We're pleased to introduce Raghda El Ebrashi, a young Egyptian activist who joined her friends and compatriots in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand freedom and democracy. Here is her personal story of that remarkable experience, her reflections on what has been achieved, and her plans to eradicate poverty in her country.
I should have written this blog earlier, but I decided not to write anything until my country was free. The 11th of February, 2011, is the day that will be recorded in the history of Egypt as the day of freedom, the day of dignity, and the day of justice.
As a young Egyptian, I have for years been working with thousands of youth in the civic sector in the country to include the marginalized population in decision-making. We worked in poverty alleviation, unemployment, youth inclusion, and political participation. However, with the existence of a regime that didn’t encourage democracy or enforce labor rights, poverty increased to reach 44 percent, while unemployment among youth escalated to reach 90 percent of the total unemployment rate in Egypt. We all started to believe we needed political reform, and this is what we the Egyptian youth did.
Our parents saw it coming! Youth activism has increased in Egypt since the late 1990s among university students (16 to 20-year-olds); first through charity activities, then through community development activities. By 2004, many young people started to join political parties, or join political movements as Kefaya (Enough!). Although youth were encouraged to have a voice in political reform, unfortunately, the regime didn’t give them the chance. Most of us who opposed the regime were either detained under the emergency law or threatened.
I don’t want to go into political or historical analysis here, but it is important to mention that the 2011 Egyptian revolution was ignited when the police tortured and killed a young man in Alexandria because he refused to be inspected. In addition, youth – representing more than 50% of the Egyptian population – felt that political reform is the solution after the Egyptian government was accused of forging the last parliamentary elections to keep most of the seats in the parliament for the corrupt.
The 25th of January didn’t start as a revolution; it was just a movement! Youth went into this movement in various cities in Egypt to call for the cancellation of the emergency law, fair wages, and social justice. It turned into a revolution when the police started to use water, force, tear bombs, and even killed revolutionists in various cities. We decided it should turn into a revolution, and the whole political system has to change. We kept leading the revolt, surviving death and injuries, and searching for our friends who were detained or even kidnapped by thugs.
I couldn’t sleep for days because one of my friends was killed by the police, and kept searching for other friends who were either detained, or even don’t know where they were. In the middle of misery and the loss of many martyrs, we persisted to continue this very peaceful revolution; this revolution that included the poor and the rich, the Christian and the Muslim, and even children and elders joined. During this revolution that constituted millions of Egyptians, there was not even one case of sexual harassment, and no one threw paper in the streets. We loved Egypt even more than before.
Under the slogan Selmya (peaceful), we persisted until we saw the great change on the 11th of February, when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after many attempts to stay in power. For the first time in Egyptian history, Egyptian youth are leading political reform and bringing democracy to our beloved country. For the first time in Egypt, legitimacy comes from the citizens and not from the government.
This is just the beginning! Many of us are now working on a new constitution, plurality of political parties, cancellation of the emergency law, and fair elections next September. Some people like me returned back to focusing on the economic development of the poor in the country and advocating for social justice, while others are focusing now on political awareness or education reform. Everyone has to do his/her role to build this country.. to build OUR country!
I am currently working on launching a national strategic project to eradicate poverty in Egypt by 2020. Are you surprised? Don’t be! If we were able to change the political system in 18 days, we can end poverty in 10 years.
To our dear martyrs: thank you for your very dear sacrifice, and for bringing us liberty. Peace be upon you all, and with respect.
This post is written by a proud Egyptian.