From her bed on the 11th floor of an apartment building in Cairo, Egypt, not far from Tahrir Square, Redding’s Ann Muir listened to the sounds of gunfire and explosions below. It was a late January evening in this city of nearly 20 million, located in the ancient cornerstone of human civilization.
Muir was significantly frightened.
Had the recent massive protests turned violent? Were the explosions happening on the first floor? Would the morning bring horrific images of dead bodies and twisted carnage?
By and large, the answers would be no. Most (if not all) of the gunfire came from police forces shooting blanks. The explosions were tear gas blasts that police forces used to attempt to control crowds.
But there was no way to stifle the peaceful, enormous and determined movement afoot. Egyptian citizens, many living in abject poverty, had had enough of the corrupt presidency of Hosni Mubarak. Unlike the current situation in Libya, Egyptian troops refused to attack their neighbors and countrymen.
For a good perspective on the movement, click here.
After spending more than three weeks in Egypt visiting her niece Amanda Johnson, who works for the U.S. State Department, Muir, the senior minister at Pilgrim Congregation Church in Redding, had found herself directly at the epicenter of history.
The most incredible thing? For the most part, it was all being done in a peaceful fashion. The millions who crowded into and around the Tahrir Square area in Cairo were using non-violence to stand up to corruption and oppression.
“I was so impressed by their determination not to fall into a pattern of violence,” Muir said. “I was so taken by their integrity. I was appalled by some of the misinformation I heard (in the news). I pledged that when I got back, I’d talk about it.”
Tactics by police forces loyal to Mubarak failed. When the police were pulled off the streets (likely in an attempt to create chaos), some looting occurred. When Egyptians made citizen arrests, they found many of the looters were identified as police.
Citizens bonded to direct and control traffic. They formed a human chain around museums to assure that they were not looted. The revolution didn’t allow for the chaos tactic to take hold.
They used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep themselves informed.
One Egyptian who was keeping himself current on the movement via Facebook was Ahmed “Handasa” R. Mahmoud. Mahmoud is one of a half dozen Egyptian students currently enrolled in Shasta College’s Egyptian Initiative program, a U.S. State Department program designed to bring non-elite students from Egypt to America for training.
Mahmoud, of Cairo, said it’s been difficult to be in Northern California while such dramatic and historic events are happening in his home country.
“I wish I was there,” he said. “I wish I were part of the whole thing. I’m trying to do my part from here (on the Internet). It’s history.”
Mahmoud said many of his friends were afraid to speak out about the political corruption for fear of reprisals from Egyptian national security forces. However, several bold citizens used Facebook and other social media sites to spread the word about the government’s negative tactics against citizens.
When he considers how the Egyptian people stood together for change in non-violence, Mahmoud’s eyes light up.
“That makes me feel proud,” he said.
Since March 3, Essam Sharaf has been in power in Egypt as Prime Minister. Sharaf, an engineer and former Minister of Transportation, has studied at Purdue University.
“I think we have to give him a good chance,” Mahmoud said of the new leader. “His reputation is very good. It seems like he’s interested in what’s right or wrong, not what he’s going to gain. But if it’s not good, one thing now is (Egyptians) believe we can change it.”
Redding’s Muir said it appeared to her that the Egyptian populous was prepared for the tactics designed to undermine the movement. They informed themselves and unified.
“They were not going to let (those tactics) stop their voice,” Muir said. “I think that takes a lot of integrity. Don’t know what inspired them to have that integrity. I think as Americans we’re sometimes afraid that this region is 90 percent Muslim. But when people are honestly and sincerely in support of humanity, does it matter what faith they are?”
Still, the intensity of the situation caused the U.S. State Department to initiate the evacuation of many American diplomats and their families. Muir spent most of her trip playing tourist, but then was sequestered to her apartment building for a three-day period before leaving the country four days ahead of her scheduled departure.
Because Egypt isn’t considered a dangerous foreign outpost, many U.S. workers reacted with surprise when they were told they could be shot if they went out on the streets.
American and other foreign workers responded to these warnings by saying, “What? Are you joking?” Muir said.
Other than the gunfire and explosions she heard at night, Muir said she never felt in danger while among the Egyptian people.
“I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve never been in anything like this,” she said. “But I was never in danger and never harassed by anyone. Nobody hated me. They were angry at their own government.”
In an odd window of unity, protesters in both Cairo and Madison, Wis., were displaying signs in support of each other. In Madison, tens of thousands of people arrived downtown to oppose an anti-union bill proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that many believe infringes on the rights of state workers.
In heavy support of the bill are billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch and the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity, which has funded television commercials in support of Walker’s bill. The connection between the Koch brothers and the Republican leadership in Wisconsin has been viewed by many as further proof of wealthy corporate influence on the government at the expense of middle-class working Americans.
“I’m amazed that that many people came out for that (in Wisconsin),” Muir said. “In a way, perhaps people were empowered by what was happening in Egypt.”
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and also a songwriter and member of the Muletown String Band. He lives in Redding. You may e-mail Jim at email@example.com.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.