Sitting in Arabesque with our whole crew, I was overcome with excitement, anticipation, and anxiety. The café was jam-packed with eager Egyptians awaiting the momentous announcement that would ensure one of two fates: angst and chaos among the hundreds of thousands of people in Tahrir Square or elation and merriment. I could feel myself stirring, impatiently awaiting a name: Ahmed Shafiq or Mohammed Mursi to be uttered from the lips of the head of the Supreme Court, Farouk Sultan. As I tried to make sense of the Arabic swirling through the café, I was overcome by my emotions: with a Shafiq win, the country was sure to go up in flames with protests, violence, and pandemonium. Earlier in the day, Ustaad Lo and Taylor (our on-site coordinator), had attended evacuation training to ensure we were prepared for the worst. I certainly wasn’t ready to leave Egypt. My adventures and love affair with Cairo had just begun and yet, I faced the incredibly real possibility of being on the next flight back to Indiana. I couldn’t come to terms with leaving Cairo so soon, but those thoughts clouded my mind as Sultan read page after page of voting results from each governorate.
Please, I thought, please let Mursi win. For my own selfish reasons, I couldn’t help but pray Mursi would come out on top; I thought we would stay in Cairo if this were the case. Ustaad Lo had texted us right before the result-reading extravaganza had begun: “Mursi got it, no worries (:” I’m not sure how Ustaad always seems to know these things, but I was foolish to doubt him. When the final tally was read and Mursi was announced as the new rais (president in Arabic), clapping, cheering, and horn-honking ensued. Throngs of people filled the streets, flashing peace signs and Egyptian flags as the city erupted with joy. I, too, could not stop smiling. We were safe, I thought, we’re staying!
June 24th, 2012 is a day I will never forget. After anxiously awaiting the release of the presidential election results, the news that Morsi won had me running to my apartment window in Garden City and flinging it open to hear the roar of the crowd in Tahrir Sqaure. When I think of that day, my mind is enthralled by a film strip of images and an unceasing buzz of people, an almost rhythmic beat like one of my favorite poems being read aloud. I remember walking through the streets after the announcement of the results and finding my stride align with the melodic “Morsi! Morsi!” chants from the proud Egyptians filling the streets in celebration.
When I finally got to my destination, Arabesque Café, to meet with the rest of the DukeEngage team, I took time to reflect in writing about the thrilling moment I was soaking in:
“All of these people from so many different generations and walks of life coming together to celebrate the change they have been believing in for so long- what a wonderful reminder of how beautiful life is, of how connected we are as human beings. Part of me wonders that even though I am here in Cairo witnessing this pivotal moment, can I really be a part of it? I am happy for Egypt, sure, but imagine the elation the Egyptian people are feeling; as an American, this is something I will never be able to understand. This isn’t my country, my history, my struggles. However, humanity’s struggles and triumphs, though very different, are intertwined delicately. I’ve always been a naïve idealist, but at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.”
I stopped writing for a moment as the waiter at Arabisk, Mahmoud, brought me my tea. He motioned that I should be writing in Arabic (if only) and then asked me “Morsi or Shafik?” I looked him in the eyes and paused- is it really that simple? I replied “Morsi!” but still to this day I am unsure; however, what I do know is that I wanted to see a change for Egypt and its people. Mahmoud broke my sentimental mood by putting his hands over his face- motioning that I better cover up with a hijab or niqab. He laughed lightly and moved on to the next customer. For a moment, I was snapped back into the reality of the bigger picture and a surge of questions begin to arise in my mind: What will Egypt be like for women and religious minorities now? Will democracy be sustainable and what powers will Morsi have as president? Further, how will this country change? Because, for better or worse, change is coming.
The most intensified feeling of patriotism I have ever felt was felt on this day, and I’m not even Egyptian. As I walked down the street with Ustaaz Lo and two other members of the group the following is some of what I saw and heard:
- “Welcome! This is the new Egypt!”
- Peace signs. Everywhere. And when I reciprocated the gesture people would smile even bigger than they were before.
