WRITERS IN THE REVOLTION: Eighteen days of Utopia in Tahrir Square

Abdel-Monem Ramadan, Thursday 10 Mar 2011

Abdel-Monem Ramadan sees a new world full of dancing and singing after the revolution.

Abdel-Monem Ramadan is an Egyptian poet and winner of various awards.

I did not go to the square on the first day of the revolution. My son went and I stayed behind. On the next day, he told me of the battles on Qasr al-Eini street. He told me how he admired the courage of actor Amr Waked and how he almost choked from the tear gas. In my mind, the demonstrations were going to last for a day or two, as our demonstrations had been - before and after Kefaya (Enough).

On the morning of 28 January, my son went to demonstrate once more. I heard him getting ready and felt myself smiling like an old fool. I later learn that he had taken part in the battles on al-Galaa and Qasr al-Nil Bridges, with the actor Khaled al-Sawi, leading the charge.

I didn’t think of participating or even taking a look. Then on Friday afternoon, a big demonstration passed by my home in Al-Haram, heading to Midan al-Giza. I heard the chanting, and it was the chanting of a new generation.

 I went out to take a look and felt their emotion. I slipped into the crowd and could no longer fight back the tears. I chanted along and when Alaa Abdel Hadi met me in the demonstration, we embraced and cried together. Since then, I found a new path for salvation.

Our Lebanese friends called to check on us. My dearest friend told me that Egyptians cannot be as tough as the Tunisians and will not see this thing through. The Egyptians are great talkers, she said, they can shoot the breeze forever but cannot get things done.

When the revolution was over, she called again. "You are the kings of our dreams", she said, "and the tallest among us. Our hearts are filled with you".

The words of my friend reminded me of what I was before. I never told myself that everything was lost. But I almost believed in the infinite ruin that surrounded me. I almost believed that Egyptians were cursed, that everything they touched turned to dust and that we couldn’t hold on to anything.

I realised that before the revolution I rarely left the house. I realised that we lived without a homeland, living only inside our house. I realised that the streets – despite what the singer Magda al-Rumi, the poet Salah Jahin and the filmmaker Yousef Chahine once said – were not ours.

When the youths revolted and expelled the dictator, they regained their souls, their senses and their homeland. They restored us as fathers and recognised us. For thirty years we only kept our homes clean. We divided the homeland into flats and homes. We broke it into little pieces, then forgot about it.

After the revolution, the homeland was restored and all the youths went out to clean its grounds, wash its walls, and climbed to the sky to wash it too.

The utopia started from the square. We have all read about Utopias, and we thought they were philosophers’ dreams, elusive ideals. Then we’ve had our own Utopia, eighteen days of it in the square.

I asked Nagah Tahe what we were going to do with our days after the end of the revolution? Will we get bored once more? Will we stay at home again like stunted poets?"

In the square, the periods of hope were more frequent. The bouts of frustration were fewer but as big as the fear of failure. After the first session I started crying the moment I returned home. After the second, I remembered the Chinese proverb: 'Half a revolution makes many shrouds'.

I met Amin Iskandar and asked him why we didn't leave? He smiled and left me alone. The next day I understood why he left me and I pulled myself together.

When the opportunists shifted their positions, I felt optimistic. I became more insistent that the youth finish what they started. The visible weapon that the protestors in the square used was their ability to stand and chant.

Their invisible weapon was the conviction that revolutions will not remain revolutions except with radical demands, with radical change. Revolutions die if their aims are mere reforms.

The youths spurned the president’s melodrama, the vice president’s toughness, and the mumblings of their aides. For eighteen days the youths stood their radical ground: the people wanted to bring down the regime.

On 25 January 2011, the Egyptian youths gathered their courage and went out to the streets and the squares, chanting that the people wanted to bring down the regime. Their action enraged the government and revenge was not long coming. The communications systems were cut off, mobile phones went dead, the internet went down, and some of the satellite networks were scrambled.

Then the youths put together new means of communication.  A radio station, or a few of them, appeared in the square, bringing beauty and strength to everyone, blaring songs from past generations, of Abdel Wahab, Abdel Halim, Om Kalthoum, and Shadia. The dictator’s time was without a song.

On the afternoon of 10 February 2011, some of us were afraid of the rain, others were optimistic, and others still remained tense. But reality was weirder than we thought.

On the night of Friday 11 February, the dictator took one final step and fell down under his chair, his presidency tumbling down. The nation erupted, filling the squares. People became dreams and dreams became people.

And the question arose: How do we sweep away the dust of the old world? How do we build a new world? How do we make the revolution complete, and how do we make it last?

This is the first time I feel light and floating. Just as the tyrants have a knack for bringing you down, the revolution lifted me to the top.

On Friday 11 February, the night came out of the museum to play on the square. Suddenly, the most difficult thing became the simplest. Suddenly, a new dawn started for me and you. The earth relaxed at the thought that the next morning, Saturday will be the first one without a dictator.

My wife looks different today, my son too. I regain my memory as a father and my father’s memory comes back too. The house is bigger now, bigger than before, big as history, big as geography, big as man.

On Saturday morning we exchange greetings. Good morning sadness. Good morning happiness. But before we get to chat, before we get to embrace, we feel the pull toward the revolution, toward a revolution that wants to be complete.

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