[Note: The writer, Dalia Basiouny, has interned and collaborated with
the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory.]

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all the good energy you are send Egypt and for all your
support. I tried to write when I came back from the demonstrations
last night. I started, but it was very late, and I kept receiving
phone calls from young friends wanting to discuss the situation till
1:30 am, then I fell asleep.

I slept soundly in my bed for the first time, since the curfew started
a week ago. I have moved to my parents house last Saturday, to be
close to them, and to follow the news on television. (TV and parents
deserve separate entries. I will write about them later.)

Here is my entry about my experiences on Feb 4th. Feel free to share
without getting back to me, as it’s hard for me to respond to email.

I will not inundate you with more emails. Geralyin set up a blog for
me, so you can follow my updates and earlier commentaries, if you
chose on the gmail blog “Notes from Cairo”

Thank you,

Dalia Basiouny

5 Feb 2011, 10 am

I am very happy this morning. Yesterday was a magnificent peaceful
day. There were millions demonstrating against the regime all over
Egypt in the “Day of Departure” as it was dubbed. It is very hard to
estimate the exact numbers that came to Tahrir Square, but I am sure
that the numbers were more than Tuesday’s “Million People March”,
which conservative estimates said exceed one million people, and Al
Jazeera said two.

I decided to go early, in case they block the streets. The images of
last Friday’s marches after the prayer and the violence that ensued
are vivid in my mind. I want to be inside the square before the
prayers. The friend who wanted to accompany me from Pyramids Road said
she is going be late, as her husband cannot leave the house because
there is a car waiting under his house to arrest him. This is not good
news; they are arresting activists before the marches! I go alone
toward downtown. I hear that they need more anti-biotic for those
injured on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I want to bring some but
another friend warns me that this morning the thugs attacked a friend
of hers, took the medicine she brought and were about to abduct her.
OK, I will not bring medicine or food, but I still want to go in.

The road is blocked two miles away from the square. There is a
military checkpoint; they check people and inspect the bags. They want
to know what’s on my camera, I said ‘nothing yet’. They let me in. I
wait for my friend who comes from the other part of town by Kasr El
Nil Bridge, the safest entrance to date. I get a phone call from Anna
in New York, she wanted to make sure I am make OK before she sleeps. I
received another phone call earlier from Sophie in Australia, making
me promise that I will make sure I am safe. They too must have seen
the images from Friday and Wednesday violence.

I run into a young friend. She seems a bit confused from what she
heard on TV the day before. She asks me with innocence and sincerity
“Are we right? How can we be sure that we are not destroying our
country as they say on TV?” We talk a bit about that while walking
toward the square, with hundreds of others.

All these people decided to come early, just in case. A good sign! Not
so good when so many of us are crammed in front of a tiny entrance, at
the checkpoint of the square. The people’s committees, under the
supervision of the army, inspect every bag and parcel. They check our
clothes and pockets. It takes time, and there are so many of us. A man
comes in with a large bag, and says “I am a doctor, I am carrying
medicine.” The crowd opens for him to pass quickly. People waiting
start chanting slogans about the solidarity of the people and the
army. Some chant against the president, but a few respond, as we are
not yet in the safety of Tahrir Square, the truly liberated heart of
Egypt. Then an impromptu chant arises “We want another entrance.. Open
another entrance.” There are a few women in the crowd of men entering
and they make way for us to go ahead of them.. one of the benefits of
being a woman during the revolution. We are checked thoroughly and our
IDs inspected vigilantly, to make sure we are here to support the
demonstration not cause trouble. We are allowed in.

The square is busy, though it is only 10 am. It is usually not that
busy this early in the day, another good sign. Our young friend who
was a bit confused earlier, though she demonstrated daily since
January 25th, leaves us. When she finds us again, she has a wide grin.
Though a number of her activist friends were arrested at night, she
regained her faith in the validity of her cause. Two groups of
activists were being interviewed on TV on Thursday night. The four who
were interviewed at Al-Mehwar TV were abducted after the show, and
somehow they managed to inform the other four who were interviewed on
Dream TV near by. These ran and hid in a mosque. They called the
parents of the young woman with them to come get her. Later the three
men found a way to return to the square, with stories.

The main story is about the celebrities they encountered on the TV
show. The TV announcer who was said there are only 20 thousand
gathered in the square, not a million, apologized to them, and said if
she doesn’t say that, she’d lose her job. The main guest of the TV
program is one of the intellectual celebrities, a writer and a
publisher. His analysis of the situation was the reason my young
friend was “confused”. This same man, after the taping, told the young
activists “forgive me sons, I have no other choice.” I was happy to
see my friend gain her faith in what she is doing, and start to
realize that what she hears on TV is not wholly, and definitely not
the whole truth.

Soon after it was time for “Salat El Gomma’” Friday prayer. Hundreds
of thousands of people are going to pray together. A few thousands are
not praying. Some are guarding the place.. The hubbub of the square
calms down. The half million or more men and women praying create an
amazing energy as they recite the Quran, bow and kneel together, row
after row.