- A boy no older than 5 propped up on his father’s shoulder with his face painted with the colors of the Egyptian flag.
- Cars only meant for 5 people stacked 10 people deep to chauffeur everyone to Tahrir, all honking to the exact same tune as they rode by.
- The homeless woman I’ve seen so many times sleeping or begging on the street was up and striding. As we passed each other I noticed she’s sipping on a Pepsi and smiling to everyone for the first time since I’ve been here.
- “Ahumdulellah!” (Praise be to God) was the response I received from Ahman (a young teenage boy who delivers water to us) when asked if he was happy.
- An elderly man driving at 5 mph down the street in order to throw candy out of his window. “Sweets!” he said when he saw us foreigners and then continued with “Mabrook” (congratulations) as he continued on.
“Mabrook” was the most heard word of the day for me. They weren’t saying congratulations to Morsi or to the Muslim Brotherhood; they were saying it to each other. Why? Because today as a united people under one nation called Egypt they succeeded together. This was and still remains to be the only day in Cairo that I was never once annoyed with the constant honking. I can still hear the rhythm in my head. I was never once afraid just because I was a foreigner. Seeing so many people so rejoiced and all towards one goal they have achieved, you can’t help but feel rejoiced with them. It’s a type of feeling I’m not sure I will ever experience again in my life.
As I walked down the streets after the Egyptian election results were announced, I couldn’t help but smile at the crowds of people holding up peace signs, singing, and cheering. It was an infectious atmosphere of celebration after a week of uncertainty and waiting, but in the back of my mind I was thinking about the future of Egypt. After countless conversations with Egyptians about the elections, Morsi still unnerves me. It isn’t his religious or political affiliation that makes me so nervous, but rather what Egyptians have claimed that he will do.
While it’s easy to write of the claims of Shafiq supporters that Morsi would make Egypt a country of xenophobes, the casual stance of many Morsi supporters that he would establish a military regime is astounding. One very active Morsi supporter said to me “Morsi will have a military regime and be very powerful, but at least he will be a change from Mubarak.” Another claimed, “Morsi will not leave after 4 or 8 years, he will make it so that he can stay no matter what Egyptians say; he will be there for a very long time.” I was shocked and had to actively keep my jaw from dropping at these words. I just kept thinking “you mean you’re actively voting for someone you think will become a dictator? Why?”
However, right now for me in Cairo, Morsi means peace and the chance to stay here for the next month, and I am absolutely thrilled for this opportunity! It was incredible to see an entire city explode with joy and to have heard the cheering in Tahrir from my window, but in the back of my mind, I still wonder about the bigger picture and what it will mean for the Egyptians in 4 to 8 years’ time.
Reflections from June 24th, 2012:
“So I’m sitting in our favorite cafe right now on Qasr-El-Aini called Arabesque – and the Egyptian election results are supposedly (inshallah?) going to be released in 30 minutes. The excitement is palpable and I’m feeling the energy in a way that is indescribable and without precedent for me. It’s really just incredible and crazy that we are out right now and going to witness the reaction to the first democratic election in this country’s long and tumultuous history. The weight of this moment is overwhelming – Egypt has been at the crux of civilizations for centuries and is arguably the most important country in the Middle East, which I have been devoting my studies and personal interests to for the past three years. More than anything I wish I could be in Tahrir right now where all the action is happening (close to 1 million people must be there right now — unbelievable!) and obviously we aren’t allowed to go, but the thought of being in the place where the fate of this country (OK maybe a bit overdramatic, but that’s what it feels like!) is decided is indeed tempting.”
The new president of Egypt was announced after a long and anxiety-ridden speech. Every Egyptians eyes were glued to the TV in anticipation and I can say with all honesty that I’ve never felt so much nervousness resting on a single moment. People immediately started cheering and clapping when Sultan (the election commissioner) announced Morsi as the new president. Crowds of cheering Egyptians waving flags, chanting, and singing stormed past the cafe doors in excitement, en route to Tahrir of course. I couldn’t help but feel Egyptian as I shared in their joy – a new era of Egypt’s history has just begun!
