85 Million Silenced Voices Make Some Noise

Annie and I – Al Azhar Park, Cairo, Egypt March 2010

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 ArabicAll 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:

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

Beside Boys on the Street: Women and the Egyptian Protests

Quest for Dignity

An Insider Analysis

15 thoughts on “85 Million Silenced Voices Make Some Noise

  1. Marilyn, you have widened both my heart and my vision. As I read news columns, I feel more able to assess what is said because of what you’ve shared with me. I appreciated Friedman’s column in today’s NY Times and wonder what you thought of it . . . he hopes the people of Egypt will prevail! Your Annie, and the people of Egypt, are all in my heartfelt prayers. PS What a time for me to be reading “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit,” which I so love . . . it has made me yearn to visit Cairo! Love, Cath


    1. Cath – Thanks so much for reading and for the comment. I need to catch up with Friedman’s column. Got a great and articulate update from Annie today that I’ll be sharing in blog format. And so glad you love “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit”. It is such a poignant picture of the immigrant experience.


  2. I am encouraged by your Mum’s reminder that God is sovereign. It is amazing to reflect on how Egypt featured so significantly in Scripture and to realise anew that He has a plan for the nations.

    In the meanwhile your courageous daughter is in my prayers (also her Mum)


    1. When we were in Egypt Cliff taught a class at our church on Egypt and I have been reminded of that – and just as you said, the significance of Egypt in history both past and present. Thanks for reading!


    1. Thanks so much for the vote of confidence! I look forward to looking at your site and linking back to it so people can see. Also be sure to check back in today. I have some amazing pictures from a journalist friend and a photojournalist who I knew when she was a little girl – she and my daughter are friends. The contrast between the pictures from the March of a million and yesterday could not be more profound. Thanks again for reading and commenting.


  3. Marilyn, thank you so much for your your ongoing reflections and insight. It`s so difficult to get a sense of the whole through most media coverage. Your experience and your own pondering are so helpful. Prayers continue that the voice of the people will be heard, and that Annie will stay safe. From one Mama to another….


    1. Thanks Isabella – I feel now that yesterday was the calm before the storm and am praying deeply for Egypt. Have recommended your blog to a few friends. I really like it – it feels almost like a daily devotional…think future book.


  4. Reading the OT I have understood anew the truth that God is sovereign over the nations of the world – He was working out His purposes all those many centuries ago, and He is still actively working in all these events, even though we can’t see the end. Annie is truly at the center of history being made. May God bless her and keep her safe. We love her so much!
    Thanks for the insightful thoughts.


  5. Thanks Pari – I think she feels a mixture of sheer exhaustion, and such disappointment. She says “It’s awful” – at the same time I think she feels like she’d be giving in if she left. Really appreciate your thoughts.


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