My experience with students’ peaceful demonstrations goes back to the times before January 1978, when I was a student at the Faculty of Commerce in Cairo University.
Political life in Egypt was full of movements: the anti-Camp David political streams from the Egyptian left-wing, while the right-wing found great opportunities in the open-door policy, and also some of the extremist religious streams.
The biggest demonstration took place on 18-19 January. It spread all over Egypt in protest at the economic decisions that destroyed peoples’ dreams.
However, these demonstrations failed quickly, as they lacked guidance and proper political leadership. The army surrounded the protesters and imposed a curfew after some rioters smashed and broke into shops.
Finally Sadat reversed the economic decisions and overthrew those that took them, as if they had made the decisions without his consent. He called the demonstrations “The Thieves Uprising”, and the official media followed suit.
On 25 January 2011 I saw the savage cruelty by the police towards demonstrators, who faced the bullets head-on.
The rousing cheers thundered in the cold weather, melting away the wax that seemed to surround the Egyptian public and made them stand by and do nothing.
This time, they participated in events and slept on the pavement until the president stepped down.
It’s definitely an event of historic proportions. I think it’s a thousand times greater than demonstrations in 1977, and a hundred times greater than Revolution in 1919 (against the British occupation).
Writing about the 25 January Revolution will require massive volumes, but I will outline here some insights I had into this wonderful, public coming-together in Liberation Square, where I spent most of my time.
Love and closeness between the Egyptian citizens of all walks of life was obvious. We saw the Christians safeguarding the Muslims during Friday prayers and the Muslims doing the same for Christians during the mass held in memory of the martyrs.
The rich left their fancy clubs and came to the square, filling their cars with food, mineral water and blankets for the demonstrators.
Small children were carried by their parents to chant slogans against the regime, not minding the rocks and the tear gas.
Everybody helped to build wooden toilets in the middle of the square. Doctors volunteered to establish simple hospital units and took care of the injured. Pharmacies sent medicines and residents in the buildings overlooking the square gave up their privacy during the revolution and let demonstrators spend the night in their apartments.
The Egyptian’s artistic creativity was at its best; writing poems, drawing caricatures and coming up with jokes for the demonstrators. Tens of young men and women swept the square with their brooms every day.
I witnessed the consecutive speeches of the regime; the moments of frustration and the moment of joy that spread everywhere when the president finally stepped down.
After this fabulous success, I saw the revolutionaries clearing the streets, repainting the pavements and washing Talaat Harb and Abd El-Moniem Riad statues with water and soap – never before have I seen statues in Cairo being washed!
Now I say that the Egyptian Revolution has positioned every citizen on the top of the pyramid of respect all over the world.