In the modern history of Egypt, I don’t think the streets of Cairo had ever been that empty before. What used to be a chaotic stream of buses, cars, trucks, motorcycles, donkey-drawn watermelon carriages going in literally every direction and at their own speeds was replaced with the occasional taxi or family car quietly streaming along. No horns, no yelling, no people walking in the streets. Everyone was inside a café or shop, listening to the radio or watching the TV as Farouk Sultan gave a speech minutes before releasing the results of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. He was slated to speak for about an hour and half, which seemed reasonable given his inch thick stack of papers that he rattled off one by one. Men in business suits, bloggers on laptops, and our group with hookahs and tea filled the smoke-filled café as we all waited in tense silence to see what would be the fate of Egypt: would the streets break out in riots if Shafik won? Had SCAF negotiated with Mursi to give him the presidency? After my Macbook refused to wirelessly connect with Arabesque’s wifi and thus prevented me from reading an English translation of the speech, I walked back to our apartment with Yohana to get my iPhone, which always worked in the café. On the way back to Arabesque as we crossed through a gas station, men cheered outside a small café. I knew Morsi had won. There wouldn’t have been such a large cheer for Shafik, especially in the area where we are staying. I also knew I had missed history in the making by trying to find a stupid iPhone.
We next witnessed uproar throughout Garden City and the streets returned to their usual jam-packed and treacherous selves. Sedans with people sitting in open trunks feet dragging on the road and motorcycles with families of 5 on them rushed to Tahrir to celebrate democracy. Fireworks rained down on us. In a way, the 4th of July came a few days early for us.
Waiting for the election results was stressful. A few of us arrived at the cafe early to make sure we weren’t on the streets when the announcement was made. Even once the speech started, though, we had to sit and wait through almost an hour of tedious details from the chair of the supreme court, Farouk Sultan. The atmosphere was already charged – as soon as the commission members took their seats, the entire city seemed to stop and take a deep breath. The cafe became perfectly silent. But the contents of the speech worried me even more. Sultan seemed to be preparing the people for an unpopular verdict – criticizing the Brotherhood for their many electioneering violations and continually deducting votes from Morsi. Still more troubling, we kept getting reports on Twitter of tanks moving towards Tahrir and helicopters flying above the city. History hung in the balance for a short time, and many of us feared the worst.
As a result, the reaction was all the more jubilant when Morsi’s victory was announced. The people in our cafe jumped out of their seats and started shouting. We could hear the roar from down the road in Tahrir right away. My peers have discussed some of the images we were fortunate enough to witness. All the cars honking with one rhythm. Cars packed with people, crowds of Egyptians moving down the road. Everyone waving flags. It was bigger than just Morsi – I’ve spoken to many Shafiq supporters who celebrated in Tahrir just the same. Many people saw the results as a manifestation of the revolution. The SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) could meddle with the Constitution but not, apparently, the votes. The last remnants of the old regime had seemingly been removed.
I think many Americans take democracy for granted. They should have been in Garden City that day. The joy was infectious. I couldn’t stop grinning. The people felt empowered, and it was a beautiful thing to see.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty in Egypt’s future. We don’t know what the new regime’s relationship to the rest of the middle east will be. We don’t even know what powers it will have. We don’t know what the composition of the new parliament will be. We don’t know how the SCAF will react to a Morsi presidency. The transition will continue, ان شاء الله, but I think June 24th was a pretty strong step in the right direction.
We were lucky enough to be here in Egypt as Morsi became the first democratically elected leader in Egypt’s history. It’s been a while since that day, and I remember it mostly in a few images and feelings.
I remember sitting in a packed café with some friends intently waiting for the results on TV. While it was the most crowded the café had ever been, it was also by far the quietest I had ever seen it. I remember the frustration as the announcement was first pushed back half an hour, and could feel it grow as Sultan’s speech dragged on for over an hour. I was scared of the results: scared that people might be angry over them or that protests would break out all over Cairo and that we would have to go home.
