Feel Like an Egyptian
I'm an Instructor at Harvard, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, author of How Risky Is it, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, and principal co-author of RISK, A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You. I run a program called Improving Media Coverage of Risk. I was the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of the Harvard School of Public Health, for 4 years, prior to which I was a TV reporter, specializing in environmental issues, for a local station in Boston for 22 years.
Egypt has a civilian president. For most of us….so what. These are distant events, physically and emotionally, without much meaning and certainly with little personal relevance for most of us. We may know about them, but how much do we care? Even those few who make the effort to stay aware of what’s going on elsewhere in the world are only connected to these events dispassionately, through just-the-facts news reports that are themselves the observations of strangers and outsiders watching at an emotional distance. We get the facts, but not the feelings. But the story…the human story…is incomplete without both.
Let me introduce you then to Nadia El-Awady. She is a remarkable young Egyptian woman, a mother of four, a science journalist and the former President of World Conference of Science Journalists, who actively participated in the Egyptian revolution, spending weeks in Tahrir Square even as she and a team of her colleagues rescued the bi-annual international conference of science journalists and successfully relocated the whole complex multi-day affair from Cairo to Doha, Qatar, where I met her. Beyond competent, she was gracious, and friendly, and thoughtful.
So I ask you to pay special attention to what Nadia wrote after the Egyptian elections commission yesterday officially declared Mohammed Morsi, a civilian, the new president of Egypt. Nadia’s post offers a sense of what it feels like to be an Egyptian today, to connect to the human passion of a people that wanted freedom, and to how they feel as the details of Egypt’s post-revolutionary future takes form. Please do read her entire blog post, The Day Egypt Got Its First Civilian President. I have excerpted sections of it here.
I left work early yesterday, June 24, just as most everyone in Egypt did. I was concerned that once the election results were announced – regardless who won – it would be difficult for me to get back home. My work is within five minutes walking distance from Tahrir. I was anxious throughout the drive home. Cairo was going through an intense heat wave. The roads were jam-packed with everyone trying to get home before 3pm when the announcement was due to be televised.
I made it home five minutes before the announcement was supposed to be televised. It was foolish of me to think that anyone could be on time in Egypt. It took some 45 minutes later for the cameras of Egyptian television talk shows to turn from their studios to the hall where the elections commission had gathered. I was restless in those 45 minutes. Very restless. I started cleaning the house. I don’t do that often. I have someone to do that for me. I munched nervously on some of my home-made chocolate chip cookies. I kept the TV on loud and went from one room to another getting some house work done. When the call for the Asr prayer was made, I prayed right in front of the television set just in case. Minutes afterwards it was time.
I sat on my bed in front of the television set in my bedroom. Three of my four children gathered to watch. Judge Farouk Sultan began reading from a huge pile of papers in his hands.
And then came the final result. He started with Shafik. He announced a number in the 12 million range. And then he said it: Shafik got 48% of the vote.
I didn’t need to hear the rest. That meant Morsi had won. THAT MEANT MORSI HAD WON!
My reaction surprised even me. I was among hundreds of thousands who nullified their votes (after the first round of elections). I couldn’t bring myself to take on the responsibility of bringing either candidate into government. I did not risk my life during the revolution for me to vote for someone from the previous regime. But I also have serious concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood ruling the country.
I thought my reaction would be negatively neutral either way. It wasn’t.
When I realized Shafik had lost, I began shaking uncontrollably and crying. I could not believe that finally, after everything this country and its people have gone through, the previous regime has fallen. They will not rule me or my country again, at least not for a long time. The fall of the previous regime meant that the Muslim Brotherhood was in. But in that moment, I didn’t care. I was tremendously happy. So tremendously happy.
My first reaction was to call Arwa. We had shared almost every day of the revolution together. Our experiences were almost identical. The things we witnessed, the experiences we went through, the same; the blood, the bodies, the gun shots, the tear gas, and finally the jubilation with the fall of Mubarak. I needed to share this particular moment with her. She picked up the phone. I was crying and words would not come out of my mouth. She didn’t wait for a hello. She started, her voice also crying, by saying, “Yes, Nadia. Yes. They are gone! They are gone, Nadia.” We cried together for a short time. Then I said, “Let’s go to Tahrir, Arwa.” She said, “Are you sure? It’s going to be crowded.” I told her I felt that it was something we needed to do. She agreed.
It took me no more than 20 minutes to get dressed, have a quick snack, and leave the house to head towards Tahrir. I could hear celebratory gun shots throughout my neighborhood. One man was standing on the corner passing out red juice (sharbat) in celebration. A young boy was rushing around on his bike chanting, “Morsiiii….Morsi!” On Pyramids Street, a young man was galloping as hard as he could on his horse up and down the street. Toktoks, little three-wheeler vehicles used as taxis, were swerving back and forth across the street. Cars were honking. Flags were waving. Smiles were everywhere. I waited on the roadside for a taxi to take me to Arwa’s house. A bearded microbus driver stopped and asked me if I was going to Tahrir. I said yes. He invited me to jump on. Everyone on the microbus was jubilant. The discussions between complete strangers were happy and excited. I got off near Arwa’s house, and the moment we saw each other we embraced. We jumped into a taxi and went to Tahrir.
The streets leading into Tahrir were crowded with people celebrating. Flags were waving for as long as the eye could see. In Tahrir, there were fireworks, groups of people dancing, others chanting, and such happiness as I had not seen since the day that Mubarak fell. The square was full of pride. “Raise your head high….You’re Egyptian!” That is what people chanted the day Mubarak fell. That is what people chanted in Tahrir Square the day Morsi won and Shafik lost.
Some people were clearly celebrating the win of their favorite candidate, Muslim Brotherhood Morsi. Others were clearly rejoicing at the loss of Shafik, a minister and then prime minister in Mubarak’s government. Everyone was happy. Everyone was proud.
Last night we celebrated. Last night, Arwa and I were celebrating what we hope represents the fall of the former regime. For the first time, we have a civilian president. We have a president who was elected by the people. We cannot yet say that our country is not ruled by the military. But maybe one day we will be able to say that. Yesterday was a historic day. Our revolution took one big step forward. I say this despite the fact that I nullified my vote in the final round of presidential elections. I say this despite the fact that I have serious concerns about Morsi’s rule, not because of the man himself, but because of the organization he comes from.
Today I am a happy woman.
Egyptians: do not let this one step forward make you think the revolution is over. This is a milestone in our revolution. But our revolution must continue.
Egyptians: it is time to watch our new president like hawks. And we need to continue our pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to hand over power to a civilian government. We have so much work ahead of us.
Egyptians: CONGRATULATIONS! Wooooooooooooooohoooooooooooooooooooo!