To Lebanon: our revolution was beautiful. But please don’t turn into us.
It took us 18 days. Cheers filled Tahrir Square, everyone was laughing, crying tears of joy and they celebrated like never before. It was everywhere. People were singing in their homes. Egyptians abroad celebrated all night in the streets. They finally breathed freedom. Yes, breathed it. We felt it, and that feeling was the most precious. The muzzles on everyone’s mouths were finally broken after decades of oppression. The 30-year dictator, Hosni Mubarak, finally stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011.
People beat decades of oppression and finally stood against police brutality. Our chants of “Bread, freedom, and social justice” were finally about to turn into reality. We cleaned Tahrir Square and left it, full of dreams, full of hope, full of optimism.
We won. We thought we did.
The protests were mobilized mainly through a Facebook page called We Are All Khaled Said. Khaled Said, 28 years old at the time, was brutally tortured to death by the police back in 2010, six months before the uprising on Jan. 25. Some dubbed it the “Facebook Revolution.” Egypt proved to the world then that social media can be a tool for activism. Egypt’s example showed the efficacy of social media. And people in other countries in the Middle East were partly inspired to follow Egypt’s example, as seen in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and now Lebanon.
The thing is though, the “Facebook Revolution” wasn’t effective enough.
Here’s a quick recap. In 2012, Egyptians voted for the first time in a democratic election. Votes came down between one of Mubarak’s regime members (Ahmed Shafiq) and a Muslim Brotherhood candidate (Mohammed Morsi). It ended with Morsi winning. One year later, in 2013, people took to the streets again to oust Morsi, and four days later, a coup happened, carried out by then-Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
That’s when things turned around. At least a thousand people, pro-Morsi, were killed by the police at their sit-in in Rabaa Square in August 2013. Morsi died in June of this year after collapsing in a court session. Sisi, who assumed the presidency shortly after the coup, is continuing to silence dissidents, imprisoning tens of thousands and spreading fear.
Now, Egypt has nearly 60,000 prisoners of conscience. Not all prisoners were even activists. My friend wasn’t.
My friend Abdelrahman ElGendy was arrested with his father, just a day before his freshman year was supposed to start in mechanical engineering at the German University in Cairo (GUC). There was a protest nearby and the police took them from a car, even though they weren’t part of it. They just happened to be in the area.
My friend has been in prison since October 2013. He was expelled from the GUC and applied to another university in Egypt, considered to be the toughest in engineering, Ain Shams University. He graduated from mechanical engineering last June, without stepping foot into it, just studying on his own and doing exams in prison.
My friend was part of the national basketball team. He had no political affiliations or even an interest in it. He had plans of travelling to Germany in his second year to continue his engineering dreams there, in parallel with his basketball goals. He was called a “genius” in high school. I mean, what other name can be given to someone who finishes mechanical engineering without stepping foot into university? I bet that an international university would accept him without a second thought.
But Egypt stole these dreams. He was arrested at 17 and is supposed to get out when he’s 32. He has no way out besides a miracle. His father was released in a presidential pardon list in 2016 but my friend wasn’t. And he isn’t alone. Thousands of others weren’t. There are many stories, many innocent lives being wasted for injustice, and we’re all helpless.
A couple of months ago, there was another attempt at protesting. But it died down with an outbreak of arrests. Why? Because we played it all wrong from the beginning. And it’s important to admit where we went wrong if we ever want to play it right in the future. The “Facebook Revolution” was an incredible way to mobilize for change. The days in Tahrir Square were special and remain special for those who were there and those who supported it. But what followed it was all wrong.
We were passionate and optimistic. But the passion wasn’t enough. Thinking our voice had a stronger power was a lie. We never actually played politics. We didn’t know how because we were genuine about all we did. And sometimes being genuine brings naivete. The only tool we had was speaking up. But with a history of oppression going back nearly 70 years, a Facebook invitation wasn’t going to sustain a radical change. Protesting alone wasn’t going to – and doesn’t – fully change anything. It has so much potential. It can be the first step, but only the first step. Removing a president isn’t the magic solution. It has to be part of the solution. But there’s more to it. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll fail, because the battle is exhausting and often disgusting.
Lebanon, this is for you. Your protests are beautiful. I’ll always support whoever speaks up for their rights, but consider our mistakes. Protesting isn’t enough, you have to plan ahead. Prepare for the fight because, God, it’s going to be long. Corruption will be entrenched in every corner, and they will be stronger than you. Fellows of the old regime will be everywhere, trying to hinder every single attempt you make to move forward. Politicians will chase after their own benefit, fighting with each other, and ignoring the public interest. It’s going to be tough.
Freedom is a special feeling. It is too special that it becomes self-destructive when you finally feel it, then have it stolen away from you again.
My friend in prison and people in Lebanon: I’m proud of you. The revolution in Egypt was the best thing that happened in its modern history and the best thing in my own life. But what happened after it was, and still is, horrible.
I hope Lebanon has a long breath in this battle. I hope you never sink into the oppressive, unjust, helpless situation we’re in. I hope you reach your dream. And I hope my friend is freed soon. Because, while he can finish a master’s in prison, just by putting his mind to it, he wants to do it outside. He deserves more.
I hope we see our dreams become reality. I hope we all witness freedom and hold on to it with all our might.
I hope for a world of humanity, tolerance and peace. I hope for a better place than this.