‘Hosni Mubarak, the plane is waiting’

Cairo-jan_jpg_470x235_q85 Yasmine El Rashidi in the NYRB:

Egyptians have many grievances, with sectarian strife, police brutality, inflation and skyrocketing prices, and the vicious clampdowns by the government on any dissent topping that list. In the lead-up to last November’s parliamentary elections, press freedoms were curbed and dozens of opposition members were jailed. The elections themselves were widely seen as a sham, yielding a sweeping victory for president Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party. Then, on the eve of the New Year, a suicide bombing outside a church in Alexandria left twenty-two people dead and eighty injured.

The activists’ plan for January 25 was to send tens of thousands of Egyptians into the streets, and to have them stay there until Mubarak gave in to demands: justice, freedom, citizen rights, and an end to his thirty-year rule. The organizers—comprised, largely, of public university graduates in their twenties—had called on Cairenes to gather at several locations across the city, prepared for nights in the streets and armed with cameras—to document any police brutality, which has come to be expected at any public protest here.

To lobby support, the activists used Twitter and Facebook, targeting above all the 60 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people who are under the age of 25. A rap song was made and circulated, a video plea by the mother of the slain activist Khaled Said recorded, and Facebook groups formed to encourage people to join the protest.

On the 25th, I had made a plan with a journalist friend to head out early and stop by several of the designated protest locations—the Supreme Court, Cairo University, the popular Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, and Shubra—before deciding where to go. Admittedly, we were skeptical. Just weeks before, in a similar call for demonstrations in Egypt in solidarity with the Tunisian uprising, I had arrived at a downtown square to find it barricaded by 200 shielded riot police. Inside were only nine protesters holding up three small banners.

But this time was different.