Author’s note: AlJazeera has a report that there are pro-Mubarak counter protests in Tahrir Square. The report stated they were in the area where my daughter is staying but I have yet to confirm that with her directly. But internet access is back up as of this morning so news will be pouring out.
A government blocks out the many and varied communication tools of 2011 to silence 85 million voices – the result? Over a million people converge on a square at the center of Cairo, an area just a bit larger than Times Square with hope and passion. (not to forget the millions more in other parts of the country)
One of my readers from yesterday commented “their ability to protest with all lines of communication severed is commendable. Shows when people want change nothing will stop them.” Besides being cut off from the rest of the world through modes of communication, their voices could have been silenced from many other sources. The economy has ground to a halt, there are gas shortages, ATM’s are rapidly running out of money, and food shortages in some areas.
But these actions, designed to silence and suppress, have just created more noise and my daughter described the mood yesterday at Tahrir Square as “the most optimistic yet”. As a show of solidarity she carried a placard written in Arabic: All the Foreigners in Egypt are with the People of Egypt – a statement appreciated for both the words and the spirit.We are finding it easier to get through by cell phone now and we are no longer talking the “E” word (Evacuation) I did have a moment of panic at work as I logged on to the US Embassy in Cairo and saw that all non-emergency personnel are being evacuated as of 2.1.11. The moment was squashed as I remembered her passion and heart.
By the time she left the square, a giant screen was set up broadcasting AlJazeera live offering people a distraction and a chance to see Mubarak when he addressed the country in the evening. She said “The mood of the crowd was a celebration, as if he was already gone”. And then, he spoke.
Videos taken show anger and dismay at Mubarak’s choice of words and the message underlying those words: “I will die on Egyptian soil”. Evidently the crowd heckled all through the speech,(think shoes shaken toward the screen – the height of insults in Egypt) frustration mounting.
Part of me is frustrated to tears with what I view as stubbornness on the part of an 82 year-old man but I have lived too long in that part of the world to see it as that simple. There is a complexity to this that involves shame and the idea that someone who has been in the highest office in the land for 30 years cannot and will not leave with his head low. Almost as if he needs a way to leave gracefully – the problem is, it is a bit late.
I can’t help but hear in the words he spoke, words that countered the millions of calls for change, the need to make sure that the last views on State television are pictures of a man with his head held high and not backing down, despite what all of Egypt is asking. A man who will not leave in shame. The concept of shame in the Middle East is not one that the west is familiar with but you don’t have to live long in the area to run across it. “Saving face” and guarding one’s reputation is paramount. Honor and shame are both bestowed by the community. And Egypt is a nation where community matters – that’s why the neighborhood watch has been so successful in keeping order.
Many would argue that the heckling crowds at Tahrir Square have no desire to give him a graceful exit , much less an honorable discharge, but I think there are those who could conceive of doing just that, if he were willing to resign. The notions of shame and honor are part of life in the Middle East and there is an implicit understanding of how these work in public and in private. The army as a group trusted by the people could serve as the voice for that process. But until there is a concession on the part of the key player, the words “Mish Aisinu, Mish Aisinu” (We don’t want you, We don’t want you)are the chant of the crowd. Maybe the last honor will be State Sponsored Television storing in their archives footage of a stubborn man articulating in flawless Arabic “I will die on Egyptian Soil”.
Take a look at these related posts:
- Update from Cairo: March of a Million
- A ‘Gathering of the People’
- From Protests to Lattes
- Chaos in Cairo and a Mother’s Heart
- Bukara Insh’allah
Authors note – Take a look at the links below. The first is a post written in response to the question “Where are the women” in the protests.The second is an excellent op-ed by David Brooks and the third is a refreshing perspective from an Egyptian Immigrant