Last Friday night we went with my friend Maha, whom I’ve told you about, to see a performance called “Tahrir Monologues” at the Rawabet Theatre downtown. (Strong review here, less admiring review here.) “This is not a play,” declared the program notes: it was documentary theatre, a pretty moving series of monologues based on interviews with participants in the Eighteen Days that toppled Mubarak. It started hesitant and built to triumphant: the boy who put on four layers of clothes so he could “withstand police beatings and keep going,” the girl who felt mildly guilty because she went home to sleep each night instead of camping out in the square, the young people who saw something within themselves change as they gained courage by confronting the regime’s brutality.
Rawabet was packed, and some of the energy probably came from the fact that many in the audience had been to that day’s unified and celebratory (though Islamist-dominated) demonstration in Tahrir. Audience members who had lived the Jan-Feb events nodded, laughed, and quietly commented: yes, it was exactly like that. But their feeling of nostalgia competed with an odd sense of unfinished business. There they were, back in Tahrir. The show’s voice-over intro had stressed the psychological achievements of the 18 days, the sense of dignity and fearlessness that Egyptians would carry “regardless of whatever happens after this.” For the moment, having successfully mustered a huge number of protesters to demand SCAF hand over power to a civilian government, they felt engaged again.
Then on Saturday the violence started. Yesterday (Tues) I texted Maha to check in. She texted back:
Thank u Marg. I go to work in the morning and Tahrir in the evening. Talk to the media if u can, Arabic or English, public or private. Tell them the people in Tahrir r butchered savagely. Tell them we r not thugs. No thug will carry on with the fight for so long.
The Rawabet Theatre collected dropped-off blankets and medical supplies.
Today we texted again.
It’s a war zone there Marg. U can’t imagine.
Pray for those on the front line and those on motorcycles carrying them outside when they r injured. They r so brave Marg. No masks, but they whiz in to the front line and come back.
I have seen more bravery in 2 days than I saw in my entire life.
What was this business about needing to tell people the protesters are not thugs? (“Thugs” here, baltagiya, often means not just troublemakers, but people paid to be violent.) That’s certainly not how the media in my country are covering it (look, Anthony Shadid is finally here!). British papers either, I think.
But tonight I talked with my downstairs neighbor, a respectable woman in her 70s. She had the TV going, an independent channel but on mute, so just huge images of chaos in Tahrir. She shook her head. “It’s just wrong,” she said. I thought she meant the tear gas and live ammunition. Instead: “These people have lost their minds. Isn’t there someone reasonable to tell them that this is wrong, that they should go home and stop ruining the country?” And that is the charitable view, basically the one advanced by Tantawi in his speech last night. Those poor misguided children. I’ve heard versions of it even from people sympathetic to the protesters (but concerned that the elections go ahead on time, or worried that the economy is at a standstill and the country almost bankrupt, etc.). A short hop from there to thinking these naive or too-stubborn protesters are open to being manipulated or paid.
As long as I’m reporting vicariously through Maha, let me tell you what she once told me about the eighteen days. The hardest part, she said, was after Mubarak’s Feb 2 speech where he offered all the apparent concessions, offering to resign in September and promising Gamal would not run to replace him. That’s when people started calling the protesters terrible names, blaming them for being stubborn and unreasonable, unwilling to compromise, for destroying the country. The same words some people are saying now. “But he gave you everything you were demanding! What else do you want?” Then came the camel battle; Mubarak resigned 9 days later.