Environment, participation, role of women: voices from the streets of Cairo in post-revolutionary Egypt

2011-01-25 00:00
2011-03-19 00:00
Cairo North

After the 25th of January, many youth groups in Cairo and in Egypt started cleaning up and beautification campaigns in all streets and in their neighbourhoods. They all have a facebook account and manage to gather hundreds of volunteers willing to show how they take care of their country. They invite people to join them in the street, giving them masks, gloves and brushes for cleaning and painting with the flag’s Egyptian colors walls and fences. After having led the uprising, and protected their living places, they are now showing that they feel, more than before, real ownership of their country and they are willing to play a role in the challenging democratic process to activate.

We report here some of the voices, collected by our volunteers and staff in many public occasions, of young girls and boys strongly convinced that they can make the difference in this very important moment of their history. The 25th of January Revolution gave back to them the hope and the will to contribute to build a new country, which should now democratically meet their requests and needs.

Most of them have chosen the very symbolic clean-up days and beautification of streets and squares probably because it is most effective and the change is visible; probably because of the strong cultural message of staying in the street among the people and working with them. But they also “want to participate” and to show proudly how they can be the engine of change: “I will raise my head and be proud” and “Your hand in my hand to build Egypt” are some of the slogans written in their leaflets.

They are self-organized, self funded and in some cases also supported by the private sector. The TV video we report in the following http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvlnovn3xR4&feature=player_embedded, was filmed last 2nd of March in Galaal Street, near Ramsis station. The promoter group is called “We love you, Egypt, and protect you”.

The “environmental” issue seems to be one of the priorities of these groups. During the last weeks many of them distributed leaflets in the streets where they urged the people to “start from yourself” and to “clean up your country”, “the street is like your house, let’s clean together”, “plant a tree and do not throw wastes in the street”. Shabab Shabrawi Buhebu Masri (Youth from Shoubra, I love Egypt) is another group acting mainly in Shoubra, Sahel and Rod El Farag: they also organized many clean-up and beautification days. This shows that environment is really at the top of the agenda in the country and needs to be considered as strictly linked with the concept of shaping the democratic process to come. Actually, J. and F (only names’ initials are used because no permission was sought to reveal the interviewed persons’ identity) from Shoubra, in charge of another local protection (of the revolution) committee went over the environmental theme and told us more: “why we concentrate on clean-up days? Simple: we want to make clean of the old regime, we want to concretely clean up the dirty of corruption of the old system”. They are also convinced that their engagement now is “to contribute to the civic education of the people in order to create 80 millions of speakers able to express themselves and to ask for their rights”. It seems, also, that dealing with the environment means paving the ground for participation to the sustainability of the social, cultural and political development of the country.

A leaflet distributed last 25 of February in Ramses square invited also to “not to molest girls”. During the 18 days of upraising which led to the step down of Hosni Mubarak, in Tahrir Square the relations among women and men have been fair and respectful. Women and girl actively contributed to the “revolution” and played key roles in supporting the pacific struggle against the regime.

Nevertheless different positions can be registered toward this topic. F., a 60 years old woman, assisting and supporting the campaign in Galal Street, expressed her positive attitude towards the involvement of women in public and working life, but “not for women to stand and continue to stay in Tahrir”. Different is the position of H., interviewed during the 8th of March Tahrir demonstration, who recognizes that “this is a key moment for women in Egypt, because after the achievement of the 25th of January revolution, the next step is inclusion in the political context. It is the perfect timing for women to struggle for their rights”.

The same day, inside the tent camp of Tahrir Square among the protesters, we met S., 45 years old, worker in a pharmaceutical company. She decided to continue to stay there and to camp in the middle of the square with other protesters until real, complete change of the old regime and until all the requests of the people will be met, including minimum salary for workers: “we are and will be the watchdog of the new government and of the future politicians”. Similarly, T., a young boy who decided in January to join the protest in Cairo from Sharm el Sheikh, told us clearly in a perfect Italian: “I want to breathe the freedom in my country, that is why I am still protesting!” M., met during a cleaning campaign, is on the contrary for the position of leaving Tahrir in order to have a testing period with the new government: “…in case they will fail we will be ready to go back to Tahrir”.

All these voices will give a first feedback to the decision of the ad interim government to hold the referendum for amending the Constitution next Saturday 19 March, voting yes if they accept a compromise between the old and the new, voting no if they want a complete transformation. They are already coping with many signs of a counter-revolution, as the first of many challenging steps to follow on the long way to democracy in Egypt.