Anniversary of Egypt’s “Uprising” – 18 Days of Change

A year ago today was the beginning of historic change in the country of Egypt. To mark the anniversary a holiday has been declared with celebrations planned throughout the country. As early as Tuesday tents were set up in Tahrir Square, the central square area that was the seat of last year’s historic events. Below is a summary of major events from last year’s 18 days of change.

Many in the west are unaware of the brutal beating and murder of a young Egyptian from the port city of Alexandria at the hands of a corrupt and brutal police force. The man’s name was Khaled Said and he was murdered because he had obtained information on police corruption in the city and was going to expose it. Khaled Said became a symbol of brutal oppression without a voice. Underground activists began to circulate information about his death through social media, specifically Facebook and a movement was born.

A “Day of Rage”, largely orchestrated through social media, was proclaimed on January 25th, 2011 and demonstrations took place throughout the country. What most people expected to be a one day event sparked further protests that refused to be silenced. Two days later Facebook and Twitter were blocked, inhibiting widespread organization through social networking. A day later and Egypt went silent to the world as all internet and mobile phone services were blocked. During this time I well remember trying to reach my daughter without success.  Sitting at his desk one day my husband received a phone call from an unknown number with the first digits of 202. He knew this was the area code for Washington DC, but it was also the country and city code for Cairo, Egypt. As he picked up the phone and said hello, the voice on the other end said “This is the State Department. I would like to speak to the mother or father of Annie Gardner” (pause) his heart stopped for a long second. “This is he”. “We’re calling to tell you that your daughter has contacted the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and that she is safe and sound!” He could have strangled them through the phone line until they begged for mercy. While the relief we felt to hear of her safety was great, the method could have been a bit less dramatic.

The initially peaceful demonstrations turned violent on January 28th as street battles erupted. Thugs allegedly hired by the government brought on a dimension of violence that resulted in death and injury to many.

Four days after the initial “Day of Rage” former President Mubarak reconfigured his cabinet and a vice-president was appointed for the first time in 30 years.

February 4th was termed “Friday of Departure” where hundreds of thousands come to Tahrir to take part in peaceful protests with repeated calls for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak. Protests were not just confined to Cairo but occurred throughout the country. On February 7th  Wael Ghoneim, an Egyptian Google employee and founder of the Facebook page “We are all Khaled Said” was released after 12 days of interrogation. His appearance on television stimulated further action and cries for change. On February 11th, 18 days after the original “Day of Rage” Mubarak stepped down. The following day and night massive celebrations were held throughout Egypt. Entire families converged on Tahrir Square celebrating a new day for the country of Egypt while the world looked on amazed.  My daughter sent us the message “Tomorrow they’ll rebuild, but today they’re going to party” a perfect description for the time of celebration.

So what now, a year to the day later? Through conversations we had with people in Egypt during our recent trip we heard frustration that the army has too much power and control and the deeply hoped for change has not come. Economically there is huge frustration as younger people face massive unemployment. The first free election in recent history has taken place and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took a majority of the seats of the lower parliament. There was expectation that a civilian government would be in place by this time and the fact that this is not the case is cause for anger and concern. There is an overall fatigue and feeling that one can still get arrested for speaking out in public against the ruling military.

And through all this we continue to see that Egyptians are a humble resilient people. The passion that has been shown and the fight for change at the high cost of imprisonment and harm is proof of a strength in character and evidence of a willingness to seek something that will last. And so today should be celebrated with a prayer that hope will continue to thrive and a belief that God will continue to work in Egypt and her people.

I urge you to watch this short video called “Ya Baladi”. It has English subtitles and is a moving look at an Egypt way beyond the media portrayal.

Tahrir Square at 3am, January 25, 2012 courtesy of "We are all Khaled Said"

Tomorrow they’ll rebuild, but tonight they’re going to party!