They perform both Zohr and ‘Asr prayers together, because of the
unusual circumstances. Then follow this with the prayers for the
martyrs. The prayers end with saying “Assalmu ‘Alaykom” to the right,
then “Assalmu ‘Alaykom” to the left. The moment they finish, without
missing a beat, and without a prior agreement, everyone in square
shouts at the same moment “Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees.. Asha’ab
Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees.. Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Nezam.” (The
People Want the President to Step Down.. The People Want the President
to Step Down.. The People Want to Topple the Regime.) Over and over
and over. With power, with determination, in defiance! I am covered in
goose-pumps as I shout with them, in a voice I have never used before
“Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees”. It’s hard to describe this energy;
to be with a million people (literally) wanting the same thing at the
same time. Their burning desire makes them all say it at the same
exact moment! WOW! I am in owe of the power of the people. I am
optimistic.

After the prayers we start to walk around the square. It’s very very
busy, but my friend wants to make sure that more people are coming.
This is our main card to pressure the government, our
huge numbers
today. That people would continue to come to demonstrate in spite of
all the government’s tricks to deter them. The media war to brainwash
the public for days; trying to connect the destruction in the country
and the financial collapse to the peaceful demonstrators. In addition
to days of surrounding people in the square, trying to starve them by
confiscating food and supplies and beating up those bringing them in.
They started a physical war using camels, horses, petroleum bombs, and
eventual snipers killing and injuring many many demonstrators. All
these tactics did not work out. People were flooding the square on
Friday. Thousands upon thousands of peaceful demonstrators kept
coming. Many performed their prayers in mosques in different
neighborhoods and walked for miles to Tahrir Square. People feel
triumphant as they arrived, just because they were able to enter the
square. Most of the ones just coming in are telling those they meet;
“There are as many people waiting to get in as those already in the
square.” This is comforting to hear! We will be more than a million
people. It’s hard to gage the number when you are inside it,
especially if you are of a small stature. I climb on one of the fences
and I am owed, with the sea of people swarming around the main circle
in the center of the square and all streets leading to it.

The energy is even stronger than last Tuesday (February 1st, the
Million People March). On Tuesday, there was a euphoric sense of a
people discovering itself and its power for the first time. A bit of
disbelief, a lot of relief, and a great sense of freedom. After all,
we are standing in the center of Cairo, saying whatever we want about
the government that oppressed us for decades and about the president,
with the loudest voice possible, sometimes even on loud speakers. WOW!
Can we really do that? Yes! We are doing that! Everyone on the square
is doing it. To be here means that you crossed a few checkpoints and a
larger number of fear barriers inside.

But being on the square on February 4th, “The Day of Departure” meant
something even more. You not only conquered your inner fears, but also
a lot of outside pressure.  To be here means that you heard on TV, and
possibly from friends, family member, neighbors, co-workers or even
loved ones that this has to stop. These “kids” demonstrators are
destroying our country. They are paralyzing the economy, and allowing
foreign forces to infiltrate Egypt. You also heard or saw the news of
the Wednesday massacre. It’s not just a matter of starvation, but you
know that the demonstrators have been and could be attacked,
physically, and even lose their lives. But they here, in millions! How
refreshing!

Many many Egyptians had stopped caring about their country, because
they saw that there is no use. It seems that the spark in their hearts
has not been fully extinguished by years of organized government
brutality, corruption, or brainwashing. They are here from every walk
of life. They are here in spite of the warnings. They are here and
THEY ARE NOT AFRAID. This is something I never thought I would witness
with my own eyes. I was not afraid. Millions are not afraid anymore.

Many people are on the square because they are desperate. They have
NOTHING. So they have nothing to lose. But there are so many here who
have good lives. They are middle class and upper middle class. (I can
tell from their shoes!) They possibly drove in fancy cars, or walked
from the near by rich neighborhood. They talk to their friends in
English, in perfect American or British accents. They are not
politically inclined. But being on the square on Friday was about more
than politics. It was about freedom and dignity and witness a country
wake up from a long slumber.

Many demonstrators are talking on their cell phones. The bits of
conversations overheard are mostly people giving directions on which
checkpoints are safe or temporarily freed from the government thugs,
or people justifying their presences in the square, and explaining to
those at the other end of the line what they are experiencing: People
are really very civilized, honey.. Sharing food with others.. No
foreign presence.. Cleaning the square themselves.. Please don’t
worry!.. No, no sexual harassment.. Off course no one gave me money to
come here!.. I am safe mum, I swear.. I did not see any Kentucky.. Why
don’t you listen to me?.. Believe me it’s not like what they say.. Are
you stupid? My sister is as dumb as a shoe!

I can understand the bits of conversation. I too watched TV and had my
fears. I too had to call my mum to assure her about my safety, and she
repeated what she heard on TV about the horrible situation there. I
too had to promise my friends that I will be careful and not try to be
a hero if violence erupts. But unlike last Friday, this Friday is not
a day of violence. There is no police presence what so ever. The army
is surrounding the square to protect us, not to harm us. What a
difference a week of resistance makes.

