy of their content. For days, I lived only on my Wall. My kids had learnt to avoid me. Living on boiled Pasta and endless hours on Wii, they had accepted the standstill that had gripped my home since that first Friday.

“I’m proud of you,” my son said to me one morning. “I know you’re keeping people informed about what is happening in Cairo and I know this is a very important job.”

It was all coincidental. Rumors were circulating faster than air. Egypt was off the virtual map and many had to rely on slivers of information passed on. I was lucky.. I had contact with two people who still had access to the Internet. I started posting updates through their eyes. It wasn’t enough, their own knowledge was quite limited to disillusioned local television and I started devouring international media coverage, checking sources and only posting what I found credible as news.

I only realized the impact of my endeavor when I disappeared for two hours, and came back to a number of frantic queries. Where are you? What happened? Are you ok? Were the messages pasted on my Facebook wall from many expats with whom a strange and very solid bond was forged.

By the time Egypt came back online, we were quite informed, naturally emotionally involved and very tired. It came as a shock when friends back home started to virtually shoot at us. We were losers either way. Those of us who supported the revolution were deemed irresponsible and careless. Those who were skeptical were accused of being no patriots. Since my self- imposed mission was to deliver updates, I suffered the least. But it got me furious and curious. I wondered how true my virtual experience was to what was unfolding on the ground.

Photo by Akram Reda.

The trip was hatched, planned and booked in less than two hours. While transiting in Munich, my worry over three small toddlers back in New York was overshadowing any revolutionary excitement I might have developed in recent days. But when I landed in the Square, I was finally home and all my worries simply faded away.

Arriving on that last Thursday In Mubarak’s reign I went straight to the Square. I wanted to see for myself. I wanted to lend my voice to those of the million protestors camping there. It didn’t matter if I were a late bloomer or if believed from the start. In the Square no one questioned your motives. Everyone appreciated your presence.

We entered from the Falaki entrance (named after a famous building cornering that street), and after six or seven personal and ID checks, I was allowed inside the Square. I was prepared for the waves of humans that hit me. After all, the scene was already imprinted on my mind from the various media I had been watching. But the energy that engulfed me when I heard the first chants was surreal. I let myself go with the flow; chanting at times, raising my hands in solidarity, swaying to the rhythms of music on a stage nearby and laughing at the occasional printed jokes hanging on tent walls. At that moment I knew. I was right to come back. My kids would be fine for four days, but my life would be forever changed after.

On the first night in Tahrir Square, Mubarak made his third speech insisting he would remain in power. I was sure the crowds would turn violent and judging by my own anger, I couldn’t blame them. Once again, I was wrong! I went home and watched the scene I had left moments earlier just as crowds insisted in one single voice: He leaves. We won’t!

That first night at the square I found my voice. The next morning, I made sure it was heard.

The last Friday.. The Friday of Departure

Right after Friday prayers we headed to the Square and this time, I decided to leave the chanting crowds and go meet the dwellers of the campsite. I sat next to a Poet from Damietta. He was bare foot and quite modest in his manners, but his thoughts were a goldmine.

He showed me his red leather book where he keeps his hopeful rhymes. “This is my Agenda,” he asserted. “This is what they call foreign plots and conspiracy plans.”
His words were so poignant, his politics so clear that he put my humble political savviness to shame. I listened.

A fellow musician took his words and started chanting, we all followed in chorus.
Every hour a young man with a cell phone to his ear would come and announce updates from other manifestations elsewhere.

“They arrived to the presidential palace in peace,” was his last announcement. “And the army is distributing water and food.”

Cries of relief and cheers reverberated through the plastic covers of our shabby tent. So the army was still on board. Rumors of army attacks were finally put to rest. Only then did I realize how worried I was all morning!

As slogans were crafted, and jokes were circulated, I could see the mix of hopelessness and resilience playing on every face. He won’t bulge, that part was clear. I was more hopeless than many and I felt that nothing short of a miracle was needed to break this stalemate!

Once more, I was proven wrong!

Hours later, Mubarak stepped down. The Square came alive with a new, earth shaking strength, and fireworks (though normally banned) cracked on top of our heads.

I wasn’t chanting anymore. I was screaming at the top of my lungs: “Raise your head up high… you’re Egyptian!”

We did it. I did it. I made it to the Square, I added to the numbers. I helped keep it peaceful and civilized and I connected with at least 2 million Egyptians on that Square in a way I would have never dreamed possible.

Watching from afar you can only watch and react to the scenes unfolding before you. You worry and you fear. You hear gun shots echoing too close while talking on the phone with Egypt. You follow the progress of thousands of prisoners as they close in on your neighborhood and your family home. You wake up in the middle of the night to keep the civilian vigilante, who happens to be your young nephew, company as he protects your family from armed thugs and criminals. You see tanks piling up around the Square but you can’t see your friends and relatives who are camped inside.

But when you step inside the Square, you don’t hear or see any of that. You only see a sea of Egyptians from all walks of life, gathered for the simplest and most noble human right: freedom.

Two weeks watching from afar in terror and complete paralysis. Only in Tahrir Square did I finally feel safe and free.