February 11th, 2011

4 hours ago Mubarak resigned and there is a gigantic party going on at Tahrir Square – Tonight we rejoice with Egypt and celebrate a true revolution and change without war! I am green with envy that my daughter is celebrating right in the middle of history.  A momentous occasion to be there!

“Tomorrow they’ll rebuild, but tonight they’re going to party!” – Annie Gardner

Like This!

Tea Party in America~Brotherhood in Egypt

Bloggers Note: This is the second  segment taken from a larger piece written by Heather Keaney, a professor at the American University in Cairo and wife of an old friend of ours.  It is used with permission. Titles are created by me, while the content is from Heather. If you are just tuning in, please feel free to read The Battle of Perceptions where you will find out more about Heather.  She brings a great perspective from years of living in Cairo.

West: Keeping our Fears in Check

It is extremely unlikely that Egypt would end up a radical Islamist state if for no other reason than most Egyptians fear this more than Americans do. This is especially the case for Egypt’s liberal elite and 8 million Christians who are terrified of an Islamist regime taking over. The government knows this and holds this fear, along with the that of chaos, over the people’s heads making it that much harder for opposition to build or unify.

I think the West should prioritize process over outcome. If the Muslim Brotherhood (which is not an extremist group) wins in a free and fair election so be it. The country is 90% Muslim and religiously conservative. It is not for the outside world to decide what is best for Egypt. Egyptians need to decide for themselves. If the institutions and processes are put in place that is the important thing.

Current estimates are that the MB would win a third of the vote in an election. Much of their popularity is based on good

Men praying – Tahrir Square 2.1.11 copyright Christina Rizk

organization and social services for the poor. They renounced violence in the 1960s and have been one of the biggest and most consistent organizations calling for greater democracy in Egypt for years. Other opposition groups need to raise their game and actually do something for the millions of Egyptians they are claiming to represent. That is how democracy works. This is why I think the West needs to focus on ensuring a process rather than a particular outcome.

Thus I was frustrated when I heard an interview with Tony Blair a few days back in which he was very cautious about change here and warned against what might happen if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. It sounded arrogant and imperialistic to me.

Europeans might dread Tea Partiers in America, but it is not their place to try and determine what happens in American politics. Egyptians deserve the same respect.

Indeed I had my own ‘Tony Blair moment’ when our friend Ahmed discouraged us from going to the demonstrations on Tuesday. I thought security concerns, or that the government would be able to manipulate our presence for its own advantage, were exaggerated and I really wanted to be there.

But we are guests here and all day I had to remind myself: it is not about me, or what I want, but about what Egyptians want! They are still trying to figure that out.

“Washington has been very anxious about what’s happening here, but it shouldn’t be. It should be happy. This will reduce terrorism. When people have their voice, they don’t need to explode themselves.” –Mohammed Fouad, an Egyptian software engineer. (from Washington Post, 2/2/11)

Products of Perceptions

Blogger’s Note: What’s in a title? As I hear so many voices in this country speaking to the fear of the brotherhood I decided to look into what other countries think of our very own Tea Party movement, a movement that is gaining more and more attention in American politics.  I was amazed and humored by what I found!  All of the excerpts below are taken from “The Horror, The Horror…and the Pity!”(See Foreign Policy, October 26, 2010 – fascinating article!)

PAKISTAN:“In Dawn‘s telling, the Tea Party has risen in tandem with the “Ground-Zero-inspired Muslim baiting frenzy” and is driven largely by the “bigoted rabble-rouser” Glenn Beck who attacks President Barack Obama as a “closet Muslim.” According to Dawn, the same “predatory instinct” that led Americans to enslave Africans and wipe out Native Americans is “gathering mass, once again,” this time with Muslims as the primary target. (Foreign Policy, October 26, 2010)

CHINA: “The Tea Party will lead to U.S.-China conflict. The government controlled China Dailydescribes the Tea Party as a “polarizing groundswell … based largely on suspicion of Obama’s background, policies and motives.” The movement is blamed for the high level of vitriol directed at incumbents in this election cycle.” “the newspaper sees the movement as a sign of the “US’ inability to find political solutions” to economic problems”

