At this point you may think to yourself “Is Mark still talking about Egypt more than 2 months since returning home?” The answer is yes. Proudly.
As I have now published all the interviews I have to share with you from the journey, I realized there was still audio that I had never put together and released to the public – the audio from Tahrir Square, as Chris and I, together with inspiring friends and people who just came right up to us, speak about what was going on around us. It was, and remains, a unique moment in my life and clearly from listening to people, an unforgettable moment in their lives as well. Part of a long struggle where there are beautiful and terrible days. This one, I believe, was a beautiful one. Take a listen, one last podcast from the Arab Artists in a Revolution series, one last chance to be transported back to a time and a place that captured the imagination of the entire world. Special thanks to the dear friends who every time we came to the square, stuck with us made us feel at home.
As part of the Arab Artists in a Revolution series, during our three weeks in Cairo, we had the pleasure of meeting up with the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He may not be an artist but at 90 years of age, he is an extremely experienced observer of Egypt and the world, who is passionate about humanity and its problems. In this interview we meet in his living room over looking the Nile, the river that is “like a god” to him and who’s present and future crisis he see’s as 100% tied to that of Egypt.
Unlike previous interviews in this series, you may find (as we did) that this one does not go smoothly. Dr. Boutros doesn’t always like the kind of questions where you have to use your imagination, the “Academic questions” as he calls them, “that help fill pages of the newspaper”. Yet despite his frustration with the media, he lays out the state of Egypt on the global scale; what is happening, why it is happening, and the key questions that people inside and outside the country should be – but are not- asking.
During our time in Cairo, in between the steady stream of interviews and journeys to different neighborhoods, there were also the moments when we managed to do a little tourism and visit magnificent sights of the ancient city. On one such afternoon, under the guidance of our excellent friend and Egyptologist Shereif Nasr, we visited the Sultan Hassan Mosque, a beautiful Mamluk era structure completed in 1359.
This week I find myself in the Northeast of the United States, home for the holidays and also to process all the audio, video, and photos from the Middle East – North Africa journey. Being back in the US means being subjected to the local and national media context, which makes American stories seem larger than life, and Egypt feel like another planet. At holiday gatherings and reunions with old friends I am often asked things like “So is it all falling apart in Egypt or what?” Sometimes its put in nicer terms, but the tone is most often one of skepticism and as if their minds have already been made up about what is happening in that part of the world.
In the American press I see the other standard reaction towards the events taking place in Egypt, including conclusions about what took place in the weeks that I was in Tahrir Square – the revolution has been hijacked, a new dictatorship has emerged, the opposition is falling apart. When I read and hear such analysis, by both intelligent and less well-informed individuals, I again feel like I left Egypt and landed on another planet. In this world everything has to fit into categories and boxes. There are either winners or losers. Things are either successes or failures. So whatever those countries are going through, they must fit into one of these easy to understand categories.
What I wish most is that I could, even beyond my work here on the website and on radio open source, show them examples of the changes that have taken root on the personal level in Egypt and Tunisia. (and beyond I suspect) It never makes it into headlines or fancy mainstream news analysis, that metro workers went on strike last month, an action that would be unthinkable under the dictatorship. Women, long plagued by street harassment and oppression at home, are now organizing themselves to adopt tactics to neutralize such harassment and get out of abusive situations. Lower class people, long barred from ever working in higher skill and prestige jobs, are starting to demand equal opportunity and an end to prejudice based on what your father’s profession is. The list is actually much longer than this, but in my many conversations over the course of three weeks in Cairo, it was impossible to avoid stories of individuals carrying out personal rebellions against an old and oppressive tradition.
Is the process complete and successful? Are the oppressed finally getting the justice they deserved? No. Sadly, these changes are slow to reach everyone and there is no guarantee that they will take hold for everyone everywhere. Is there resentment and push-back from those who don’t want to see these changes come to fruition? Yes. Many people fear what is to come and would prefer to keep things the way they were. But beyond all of this, no matter what happens in the future or what is happening now, something has changed in Egypt and that something is the individual mindset. And as so many people reminded us, over and over, once you reach this change and start thinking like a free person, there is no going back.