Welcome to Egypt!

31 Jan

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And there we were: fresh off the plain, on Tahrir Square Cairo, the night before the second anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution. It was pitch dark on the square, except some fires burning in the distance. “You may want to cover your face”, said the hotel receptionist who offered to escort us. “Police are firing tear gas.”

I first visited Egypt in December 2010. At the same time, people in Tunisia were taking to the streets to demand justice after the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire out of frustration with the corrupt regime. When I told my Egyptian friends what was happening in Tunisia, they reacted with a mix of surprise and disbelief. “That will never happen in Egypt.”

Two years later, Tahrir Square is full of people. Families with children, students, hooligans and old men and women: ordinary citizens who all came out to demand justice, but also celebrate the anniversary of the revolution of 2011. Their revolution, and not that of the regime, as people keep telling me. “Leave, leave, leave!” the growing crowd is chanting. “The people demand freedom!” After the teargas and riots of the night before, the vibe on January 25th is surprisingly peaceful, festive almost. People are waving flags, wearing the national colours on their face. A little girl hands me an Egyptian flag. “Welcome to Egypt” she smiles.

There are lots of women on the square, some with their children, many of them carrying banners demanding justice. “Aren’t you afraid?” I ask a group of giggling girls wearing hijabs. “No, not afraid. But it is tough out here for women. There is always the risk of being harrassed, groped, or worse.”

A bit later, I get to experience that myself. When the square gets even more crowded and the sun is setting in the Nile, I decide to return to my hotel to finish my article for Dutch daily AD and watch the rest of the demonstrations from my window. As I am trying to find my way through the thousands of protesters, someone grabs me from behind. It’s way too busy to see who it was. A young photographer rushes to apologise for his fellow-countrymen. “We have a lot to learn here in Egypt. But there is hope!”

3 Responses to “Welcome to Egypt!”

  1. tiny beunk January 31, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    Just this last weekend on the Belgian broadcast was a reportage on the ongoing harrassements of women on the Tahrir … People(men) get paid to do so! It’s not sure from which group(s) this action is, it could be from the least expected!!

  2. Anouk Swart February 1, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    hey babe,

    hope you re alright. can wait to read more.

    i have to share that experience, in cairo…it was weird. accidentally jumped into the wrong carriage with all the men. it got packed! while the next one was quite, with women and kids. i got trapped in between lots of men and one started to touch me, pinch my buttcheek and rub. i couldnt see who it was, and it happened again. than i felt really strange, like i couldnt just scream and say hey, who is doing that, dont touch me…but another young men noticed and correct the man, he screamed something, and than the man got off the next stop. and i did the next one so i could go into the carriage with the women and children. and i didnt feel like that was my place neither for a while until a girl was nice to me.

    i cant imagine how you must have felt in the crowd, the entire situation must have been intense and confronting…i hope you are alright. good luck writing the piece, it must have already gone out now…will check it tomorrow

    xx

  3. Theo Maas February 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Dear Kirsten, I admire your courage and try to follow your blogs. I wish you all the strength and support you need to do what is necessary. The position of woman in the Arab Spring is still on a lot of pressure. Keep bringing it to us so we can follow what’s really happening. If, sometime you’re in the neighourhood, mayby you can tell people in my region off you’re experiences.

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