One of Legacy’s dedicated staff members, Khaled Hassouna, has been in Egypt for several months. He shared his first hand account of the Egyptian Revolution and his thoughts on the future of civil society in Egypt and constitutional reform in the Middle East and North Africa.
“For the first time, people with differing opinions came together, had a dialogue, took it to the streets and created change. This movement started with bright, young professionals from all walks of life. It included people from Al-Azhar University and the Coptic churches. This is unprecedented. The last time we saw something like this was in 1919.
The Egyptian people were asking for really important things. They were not asking for things like a pay raise, or healthcare reform. They were asking for something that was really beyond that…and it took a while for the government to understand this.
In Tahrir Square, companies were donating plastic that could be used to make makeshift tents. Cable companies were also donating wire for telecommunications. Small towns were created within the square.
What makes this movement so unique is how the army basically facilitated this uprising…how they protected the demonstrators. Last night, there were 3 million people in Tahrir Square. This afternoon, there were 5 million people and today it’s in the tens of millions. We had kids in skinny jeans and tank tops linking hands with women in hijab. It was amazing to see millions of people praying together during Friday prayers today. I don’t think you even had that many people praying together in one place even in Mecca. And the army was protecting them.
The level of organization was incredible. The civil defense efforts…the ways in which people were protecting their neighbors, their neighborhoods and their property was better than anyone in the world expected. I personally did not take part in the revolution itself. I did not go to the Square, but I was helping with the creation of the civil defense groups that were mobilizing civilians to protect their homes and their personal property.
The long nights of uncertainty were worth it. The reform that the government was offering was simply too slow for the people. Their words and their terminology were totally out of sync with the people.
I really admired a soldier in the army who did not pull the trigger on his machine gun when protesters were running towards him. The soldier had no idea what the protesters were going to do, and was surprised to find the protesters hugging and kissing him. This situation has broken many of the stereotypes you hear about the relationship between armies and civilians.
Yesterday, the confusion was terrible. Today, people are celebrating, but we are not sure what this means. What is clear is the critical role that Egypt plays in the Middle East. Egypt is the core, the heartbeat of the Middle East. Today, for the first time in Saudi Arabia, the royal family gave permission for a political party to operate.
Constitutional reform in many Middle Eastern countries is now underway and this could not have happened without the efforts of the Egyptian people. This shows you what civil society in Egypt is capable of. Unfortunately, thousands of people were injured and over 300 lost their lives…the youngest victim as young as 13. Many of the analysts in the world had written these brave young people off, but today they proved the world wrong.