By Charles Baker
On Friday, January 28, 2011 an emboldened crowd of Egyptian protestors rumbled by my friend and I. Leading them was an Egyptian protestor with an outstretched black baton and a raised police riot shield. Not five minutes earlier, the announcement had come over Al-Jazeera Arabic: Security forces have retreated in Cairo, the Suez, and Alexandria. Protestors are now in control of those cities.
My eyes followed the surging crowd as they ran south towards one of the major conflict centers in Alexandria, Menshia. I turned to see my friend, his jaw dropped and eyes wide open. I said just two words in Egyptian Arabic: dee thawra. This is a revolution.
This is a revolution. I was there as it came to fruition. Media coverage may suggest an uprising of violent and epic proportions, as media tends to do. But what I experienced on the Egyptian street was markedly different. Here is my attempt to describe those experiences during the first days of the revolution.
Saturday morning January 29, 2011 I awoke expecting the worst, though I wasn’t sure in what form I’d find it. Yet, I walked to my balcony and peered out into the street. It seemed as if Friday’s day of anger and the overthrow of the security forces had never occurred. In my neighborhood, called Smouha, things ran smoothly. Shops were open, taxis whizzed up and down the street, and the unfinished apartment building across the road from me was bustling with construction workers. They all decided to show up to work, revolution, or not.
Once I ventured out into the city, I found that not only were many things running as they were the day before, but some were running more smoothly.
I took a taxi downtown. As we pulled up to the intersection, I expected to see chaos. The intersection had been run by city traffic police and was ordinarily managed in such a way that traffic from all four inlet streets barely flowed. Now without police, I figured the intersection would be a hopeless gridlock.
Instead, I saw that traffic was flowing efficiently (something almost unheard of in Egypt). Roughly ten Egyptian men were standing in the intersection, directing traffic. The men were treated with respect, obedience, and patience by the drivers despite the fact that they had no official authority. That was exactly the point, they were citizens with no official authority, and it was clear that everyone understood it.
This scene represented, in a nutshell, a major aspect of the revolution. Average Egyptian citizens, after being abused, extorted, and oppressed for years had reached the point at which they could run the country more effectively, benevolently, and fairly for all Egyptian people than could the Egyptian government itself. And everybody finally knew it.
That day and the days after, I witnessed many similar scenes. It was clear to me that the Egyptian people had awoken, they were rising up to win back the pride of their country. I had never before seen people so wholeheartedly undertake what they innately perceived as imperative civic duty and responsibility.
The Egyptian revolution within the narrative of the Egyptian street reflects exactly that. The Egyptian people want their country back and they demand the basic rights to ensure that any new government be beholden to doing right by its people. It is a true popular revolution, driven first and foremost by ordinary Egyptian people from every class and all walks of life. Now, as Mubarak steps down and the country begins to reform, we ought to hope and expect that the spirit of the proud and responsible Egyptian people is what truly guides the reformation process.
Charles Baker was studying abroad in Alexandria, Egypt until he was evacuated in late January 2011
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