Egypt’s Cyber Revolution, a Gift from the Waiting Generation

Date: Feb 2011

Iman BibarsIman Bibars, age 50, and Regional Director of Ashoka in the Arab world is euphoric on the phone from Cairo: We regained our soul, our voice, our pride and now no other ruler can be a tyrant. Having lived for 30 years under Mubarak’s repressive regime, Bibars is quick to give credit where it’s due: The Cyber Revolution was a gift from the Waiting Generation. Tech savvy, in their 30’s and 40’s, this generation spent their youth waiting to be educated, waiting to be employed and waiting to get married. Our generation was cowardly. It was the youth who went to the streets and died for us. We are their followers.

But Bibars believes that the American TV media missed huge – and predictable – chunks of the story.

Both she and Magdy Amin, 33, an advocate against female genital mutilation who I spent time with in mid January in Cairo,
Magdy Amin

Estimated that 40-45% of the crowd consisted of women in Tahrir Square.
Tahrir Square

Bibars’ sense was that the US media has a frame. Reporters look for women in hijabs and burqas, male peasants and students. She reported that they had no interest in interviewing her, a middle aged, Western dressed, English speaking NGO activist. While the Cyber revolution was gender blind, Bibars is concerned about a Council of public leaders that is being established by the government to oversee the transition. It does not include a single woman. She is working on changing this.

Magdy, also ignited by the jubilation on the streets of Cairo late last night shared his takeaways: It was something completely different and now we are in a new situation confronting the issues that triggered the revolution – economic disparity and political discontent.

Magdy is concrete: Egyptians need jobs. We need decent pay. The weekly hike on taxes on food were intolerable. We cannot survive on 400 Egyptian pounds ($66) a month and we need more opportunities for work. The protestors demanded reasonable salaries – not less than $ 1200 Egyptian pounds ($ 200) a month.

Unity prevailed at Tahrir square. Magdy explained that he was initially with his friends but then he became one with the crowd and everyone was a friend. The revolutionaries came from the poor, middle and upper classes and, we were unified in our demands. The poor were more focused on the economic challenges. The rest were concerned about political freedom and the 30 year emergency law that indiscriminately detains and imprisons citizens without due process.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a red flag for many Americans. Bibars notes: Twenty percent of Egyptians are with the Muslim Brotherhood which is not in a leadership position and there was not a single chant at Tahrir Square focused on religion. Bibars reminds us that we need to distinguish between people being religiously observant and fanatic, insisting on having an Islamic state. In crisis, even those who don’t pray, start praying. (There’s an American saying, “there are no atheists in a foxhole.”)The Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it will not seek the presidency and nor will it seek a majority of parliamentary seats in the election. Egypt is not run by the mullahs like Iran.

Speaking for the younger generation, Magdy is convinced that most Egyptians do not support the radical religious perspective and accuses Mubarak of exploiting the situation politically by suggesting that his departure will pave the way for a take over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Looking ahead, Magdy says, What the protestors want in a president is a good person who can keep the peace in the community and focus on both the political and economic problems.

Americans are asking what’s next in Egypt: Military rule? Or democracy and a civilian government? Bibars believes there will be a democratic election and a civilian president. She says: The military will always side with the people. There is a trust between the two and this was made even more evident in the military staying on the side lines during the protests.

I witnessed this history in the making on TV with my mother. We think Mubarak’s exit is a beacon of hope for Egypt, Muslim women and world peace. The Jan 25 Revolution demonstrated that non violence for regime change works, in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King – and it works in the Muslim and the Arab world just as it did in India and the American South. It just had not been tried. My mother reminisced about how she grew up thinking of Egypt as the heartland of Islam and how she viewed Egyptians in her youth as being dignified, cultured and always telling jokes” – so different than the Egypt of recent years.

The part about jokes was reinforced for me as Magdy shared the flavor of the evenings of the revolution where the protestors enjoyed poetry, skits and songs. He wanted to share a very, very funny joke that was acted out and focused on former president Hosni Mubarak (represented by a donkey) and his son Gamal Mubarak:

Gamal: Hi my Daddy, I want to be the new president
Donkey: You should be and you must save millions of dollars
Gamal: I will try and I will remember to send them to you.

The opinions mentioned in this blog reflect the personal perspective of Shahnaz Taplin Chinoy, Chair Invest in Muslim Women.

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