SPANISH SPEAKING WORLD: El Pais wrote. The author refers to the Tea Party as an extremist movement and notes that O’Donnell (for example) is “proudly extremist.” From there, the newspaper warns that “sometimes totalitarianism results from the best intentions and fanaticism grows in the most benign and public settings. The United States is living in one of these moments … in which its values are in conflict with one another.”The Spanish are less mystified and more alarmed. “We don’t know if we feel more profound horror or more profound pity,”

So… I am in no way saying the Muslim Brotherhood is totally benign – what I am saying is that we are all products of our perceptions, and the often strong voices that feed into our perceptions. Even though international media is fearful of the Tea Party movement and perhaps incorrect in their assessments – the Tea Party movement lives on – because  years ago we too had a revolution. And in that spirit, I’ll raise my glass and let the comments begin!

Related Articles:

The Battle of Perception

Blogger’s Note: This segment is taken from a longer piece written by Heather Keaney, a professor at the American University in Cairo and wife of an old friend of ours.  Heather graduated from Westmont College and completed her PhD in medieval Islamic history at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2003. She taught in the Arabic Studies (now Arab and Islamic Civilizations ARIC) department at AUC as a guest lecturer and at the Middle East Studies Program (MESP) in Cairo from 2003-2006. Heather will definitely bring you a different perspective and challenge your view.

Despite being here and talking to lots of people and watching hours of news coverage each day, our predictions of what was going to happen next have been wrong every time.

With that health warning read on if you like!


To start with one thing that has emerged as important to me, that I am not sure if outside media outlets are addressing, is the importance not just of media – but of a divided media contributing to a divided people.

Facebookers and upper and middle class folk who know English and have satellite dishes watch CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera English & Arabic. For everyone else, after the government shut down Al Jazeera Arabic here, unless they watched BBC Arabic they are very likely watching state news. The result is two very different presentations of what is happening. This was very noticeable on Tuesday when international channels were showing the dramatic images of Tahrir Square filled with peaceful partying demonstrators. The government news channels had for days had a camera simply showing the bridges across the Nile with a trickle of traffic and on Tuesday the same camera showed the bridge packed for half a mile and brought to a standstill by demonstrators in Tahrir.

Crowds in Tahrir Square 2.1.11 copyright Christina Rizk

The only images of Tahrir were from ground level and close up never showing more than 10 people in the frame. It would also show Pro-Mubarak demonstrators in similar fashion. So many in Egypt could have had no idea what was really happening in Tahrir, the numbers of people or the atmosphere. Instead the message was that the city was being held hostage and ground to a halt by a few. Similarly yesterday State TV did not show the violence in Tahrir, but a large happy smiley family filled pro-government rally either from earlier in the day or elsewhere in the city.

State TV last night had a woman on claiming to be a member of the 6th April group that helped organize the first day of demonstrations, claiming she had received training in Israel and the US for this ‘operation’ as well as $50,000. Those who know how crazy this is are not watching state TV and those who do watch state TV could easily believe it.

I start with this because this is very much a battle of perception. It is still too early to tell who will win the battle of perception over yesterday’s violence.

As an Australian friend here observed: it is as if Egyptians have been muzzled and now the muzzle has been taken off, but the muscles in their mouth have atrophied and so they don’t know how to speak and it will take time for them to learn to speak coherently. There is the very big risk that the government will muzzle them again before this can happen or that the people will muzzle themselves horrified by the physical violence and verbal arguments that are breaking out all over.


The West is in a very tricky situation I think; it is reaping the harvest of decades of hypocrisy by calling for democracy on the one hand and supporting dictators with the other. Despite this and that teargas canisters have clearly written on them “made in the USA” the anti-government demonstrations and the mood in the country has emphatically not been anti-western or anti-US.

