Tag: 30June

Egyptian Countdown Party: Happy? Independence?

As I was sitting the “PUBLISH” button on yesterday’s blog post about the largest political demonstration in human history, General El Sisi was coming on TVs across the nation. His message: Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) have exactly 48 hours to respond to the demands of the people or else there will be military intervention.

When I was speaking to someone writing for CNN last week, I honestly said that I didn’t think the Egyptian people would take down Morsi and the MB. I said that there might be major shifts of power on lower levels, but not the entire theocracy. Well, June 30 thru July 3 may prove me wrong.

Now remember that the military are the ones who took over when Mubarak was ousted. And the military (SCAF) were the ones responsible for the atrocities at Maspero, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, etc. Blood is truly on their hands. People say that the Tamarod campaigners were used, a tool for the military to stage a soft coup.

But the SCAF is not the entire military, and El Sisi is not Tantawi. And maybe there’s a little inch of hope that the “road map” El Sisi spoke of will be one of progress, civil rights, diversity and equality, minority protections, balance of power, a real constitution, healthy political party formation, professional development for potential candidates of all ages and genders and religions, citizenship education initiatives, security, freedom of the press, and THEN fair elections.

Venturing out for a sandwich last night, I saw Cairo was electric! So happy. Imagine your city winning the World Series, World Cup and Stanley Cup all on the same day. There is even a Morsi Timer countdown. I was initially hesitant to join the community dance party on my street, afraid there would be sexual harassment. Some of the guys seemed to be giving me the eye. But no, they were great. I had some great conversations with strangers and even exchanged numbers with two people.

  • Imagine members of a community setting up speakers in the middle of a six-lane street in order to prep for an impromptu street party.
  • Imagine a line of men standing on motorcycles in the road, creating ‘flag bridges’ for cars to pass through.
  • Imagine the incessant and loud honking.
  • Imagine a long line of veiled women on the side of the street clapping.
  • Imagine passing motorcyclists nearly crashing but then just stopping, laughing and sharing a hug.
  • Imagine the couple next to me telling me that they brought their newborn daughter to the street party because they wanted her first word to be freedom.
  • Imagine military helicopters flying over the city with large Egyptian flags and people cheering them from below.
Photo by Meir Walters

Photo by Meir Walters

  • Imagine that the people celebrating the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt range from young dudes in bright orange shorts to women in full niqabs.
  • Imagine that the people celebrating the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt range from street kids with no shoes to a young gal in a sequined ”Eye of the Tiger” top and high heels.
  • Imagine an older woman ceremoniously draping each passing car with her flag, sort of a cross between a carwash and a knighting ceremony. She did this for hours.
  • Imagine an open jeep packed with powerful, bold, independent and sexy Egyptian women wearing black and waving massive flags and catching the jealousy of every guy standing there.
  • Imagine small boys riding on the backdoor ladder of a mini van, waving as the vehicle goes top speed down the highway.
  • Imagine a performance where live streaming images from Egypt are being projected onto dancers in New York City. (Collaboration by Ximena Borges, Sarah Cameron Sunde and Dalia Basiouny for CultureHub)
Photo by Nathan Eames

Photo by Nathan Eames

  • Imagine a two-year-old girl in a pink halter top at the street party last night giving me the peace sign.
  • Imagine an all-out dance party erupting every time a police vehicle came by.
  • Imagine one woman, veiled in red and black, whom I had met at the beginning of the party and had exchanged numbers with, calling me later because she didn’t see me there anymore and wanted to make sure I got home safe. So happy I didn’t heed the U.S. Embassy’s warning to avoid crowds, especially alone. If you fear the world and stay in your apartment, you will miss out on what this world has to offer. Egyptians are amazing.

I don’t know how the Egyptians do it. A revolution seems like a second job. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially exhausting. I cannot imagine being in this state for two and a half years. And then also witnessing the death of a friend or family member by your side. Or taking a couple bullets yourself to the leg or the eye. These are all-too-common stories, widespread trauma. My close friends included. These revolutionaries say they are now starting back at zero. See you on the 3rd or 4th of July. Happy? Independence?

30 June in Egypt: Artists As Catalysts

I was afraid of June 30. Afraid that the hate and volatility would erupt. Afraid of chaos and looting. Afraid that Cairo would feel epically dangerous. I was afraid that this fear would be pervasive and women and children would stay home: the numbers of protestors would be low. Myself, I didn’t go out alone for the two days prior as I had a new sense of fear I haven’t had before here in Egypt. And I was not alone: after the U.S. put out it’s new travel warning for Egypt, 68,000 people left the country in two days. There were actually boats positioned in the Red Sea to evacuate American citizens if needed.

But then I had a dream last week that June 30th would be a celebration, with happy families and balloons and artists. I told my Egyptians pals about my dream and they said I was crazy.

As my friends and I joined the march yesterday from the artists’ sit-in at the Ministry of Culture (which a handful of artists stayed behind to protect) through the city for hours and into Tahrir Square, I realized my dream was coming true.

The crowd seemed to be 50% women and children. I saw at least five pregnant women. And many, many elderly. There were also marchers in wheelchairs, on crutches, and with special needs. At the front of the march were the artists from the sit-in, including famous actresses, my dance colleagues, and pop singer Ahmed Saad. There were men and women leading chants. And there was a group of large men on Harleys wearing safety vests with a handmade symbol saying ZG (Zamalek Guardians) protecting us marchers. A group of uniformed police officers joined the march along the way and the crowd cheered.

The march from the Ministry of Culture to Tahrir Square.

The march from the Ministry of Culture to Tahrir Square.

