Alaa Al Aswany is the best selling Egyptian author of The Yacoubian Building, Chicago and Friendly Fire: Ten Tales of Today’s Cairo. He is also a founding member of the political movement Kefaya.
I’ve written the word ‘people’ so many times in my novels and articles but for the very first time I know the meaning of the word. It’s no longer an abstract theoretical word. It’s real. What happened in Egypt is a revolution by definition. Firstly, it was a mass movement and secondly, the demand for Mr. Mubarak to resign and disappear politically was unanimous in the protests. We were fed up with the old system – the whole system of absolute power, corruption and hypocrisy – and we wanted to end this era and begin a new chapter in Egyptian history.
It’s important to note how liberal this revolution was. I’ll never forget seeing Muslims and Christians praying together. I saw a musician with long hair and his girlfriend singing songs about the revolution and in front of my very eyes I saw members of the Muslim Brotherhood dance along. We ate together, we prayed together. There was a wonderful feeling of a big family gathering in the protests. There were committees – one for food distribution, one for medical care, one providing microphones and speakers and one that was on the look out and protected the rest of them. The protestors in Tahrir Square even went as far as creating a prison for thugs who were attacking them and the people in charge were women. One time I dropped an empty pack of cigarettes and an elderly woman came and made me throw it in the rubbish bin. She said, “We are building a new Egypt and our new Egypt should be clean.” A revolution is like being in love and when you are in love you become a much better person. No regime could have withstood an uprising like that. But of course the revolution did not only take place in Tahrir. That Square was the symbolic headquarters of the revolution, but the revolution was truly in every street in Egypt.
Mubarak was the typical dictator. It’s a character I’ve described in literature over and over. Interestingly, even the most terrible dictator has a very positive self-image. There’s something called the Solitude of the Dictator – he usually loses touch with normal life, with the street. He is surrounded by hypocrites that tell him he’s a hero, he’s doing well and that he’s loved. And eventually he begins to believe it all. This is not to say that Mubarak has not had a positive role in Egypt, but that was a long time ago during the 1973 war when he was the highest chief of the air forces. But let’s not forget that there were other heroes too.
It was a historical moment when he stepped down. My friends didn’t believe it would happen and accused me of being too optimistic. But I read history thoroughly and fully understood the Egyptian people, so I always new they would revolt.
Having become accustomed to the echoes of sniper shots, on the day Mubarak stepped down, I thought the sounds of people crying and shouting were gun shots. But when I came out I saw people cheering, dancing and chanting. I’ve never seen Egyptians look so happy.
This revolution was much stronger than others before it because it was led by the people and not by one person. If it was just one person, it would have been easy for the regime to manipulate them. This revolution was a huge shock to the regime and we saw how helpless they were in preventing it. What was efficient to silence us on January 24th is no longer useful. We are in a transition period in politics. For the first time we will have an elected government that will meet the demands of the people. I don’t mind who takes over next. What matters is, for the first time, Egyptians are going to choose. And Egypt has a huge influence in the Arab world. Democracy will soon spread.