Living with a “New Normal”

15 days ago, a group of Egyptians bravely stood up to their government and demanded change.  This set off a chain reaction that moved crowds of thousands turning into millions all over Egypt to speak out while the world was glued to AlJazeera and other networks covering the story.  Progressing from peace and passion to violence, anger, and grief and then round again to passion and peace made every day seemingly unpredictable and full of potential victory only to be crushed by what could be seen as defeat personified in a stubborn government.

Today word is that life is slowly turning to a ‘new normal’.  Tahrir is still full of protesters, tireless in their cry for democracy, but banks and businesses are opening with the understandable need to move forward.  Just like any crisis, normal becomes challenged and in those first few days following a crisis there is a bewilderment as to what normal is supposed to look like. It strikes me that Egypt is in the same place – trying to figure this out. My daughter’s apartment is a couple blocks from Tahrir Square – the new normal of Tahrir Square is a permanent tent in the center and tenacious protesters not deterred. The new normal for some is to learn how to live without a beloved family member or friend,with only memories or online photo journals as comfort. 

The ripple effect for those of us with family members in Cairo is evident – no longer am I waking up in a panic, aware of the 7 hour time difference and fearful that I may have missed a pivotal turn of events or an increase in violence threatening my offspring.  I’m not constantly checking in with others closely connected to Cairo with the words “Have you heard any more news?” I still check  AlJazeera every couple of hours and make sure that status updates on Facebook are quickly refreshed but gone is the intensity of emotion and connection. Gone is the need to let complete strangers know that “My daughter is in Egypt, you know!” (said accusingly of course!)

The ‘New Normal’ for Egypt is still to be determined.  One of my readers commented that “Human Freedom is Messy”.  Well said – it’s easy from an armchair view to see it as straightforward but online memorials, replayed footage of last week, and news archives are all reminders that the last two weeks were complicated and messy, and the next few months will not be easy. My prayer is that those fighting for a voice through democracy will continue to see the fight as their ‘normal’ and not give up until they have the chance to see a real election.  My new normal? A renewed vision in seeing a ballot as a gift and a little sticker saying “I voted” as a symbol of pride.

“Without a single exception there is no living Egyptian who has ever participated in a real election of any kind” – Dr. Heather Keaney

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

Chaos in Cairo and a Mother’s Heart

There is chaos in Cairo and we have not heard from our daughter Annie in 2 1/2 days.  We are glued to the live-stream from Al Jazeera, currently watching repeats of video clips shown earlier in the day.  Tahrir Square in the center of Cairo is the focal point of much of the chaos.  Footage of angry crowds, burning vehicles, and soldiers in riot gear run continuously across the screen and we are acutely aware that Annie is in a flat just a few blocks away. Despite the State Department phone call that came from Washington DC earlier in the day stating she was fine, we want to hear from her.  We yell at the TV screen when our public officials make statements that seem ignorant of the reality on the ground and we’re cheering on those that voice an understanding of the cultural divide between East and West and the need to understand just how frustrated Egyptians are, the voices of reason amid noise.

All the media tools of 2011 are useless against my growing concern.  Twitter, Facebook, Gchat, Gmail, cell phones, Google voice, Skype – none of them are a weapon against the seed of panic that’s rising from my gut to my throat. When I became a mom the chink in my armor was revealed.  It came in the form of a 6 lb. 14 oz sweet-smelling baby girl named Annie and suddenly vulnerability had a whole new meaning.  It’s that piece – the deep sensitivity and knowing that I want to be with her to make sure she’s safe that takes over as I madly write her an email, wanting it to be in her inbox to view as soon as she can log in to her Gmail account.

My head knows she’s probably ok, surrounded by her strong community of friends, each of them developing their narrative to share with parents and friends once the global world is again at their fingertips.  Thinking ahead to playing the game two truths and a lie where one of the truths is “I was in Cairo during the “Day of Rage” on January 25th, 2011″ and having a great story to tell their children. And anyone that knows Annie knows that she loves being in Cairo, right in the middle of life in “Umm el Dunya”  (Mother of the World) able to reconnect to part of her past through her present.

My heart – that’s the part that needs convincing.  That’s the part that puts the cell phone ringer at the highest pitch possible to catch that call from Cairo, no matter what time of day or night.  It’s the part that keeps the computer on all night to hear that distinctive Skype ring wake me from my sleep just to hear that my grown-up, 25 year-old, very capable baby girl is just fine.

Epilogue:  And the call came – 3:15 am “Hi Mom and Dad, we just got cell phone service and I’m safe and sound!”