Some people carried posters with an unflattering cartoon of Ambassador Patterson and the Arabic version of the b-word. She recently made some statements supporting Morsi and condemning the protestors before they even started. Find out more about her statements in this CNN article by my new friend Cynthia Schneider we were able to put into motion. Plus, many Egyptians believe the Muslim Brotherhood wouldn’t have so much power without the financial and political support of the U.S. In any case, there was no anti-American harassment in my direction. One older woman refused to take the red card I handed her. She looked suspiciously at me when I said I was American. She asked right away if I supported the Muslim Brotherhood. All I said is that I teach at the High Institute of Ballet. She gave me a smile and a big hug.

When we reached Tahrir Square, I first noticed all the neon yellow safety vest of one the “Tahrir Bodyguards.” She was a young Egyptian woman in jeans, calm, with a pride in her eyes as she looked over the joyous crowd. I will never forget her face. Later I saw many more young women as guards, veiled and unveiled.

We passed a large group in white t-shirts, men and women, young and old. This was the sexual harassment response unit, and they had no work to do. There were fireworks, corn on the cob, ice cream, flags flying in a brilliant breeze made for flag flying, toddlers bopping to the national anthem… If you blinked you would have thought it was the 4th of July, but massive, and in wartime, in Egypt.

There were also kites. People were actually flying kites. Both in Tahrir and at the Presidential Palace.

One rumor had it that a woman gave birth in Tahrir Square and named her new daughter Rebel (Tamarod). Even if untrue, it is a great story.

And to be honest, sharing this day with my Egyptian friends and witnessing their faces brightening with amazement and pride made me fall in love with them more. One friend just kept saying, “This is incredible!” It reminded me of being in Grant Park the night Obama was elected, but bigger, and instead of celebrating success we were starting something, promising to stand by each other’s side. The pride, peace, and power were immense. The only time we saw a group of people running was when Bassem Youssef showed up. There were rumors that the Muslim Brotherhood were making an attack, but that was a false alarm.

In total, it much larger and joyous than the 2011 revolution. There were demonstrations in many parts of Cairo and in 18 of the 27 governates throughout the country. Protests of support were happening around the world as well, from Chicago to Vienna. BBC and CNN were both claiming it was the largest political demonstration in human history. Depending on how people count and report, there were between 17 and 30 million people on the streets on the 30th of June, 2013.

Photo credit unknown at this time.

Photo credit unknown at this time.

Why? My opinion: Egypt cannot take much more of this one-party rule which is on the verge of religious fascism. The economy, cultural and arts institutions, diversity, women, NGOs, education, water politics,… They cannot take it. Morsi and his Ikwan brothers may have been “voted in” mostly due to name recognition and circumstances last year, but they are quickly derailing the Jan25 revolutionary democratic train. Doing so much more harm than good that three more years would be unthinkable disaster, nationally and regionally. We must support the artists and activists willing to step up and pull this loving country through the cloud of Islamist colonization. But note that religion is not the divider here. Islam is on both sides. But one side also includes Coptic Christians, Agnostics, secularists, Shia, and embraces diversity. The MB are dangerously xenophobic. That’s what the country is facing down. It is just my opinion, coming from a dear friend of Masr.

The title of my Fulbright project was Artists As Catalysts. That certainly was the case here. While the inspiring and intergenerational Tamarod movement (which claimed to have collected 22 million anti-Morsi petitions) inspired the most participation, it was the stories of the ballet dancers on strike and the poets and painters occupying the ministry that made people understand what the Muslim Brotherhood were trying to do to their country. The Bortherhoodization of the Arts, of civil society, of Egypt and the region.

Remembering those who died for this freedom.

Remembering those who died for this freedom.

After we got back to the Ministry of Culture last night, there were reports that 7-10 people had died today and there were clashes as protestors stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. While sad news for sure, for a nationwide protest with millions, this was not the violent chaos we had so feared.

There were also reports of 46 sexual assaults in Tahrir Square. From the environment I witnessed there yesterday, I cannot fathom how these occurred; and I am outraged. But these reports have brought many, many more volunteers out to make sure it doesn’t ever happen again. I hope with all hope that these assaults stop.

Now what? Heard on the street and in Twitter-ville…

  • The EU and US need to see 3 consecutive days of mass protests before they will back the impeachment of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The opposition will give Morsi until 5pm Tuesday to resign or there will be wide-spread civil disobedience.
  • People will continue to “occupy” the 3+ major government buildings where sit-ins are now occurring.
  • There is a call for a general strike this week.
  • Protests and marches will continue whenever possible all the way till Ramadan, which begins the second week of July. This may include my idea that I proposed to the Ministry of Culture sit-in organizers, an ART MARCH with musicians, dancers, painters, poets, etc. We’ll see.

My boyfriend is trying to manage both artist activism and meeting a deadline for a video project. As for me, I go back to work tomorrow: teaching ballet to children in Maadi, leading dance activities at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital, planning a presentation and trip to Greece at the end of the month, needing a haircut, trying to find a job in the world, paying credit card and student loan bills, waiting to see if I passed the FSOT, and attending a meeting for a TEDx Talk I am supposed to be giving here during Ramadan. And if I’m needed to support the Egyptian artists, I will be there.

I have never had a wedding or had a child, but I can tell you that June 30, 2013 will always be one of the most beautiful days of my life.

Sitting during the Egyptian artists' sit-in inside the Ministry of Culture. Photo by Sayed Hewedy.

Sitting during the Egyptian artists’ sit-in inside the Ministry of Culture. Photo by Sayed Hewedy.


***Previous posts on the Egyptian Artists’ Sit-in:

How to Make An Attack on the Arts, Egyptian style

Your Arabesque May Require a Helmet


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