Of course, more than anything, I remember the excitement and happiness after the announcement finally came. People smiling, shaking hands and saying “الحمد الله” (thanks be to God). The cars in the street all started heading to Tahrir to celebrate. Pick-up trucks regularly had upwards of 8 people standing in the back. Everybody was honking and chanting “Morsi! Morsi!”
It goes without saying that I had never witnessed a celebration like this before. I had never seen millions of people all come together over one thing like that. Even now a few weeks later I don’t know exactly what to make of it. The one thing that I do know is that it was a day I’ll never forget.
The following is an account of what I felt on June 24, 2012:
“The sounds, the sights, the emotions: it all seems so surreal to me. As I sit in my favorite café, I am overwhelmed by what feels like a wild cocktail of excitement, joy, and an all-too-common sense of uncertainty. With the blaring harangue of news networks streaming the latest updates over our heads, the pulse of Tahrir is palpable no matter where you are in the city. Muhammad Morsi is the first elected president of Egypt. Just typing that sentence sends indescribable emotions and sensations throughout my body. I am here. We are all here, encapsulated in this incredible moment in Egyptian history. I struggle to formulate in words and phrases what I feel right now: my happiness, my confusion, my fears. But as I remain in a daze, gripped by the images of youth wildly chanting “Morsi” as they zoom by, I begin to realize that what I feel can’t possibly compare to the emotions of the nearly 90 million native Egyptians surrounding me. I’ve only been in this country for four weeks and already I feel emotionally invested in today’s historic events.”
But what to me was a traveler’s “dream come true,” was a truly defining moment for the citizens of Egypt, one that will reverberate in their lives for the weeks, months, and years to come. For a nation gripped by a 16-month bout of instability, Morsi’s victory marks another chapter in the thrilling adventure that is Egypt’s revolution. But today, our DukeEngage group is an eyewitness to a turning point in Egypt’s story, a plot twist with the potential to change everything. Many questions remain unanswered: what kind of president of will Muhammad Morsi be? What role will minorities and women play in the latest episode of political drama? How will the world respond to Egypt’s first truly Islamist leader? Pondering these uncertainties is both exhilarating and extremely frightening. For the first time in my life, I feel I am a part of “history-in-the making,” a chronicle of events that will be studied by future generations. But while they will benefit from history’s clarity, my present self is blind to what lies ahead. And yet with all of these unknowns and ambiguities, one thing remains crystal clear: I will never forget where I was and whom I was with on June 24, 2012.
Read Desmond’s full post here.
Two weeks have passed since Egypt announced that Muhammed Morsi as the new president. Our group felt incredibly lucky to witness this moment: we all had the chance to watch parades of happy, cheering voters driving their trucks and motorcycles on Qasr el Aini street towards Tahrir Square, just a mere ten minute walk from our apartment. But for me, one of the most rewarding experiences of being in Cairo in the aftermath of the revolution is talking with Egyptians about the uncertain future and what they wish for Cairo to become. On Wednesday at Al Resala, one of our NGOs where we teach English to adults, our group engaged in a heated discussion about Morsi and what his government will accomplish. The discussion turned into a shouting match over whether Morsi can achieve their dreams of universal education, abundant jobs, and improved traffic, just to name a few. When I looked back on my journal, where I wrote all of my thoughts on the excitement of June 24th, I realized that I had been very naive in my reflections; while the celebrations on the streets did merit my own happiness for Egyptians, I did not fully realize that underneath the joy, much hesitation and disappointment is widespread amongst Egyptians, even those who support Morsi. What will define Egyptian history is not June 24, but how Morsi’s government serves the Egyptian people.
An excerpt from “Egypt at crossroads” published on The Immanent Frame:
Mohamed Morsi was declared President of Egypt little more than two weeks ago. Challenger and former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, sent President Morsi a telegram congratulating him on his victory: “I am pleased to present to you my sincere congratulations for your victory in the presidential election, wishing you success in the difficult task that has been trusted to you by the great people of Egypt.”
As thousands celebrated the victory of the Freedom and Justice Party—part of the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood organization—in Tahrir Square, just a few blocks away a much more somber mood prevailed…
(Read the rest of the article here.)