Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Report from Cairo: Regime takes the gloves off

This seems as good a time as any to inform the Afropop community that we have been planning for more than a year to mount a major research and production expedition in the summer of 2011 in.....Egypt!

The events of the past eight days will obviously affect our plans in ways none can yet foresee with clarity. We plan four radio programs, a new block of entries to our Hip Deep program catalog.  The programs deal a great deal with history, but were always intended to culminate on a meditation about a great country at a crossroad in modern times.  More on all that to come. But our most immediate concern in recent days has been our friend on the ground in Cairo, long-time resident, K.N. This morning, internet service was restored in Egypt, and we were thrilled to hear from K.N. Here is the first of what we expect to be a series of reports as this profoundly important nation undergoes a historic process of change.

Protesters in Cairo.  K.N.  2/1/2011
February 2, 2011

Today, what was a peaceful demonstration of men, women and children, a family affair, became horribly violent with more undercover police. We were shocked to see armed men on horses and camels charging the protesters--a really bizarre scene.  Mubarak and his cronies' speeches carry no weight because they continue to disrespect the people as human beings. What has happened here has brought out the dignity that I felt was missing, before. The opposition has brought out the very best in people. Suddenly, we see initiative, respect, concern and humanity. The regime set an example of the opposite that trickled down to the street and I used to despair at how widespread was arrogance and abuse of power and contempt for others, but people now have hope and that allows them to regain their humanity. That is the miracle and, whatever happens, that must stay. Unfortunately, 70-80% of Egyptians have access to only State media. BBC, Arabic and English, Al Arabia and CNN are via satellite. On TV, Sawiris' station is Egyptian, but also via satellite.

The challenge now is how to get the truth out to all these people who 1-are afraid for their homes and businesses 2-are not getting paid 3-just want things to get back to "normal" 4-are worried about food shortages. I heard one woman calling in to complain that they couldn't even get chocolates for their kids. Can you imagine? At the same time, there is a call out to people who are leaving to leave extra food and anything else to a refugee committee as Sudanese are starving here. The refugees are the first to suffer. When Sayed (a colleague) is asked, "Why are you involved? You seem to have work, a roof over your head,"" his answer is, "I'm not doing this for myself, but for my children and your children's future." University graduates who can only make 200 egp (that's less than $50) a month, absence of rule of law...well don't get me going. enough for now.

Peaceful protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo.  K.N.  2/1/201
The following are questions posed by the Board members of a dance/theatre group here, HaRaKa, that might help to clarify what's at stake:

Simple Questions to the Egyptian Government:

1- If the government truly wanted to fight the riots and exercise damage
control, then why was the building of the National Democratic Party (the
ruling party) left on fire without a single fire brigade arriving to
extinguish it?

2- If the government truly wanted the safety of its nation against "the
violent riots" that were not violent at all, entirely peaceful and literally
repeating, "Peaceful, Peaceful," why were Egyptians left without policemen,
fire brigades, ambulances? How come the phone numbers to such security apparatus
become suspended and unable to receive calls of citizens during such urgent and
dangerous events?

3- If the government believes that whatever was happening on Egyptian
streets was very minimal, just a "small group of monopolized young minds"
protesting, the way the Egyptian TV mis-announces it, why did the government
shut down internet, Jazeera Channel and telecommunications? What did the
government wish to hide from the media for one week?

4- If the government wanted the security of its nation, and to control
violence and to fight destruction, why were we left without a single police
officer for over three nights on all Egyptian streets? How come in a heavily
policed country like Egypt that it would be possible for all policemen to
disappear suddenly for over three nights?

Stay strong, stay together, stay for Egypt, for freedom, justice and
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