We have felt more looked after than ever and have heard the same from other foreigners. It is the pro-government “demonstrators” who have attacked journalists and shouted anti-US/Western slogans. This is the government trying to blame the demonstrations on outside provocateurs – and it is working.

Blogger’s note: Tomorrow I will feature more of this piece from Heather. I urge you to share this with those you feel would benefit from learning more of what is going on from the ground. Oh and have you seen the You tube video featuring a sing-a-long at Tahrir Square?  Well worth viewing!

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

Bukara Insh’allah

Tomorrow, God Willing!

Yesterday thousands of Egyptians took to the streets demonstrating against their government.  Anyone who has lived even a short time in Egypt knows that this is remarkable.  In general Egyptians are a laid back group of people, they are slow to anger and quick to laugh.  But they are fed up.  Although government sources dispute this, studies show that a majority of Egyptians live off of  $2.00 a day. Unemployment is sky high, corruption rampant and the common person has no voice of change or otherwise. In the midst of the protests, the US government claims that Egypt is stable and the government of Egypt is “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs of the people”.  Hard to reconcile reality with that statement.

Our connection to this feels close.  Besides our experience living for 7 years in Egypt, our daughter Annie, who attends  graduate school at the American University of Cairo, marched with the protesters, avoiding water cannons and experiencing the sting of tear gas. (She tells us that milk works to get out the sting).  She writes this:  ”

“Lots of momentum, and pretty unprecedented since Mubarak has come to power. It certainly won’t be a direct copy-cat of Tunisia, just given Egyptians’ general downtrodden-ness about politics here (so many of my friends today kept saying they didn’t think it would change anything, but they were there, So!)”

The Egyptian people have a saying that permeates much of life whatever the circumstance:  “Bukara, Insh’allah!’  (Tomorrow, God Willing!)  Sometimes said with sarcasm, other times with hope, it is the ever-present acknowledgement that there is a tomorrow, and there is a God.  And in that they have trust.  Despite today’s crack-down on protests, despite social media sites being shut down, despite their own difficulties there is always the collective cry “Tomorrow, God Willing”.

Would you be a Human Shield?

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria
Image via Wikipedia

“Egyptian Muslims to Act as Human Shield at Coptic Christmas Mass” –  were the headlines in a story two days ago from Ahram Online news. The story goes into detail on the unity of Egyptian Muslims coming together to shield fellow Egyptians from danger, Coptic Christians, people who share the same country but not the same faith. A week prior at a New Year’s service held at the Two Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria more than 30 Egyptians were killed and over 90 injured in an attack carried out by a suicide bomber.

The story is a story that is seldom heard.  This happened the day before the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona. A shooting that seriously wounded a congresswoman, killed a judge, and took away life from a 9-year old.   There were no Human Shields for the Arizona shooting and the country is grieving and rightfully troubled over this preventable tragedy.   

Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab, lost his life last week being a verbal human shield.  He defended the rights of a Christian woman in Pakistan – she a minority as a Christian, a minority as a woman. He had nothing in common with her on the surface but chose to  advocate for her release and fight against blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Would I be a Human Shield if someone or a group of people with whom I disagree are under attack?  Let me bring this closer to home:  If I knew a mosque was at risk of being attacked in the greater Boston area, would I be willing to serve as a human shield, despite the fact that I’m not Muslim and know there are fundamental differences in core beliefs?  Would I be a shield of protection for people who have a belief or ideology with which I disagree, to protect life?

Convictions sometimes prohibit me from compassion and the practical living out of my beliefs. Somehow I get the idea that if I stand up for someone in the face of violence against them, whether it be physical or verbal,  that I agree with them, that I am being untrue to my values and promoting those that are antithetical to mine.  I don’t believe it’s that simple. Was the Good Samaritan afraid of losing his culture and his values? I’ll close with two questions:

  1. Would you be a Human Shield?
  2. Why or Why-not?

Related Articles