2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Protester in battle as long as it takes

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011

Feb 9, Cairo: For the first time since anti-Mubarak protests exploded on Egypt’s streets on January 25, she was headed for work this morning, to the labs in Cairo University where she is a cancer researcher.

“But be sure I will be back in Tahrir by the afternoon,” she hastens to add as if to allay any impression she had tired of what she insists on calling the “Egyptian revolution”. “We have not come this far to back off, Egypt will never be the same again after what has happened over the last two weeks. It might take more time than we initially thought, but the change will come.”

Mona Seif Hamad might seem an unlikely revolutionary lunging at the foundations of an entrenched police state masquerading as democracy —- slight of build, soft of speech, her mop of ringlet hair and her sophomore’s manner verily belying the reality of a 25-year-old scientist locked in the throes of a turbulent street enterprise. You’re almost tempted to ask what’s a nice girl like you doing in a rough place like this?

But you wouldn’t volunteer such a question if you merely cast your eye around those skippering affairs on the square.

Mostly young English-speaking professionals — doctors, teachers, software engineers, lawyers, bankers, brokers, bloggers, a constellation of Egypt’s new elite really, dynamo-driven by aspiration that is as global as it is local.

And yet Mona would quarrel with the notion that this is an uprising of, by or for the elite. “Look at the people out on the square and you’ll see people from all classes and creeds, poor people, middle class people, old men and women. True this was set off by instruments on the Internet, but in Egypt Internet is accessed by all kinds of people. To call this an elitist movement is to insult it, the elite is on Mubarak’s side, they are the people who have benefited from his rule, not us. This is a people’s revolt, nothing short of it.”

Mona, a graduate of the prestigious Cairo University, comes from a politically embedded Left-wing family; her father is a human rights lawyer, her mother a teacher and both have long been involved in battling Egypt’s serial dictatorships. But that alone is not the spur that drives her.

“I think I was born into the fight against Mubarak,” she says, reduced to giggles by the cameo tale of her romance for revolution she is about to tell.

“You know, my father was in prison when I was probably conceived. His friends ensured my mother met him secretly while under detention and I was born while he was still in prison. So there is that story about me. I came to my senses with the thought that Mubarak should go out and now is the time.”

It’s been more than a fortnight, though, and Mubarak shows no sign of giving in; on the contrary, the uprising might be losing some of its momentum. Are they lost on how to take this ahead? Is the lack of leadership a critical obstacle? “You know, our lack of leadership has actually been an asset so far. When the revolution burst, nobody knew who to arrest, who to put down, everybody was a leader, how many would they arrest or kill?,” Mona says.

But today she does believe, as many others do, that picking a leadership is required to steer ahead. “Nobody represents us, not the so-called Wise Men, not the Brotherhood or ElBaradei. As long as they support our demands, that is good, but they are not us, and they cannot hijack this movement. We have to find our own representatives. You must understand this was spontaneous, we probably did not think it will last this long, we are in transition, it may take more time, but we are going to stay the course and devise strategy as we go.”

How long, though, how long in the face of an immovable regime that is taking less and less cognisance of the key demand for Mubarak’s ouster each passing day.

“As long as it takes,” Mona says with a persuasive shake of her head. “We are in the battle, as long as it takes to finish.” Six months? Until Mubarak completes his term anyhow? “Well we hope not that long, but if that is what it will take then that is what it will have to be.

“There can be no let up, we can’t vanish from here because this is as much about Mubarak as about how the new Egypt will be shaped.”

Tahrir Square is stirring up to a boil yet again, fed as much by hope as by fears that a let-up will squander the gains of the past fortnight; and Mona Seif is on the cordons which she doggedly believes will break into Hosni Mubarak’s resistance and leave Egypt unshackled.

“Go, Mubarak, Go!” Her voice is intermittently hoarse from screaming, she’s been ill with exhaustion and on medication, but she won’t leave her vigil.

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