Hardcore demonstrators who haven’t left the square in a week, might
not be able to get enough food, or even decent sleep on the rough
pavements of the square. Some left their families without food for the
week or even the day. No one promised them a job, or guaranteed them
anything, but the triumphant look in their eyes shows that they have
already won. Now they have something that no one can take away from
them. They have DIGNITY!

The hours pass quickly with so many activities in the different parts
of the square. Slogans, chanting, marching, political discussions,
meeting people you know, or talking with others you just met. It’s
close to 4 pm, and the square is still filling up with incoming
people. I move toward the entrance of Kasr El Nile Bridge, still the
safest entrance with the largest influx of incomers. I see droves of
people entering. With a big crowd on the inside cheering them after
they cross the checkpoints and inspections. The impromptu welcome
committee is making up slogans to chant. Those entering are getting
heroes’ welcome; many are clapping for them and chanting as they come
in, rhyming couplets, with some drumming sounds created from empty
plastic bottles. “Welcome, welcome to the heroes.. Welcome, welcome to
the men”, “Muslim, Christian, We Are One”, “Where is the press..We are
millions.” These rhyme in Arabic and sound very motivating when sung
in unison.

The large number of people entering makes a man sitting next to me say
on the phone “Yes, now we are 30 million!” It feels that way
energetically, but as for actual numbers his math abilities need some
sharpening.

There are a lot of men of every age group entering but there is a
considerable number of women, and of families. My favorite was an
elderly couple, in their eighties, walking slowing supporting each
other, with content smiles on their faces, followed by their young
grandchildren in happy outfits. A few people are in disbelief when
they first enter. Not just because of the warm welcoming chants and
clapping, but they are owed by the huge numbers and the rising
energies. One woman was so overjoyed by emotions, her face was full of
tears at the sight of Free Egyptians.

The energies keep rising, and people walking in groups around the
square continue to make up chants and riffs on popular songs. They are
brilliant! Translation would rob them from the wit and humor, and the
subtext and intertextuality would require pages to explain. So
I will
only mention the funniest that was freshly invented yesterday:
“Wahed..Etneen..El Kentucky Feen?” (One..Two.. Where is the Kentucky?)
They are referring to the news reports that accuse the demonstrators
of receiving monies and daily Kentucky Fried Chicken meals from
foreign entities. This rumor is particularly hard to believe, not just
because of the integrity of demonstrators and their self motivation to
revolt against oppression and brutality, but also because KFC
restaurants have been closed in Egypt for quite sometime. And it is a
logistical nightmare to airlift KFC meals for a million people, and
deliver them to Tahrir while still warm!

It is February, but the day is very sunny, and it gets hot after a
while of walking around in the sun, with a million other people. My
demonstrating body and I find a vacant spot on a shady pavement to
sit. We are absorbing all the amazing things taking place around us,
the sights and sounds and words and looks in people’s eyes. The
comments strangers exchange as if they have known each other for
years. There is a sense of community, comradery and solidarity, a
powerful defiance toward the regime and a feeling of freedom in
“liberation square”, the literal meaning of “Tahrir”. Suddenly, I
scream out with joy: “Dragonflies!”. My very sensible architect friend
does not understand what I am saying. I point above our head. She sees
the two huge dragonflies, but she still does not understand. The
dragonflies keep circling over us, and one of them almost touches my
outstretched hands. I am exhilarated. My spiritual friends and my
new-agy friends would get goose pumps when they hear about dragonflies
appearing in a crowd of millions. New age is a whole other language, I
won’t attempt to explain. I am just so pleased to realize that that
not only physical human beings are here, but the angels are also
smiling upon us.

It is almost time for the curfew that is loosely followed by
Egyptians. Part of the crowd is leaving, while other continue to come
in. My friend leaves, and I start to walk alone, and I run into so
many people I know.. co-workers, students, many artists, friends from
college, and even a classmate from Junior high. I am so owed when I
meet Egyptians who flew to Egypt this week to participate in the
revolution, from Arab countries, Europe and the States. They left
their jobs and their lives and came to witness this amazing moment. I
met many of them. This balances what I read in the papers about
artists leaving the country, and two of my friends who took their
families and left. I understand how scared they were, but I am so glad
to know that others were not scared to leave their comfortable lives
abroad, and to come back just to stand in the square. One of them
tells me with such a matter of fact voice “If this works out, I am not
going back to Italy. I will stay.” Hhhhh! Egypt is no more a one way
street; a country that pushes its people to leave, to immigrate, to
find any kinds of jobs anywhere else. Legally or illegally they try to
leave, some even drown in the Mediterranean while trying.

The sun sets and the energy of the square changes again. The nighttime
crowd is cool. I meet some artist friends. One is playing music and
others are in heated political discussions. One is on the phone
explaining to a journalist why it will NOT be a chaos when the
president steps down. More people, many more conversations. It’s like
a reunion. I hear of them saying “I want a revolution every day to
meet my friends.” I agree! Those in the square are my friends. I don’t
know most of them, but we all share in creating this amazing moment of
our history, just be being there.

I do hope that the eleventh day of the revolution will be the eleventh
hour for this corrupt regime. I am happy, and so proud to be Egyptian.