Over the last week, I was bombarded with images of the violence that erupted in Egypt. Initially, I watched the crisis unfold with a certain amount of detachment. In the beginning, it was just another faraway place, with foreign people disenchanted with yet another foreign leader, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. And then I heard the Egyptian government pulled the plug on the Internet.
I’ve never been to Egypt, but I know what would happen here in America if anybody pulled a stunt like that. Communication is the key to organization, and quite clearly, the Egyptian government did not appear to want its people organized. What ensued, then, was disorder, chaos — misunderstandings. Not only did the shutdown cost the country a whopping $90 million in lost revenue, major institutions like banks and government agencies were forced to close, as well.
Suddenly, those foreign people in that faraway place started to become real to me. I tried to imagine what it would be like to not be able to withdraw money from my own bank account; to not be able to buy food for my kids; to worry how my family was going to make it across town without being trampled or killed; to not know when all this violence would end.
I could not.
So, I kept up with the reports. I found out the protesters of the current Egyptian government wanted the same deal we have in America — democracy — and that they felt they weren’t getting it. As proof, Twitter and Facebook in Egypt became blocked. CEOs of media corporations vanished into thin air. Journalists were told what to write, or else. Hundreds were beaten and arrested.
Still, the Egyptian people found ingenious ways to communicate. They actually used dial-up phone modems to continue showing the world what was happening to them. There were even reports of ham radios and Morse code — forms of communication that hadn’t been used in the mainstream in years. Suddenly, I found myself rooting for these people. Up until last week, I knew Egypt had a couple of pyramids, an outrageous tourism industry and a really famous mummy. Now, I could see that they were human beings desiring what every human I know wants — to be heard and respected.
When I learned the average citizen couldn’t make more than $5 a day working, I began to understand what they hoped to accomplish in their protest, despite the opposition. In America, we have the right to challenge our government. But in Cairo, I watched a man, walking alone, fall down. He was a protester and he was shot to death. On my laptop, right next to this video footage was a clip of Perez Hilton and an ad hailing the return of Beavis and Butthead. It was a sobering paradox.
Not a whole lot’s changed, positively, in the last 10 days since the protests in Egypt began. People have died, but the Internet’s back up. There’s been an almost total lockdown on journalists covering the story. Americans have left behind friends and family members on last-ditch flights out of the country. Tahrir aka “Liberty” Square looks like a complete war zone with no end in sight. Some people are comparing these events to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or Tiananmen Square — just not as bloody. But to people in Egypt, these comparisons sound like another attempt to characterize them as just foreign people in another faraway place — and clearly, they are not.
In the meantime, I’m still glued to my laptop, trying to ignore the pop-ups, and staring at a screen which reads: “Egypt: The Whole World Is Watching.”