I sat last week, totally immersed in CNN, from about Tuesday night until sometime Friday when I had to finally get out of the house. The situation in Egypt--and Tunisia, for that matter--have created in me an even heavier thirst for knowledge into the political, religious, and social dynamic that is ever-changing in the Middle East.
Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His sports column on ESPN.com runs every Wednesday.
I was talking to local but internationally acclaimed photographer Lance Mercer about all of this stuff (Mubarak, "thugs", and Anderson Cooper getting sucker-punched), when he told me about a girlfriend of his--a Seattle gal--who is living there, and won't leave because her Egyptian husband is embroiled deep into the cause. I was sort of enthralled, and asked him for more info. I received this e-mail from her the other day. She wanted me to see about getting it put into my column. I have asked the Seattle Weekly staff not to show her name.
Here it is for you all. A voice from the inside of Egypt . . . from "Heather":
Good morning, everyone:
I still have a terrible cold and am again sitting on my bed watching Al Jazeera, which is the only English channel showing news about Egypt right now. The BBC is having a show about the super-rich, and CNN is showing a documentary about Tiger Woods. Not interesting.
Right now it is quite chilly out, breezy and gray. I can see that Tahrir Square is still well in the hands of pro-democracy protesters. There have been calls for more large demonstrations Tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday. The Sinai peninsula is having trouble with gas pipelines (read: one of them exploded and was aflame for many hours this morning, but has been shut off), and we now know that it is the line to Jordan that was blown. Two countries (or I should say 3) are supplied with gas from Egypt - Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The Egyptian people have known for a long time that their Gov't has been selling gas to Israel and Jordan at 1/3 cost, while selling Egyptian gas to Egyptians at or above market price.
Kareem has gone to his shop in the small market 2 blocks away to check things out and clean up (dust and sand accumulation is very bad if not kept in check daily here), and his brother Ahmed and Mom went for bread this morning. There is a 5 pound limit on bread purchase, and the grocery prices have gone up. Yesterday and for the few days before, a small truck drove through the streets here with loud speakers asking people to only buy minimum amounts of essentials in order to keep prices from going up.
Right now Ahmed Shafik, the 'new' P.M. says that the news media have not been targeted during these days of protesting. It's handy to have the power to create an alternate reality I guess. Meanwhile, the head of the Al Jazeera headquarters here is still in jail and their offices have been looted and burned down.
Yesterday Kareem was in a discussion on FB to one of the many American friends he made and in the discussion, one of the Americans friends or relatives, and older American woman living in Spokane, insisted that her news was telling her that Mubarak is good, and that it is the Egyptian people who are looting and killing each other. She went on to say that she had to consult 'scripture' to see if Egyptians had the right to vote.
I suppose it is difficult for many people to have any sense of equality with Egyptians - they are non-white Arabs, and largely Muslim after all - a very frightening lot to a whole lot of people.
I am now watching a huge funeral procession in Alexandria today, for a young man who was shot and wounded several days ago and died yesterday. In the Islamic custom, the body must be buried as soon as possible after death, within 24 hours. The bodies are buried naked and wrapped in a single cotton sheet. You go to Allah as you came in, is the idea.
The sounds here have changed completely. There have been no donkey carts, no garbage pickers, no rag collectors yelling for peoples cast offs. I hear a lot of silence, except at night when I hear chatting and laughing from the groups of young men still patrolling. It is, though, much safer here than it was when this first began. People here in Cairo are very focused on Tahrir Square and know that this will be won or lost there.
I think Mubarak and his now somewhat disorganized Ministry doesn't understand that the people aren't going to give up. When you have silenced people for 30 years and they finally find their voices, why would you expect them to stop shouting? Indeed they are now not just shouting, they are talking and arguing and debating amongst each other and with foreigners like me about who should lead and how this transition should take place, and which opposition parties they trust. The Egyptian people themselves have made a transition from the first shouts to getting down to the business of democracy - namely talking and listening to each other whether or not they agree. The people of Egypt, I think, are simply waiting for the powers-that-be both in Egypt and around the world to catch up to THEM.
What I truly believe at this moment is that it is Mubarak's decision not to step down that is keeping the Egyptian people from moving forward. There is much stability here, made possible by the ordinary citizens who are patrolling, and delivering supplies, and knowing when to open their groceries and pharmacies safely so people can get what they need. The immediate willingness, and indeed sense of obligation, to share has been an interesting phenomenon to watch, and I wonder where this sensibility originated. It certainly isn't one enjoyed in other more wealthy parts of the world.
I also have now become familiar with the hugely important sense of dignity here in the Arab world. To offend a man's dignity is asking for a fight - it is to offend their entire sense of self. There has been much talk in the press in the last few days about Mubarak waiting until he can step down with his dignity intact. Let me tell you - this is not a joke.
So we wait, and watch the crowds in the square. I am so proud of them. I hope they continue to grow today, and continue to keep each other safe as they so effectively have, and I hope they grow in volume of bodies and voices in the next days and weeks until Mubarak does leave office. His obstinacy is hurting people. He must go.
I also believe it is the obligation of those who live with the essential rights - freedom of assembly, speech, and freedom of the press - to speak out loud for those who don't have it. I am not talking about the governments of free people - I am talking about the people themselves. It is your obligation to write letters, call your representatives, email each other, teach your classrooms and engage in discussion with each other whenever possible about how to spread the word that the people without these freedoms are supported.
I am thinking now of one of my favorite quotes from our beloved American activist and hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: "The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."
Know that I am not willing to leave Egypt without Kareem, and still hope to meet my Mom in Rome on February 17th.I am comfortable here, reporting on Facebook from my bedroom as I gather info from the sources I have at hand.
It is a bit lonely here although better since I have access to news in English (as long as the BBC and AJZ can stay on air!). For the first few days I felt like I was underwater, and felt panicked not being able to understand what people were saying on TV, and around me. It is very scary to suddenly have people shout, and have the men all run out the door with bats and knives in hand when you cannot understand what is happening.
Do not ask for stability - it hasn't done anyone here any good. Do not wish for the people to go home. Now is the time to ask yourselves the difficult questions about The Middle East and how world leaders have not only stood by, but supported these governments for their own gain while the people under the governments suffer. Now is the time to ask yourself the difficult questions about Israel, Hamas, Egypt, and Palestine and ask yourselves how and why you know for sure who the terrorists are and who the good guys are. Are you sure?
Talk to each other. Ask each other in synagogue and in the mosques and in church and in the grocery store. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of media surrounding the border between Egypt and Gaza in the next weeks and months, and a lot of brutality will, and should be, revealed having been done under this great banner of 'stability'.
As we have seen here, one movement has led directly to another from Tunisia to Jordan and this will continue as people begin to find their voices and anger and begin to ask for what is right. No governments here are now above this scrutiny by the people.
I hope to have a peaceful Saturday today, but I also hope to continue to hear angry voices shouting and chanting for what should be theirs - an Egypt for and by Egyptians!