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The secret to ousting Mubarak

Ahmed Eid
Activist, member of the Revolution Youth Coalition in Egypt
Ahmed Eid

Ahmed Eid

The peaceful nature of our activities was the secret in defeating Mubarak. In reality the word pacifism was not merely the term we applied to our activities, but rather it was what we used often to create and think up ways and means of demonstrating the scope of the "pacifism" we were engaged in. This was the case, basically, not because we were afraid of the law, but because, in any case, the dictatorial regime considered the simple publication of an article criticizing it as an illegal act. In reality, the main reason was our perception that, day after day, the pacifism of our activities drew a wide sector of the community to our cause. However, this did not all suddenly begin on February 25, but many years before. The straw that broke the camel's back came in December 2004 when the first ever movement demanding Mubarak's retirement appeared in Egyptian political life. This was the "Egyptian Movement for Change", best known for its slogan Kifaya –`enough´–. It was this movement that put forward the slogan "No to the extension, no to inheritance", that is: no to extending Mubarak's (the former president) term of office, just prior to the Presidential elections at the end of 2005, and no to the planned move of a hereditary transfer of power from Mubarak to his son. The movement caused significant political upheaval in Egyptian society and several peaceful protests and protest strikes were organized in different areas around the country. Despite the fact that the movement diminished in effectiveness slightly, the political upheaval increased and expanded with the appearance of other protest movements, some of which were of a legislative nature, focusing on human rights and worker's rights, among which were the April 6 Youth Movement, which was founded in 2008, when the workers at a textile factory in the city of El Mahalla El-Kubra, in the Gharbia region, announced their intention to strike in protest at the precarious working and living conditions. In this context, a young woman and a young man began a call for support for the workers and this was soon to result in the strike going far beyond the factory and becoming a country-wide general strike. They set up a page on Facebook to spread their ideas and soon had around 70,000 members. On April 6th, the city of El Mahalla, where the Factory was located, suffered savage repression by the police forces after the demonstrations which sprang up all over the city. On this same day, several political activists were arrested in Cairo, among which were Ahmed Mahir and Israa Abdelfattah. After being released, both activists founded the April 6 Youth Movement.

In 2010, when a young man by the name of Khaled Saeed died in the city of Alexandria at the hands of Egyptian police and purely because he was under suspicion, Wael Ghonim and Abderrahman Mansour set up a Facebook page called "We are all Khaled Saeed". The page made its own the case of the young man and demanded the reopening of the case to clarify the circumstances surrounding his death, proposing numerous protests in support of the family of Khaled Saeed. A large number of non-politicised youth joined the page and from this point on, Ghonim and Mansour became aware of the need to organize protest strikes and marches aimed at attracting this sector of the young non-politicised Egyptians. These activities had to be "pacific" and should not imply danger for any of those taking part in the protests. For example, the first protest strike announced by the page called for participants to dress in black and to stand in orderly files (Silent Stand) along street pavements and the Nile Corniche, with the condition that they were to maintain a certain distance between each other. The security forces were stunned: they had no idea how to deal with this string of silently standing citizens stretched out along a length of 6 km. Ghonim claimed responsibility for these actions without revealing his identity. When he realized that some political organisations were provoking the security forces by chanting slogans, he wanted to coordinate the April 6 Youth Movement in order to preserve the peaceful nature of its activities and to maintain the maximum control possible over these so that the security forces would not be given any reason for intervening and so that youth and students alike would not be afraid and thereby distance themselves completely from these movements.

During the last Parliamentary elections organised by the previous regime – and rigged –, the page "We are all Khaled Saeed" called for voters to cast their votes by writing the name of Khaled Saeed on the ballot. I remember one particular situation which happened on several occasions: more than once there was a power blackout across the country and the authorities accused the citizens claiming that misuse of energy in houses was the cause of the repeated blackouts. The page called for its members to photograph and publish cases in which the Government was guilty of wasting energy, indicating the time and place of the energy blackouts.

In 2010, members of a student's group from the University of Cairo managed to acquire a court ruling ordering the expulsion of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior's university guards from the University campus and called for them to be replaced by civil security units under the control of the University's Rector. When the Interior Ministry refused to obey the ruling, we decided to organise activities to demand the execution of the sentence. We called on people to protest within the University, but nobody answered the call, so I arranged a meeting with a group of students and told them: we have to invent, we must create a way of demonstrating the peaceful nature of our protest in order to attract students and get them to join us. We considered printing thousands of red cards such as those used by referees in football matches for the students to use, as if they were referees, to be used on Interior Ministry officials who were present in the University. The idea was an unprecedented success. The students were to use the red card every time they came into contact with a policeman, without engaging in conversation with them. The following morning, headlines in Egyptian newspapers stated how Egyptian universities give the red card to the university guards. We decided to use the same cards again on 25 January and we addressed the people saying that, everybody who wished to get rid of Mubarak should red card him.

These are just some examples of the many actions that were organised and that, given their peaceful nature, encouraged the participation of young people from all walks of life. In Egypt, since 1951, January 25 is a national holiday, National Police Day given that on this day the police officers from a police station in the city of Ismailia responded to efforts by the occupying British forces to take over the station. In 2009, the relationship between the Interior Ministry and the people had reached the same point and a significant majority of the political and judicial elite were calling for the need to once again review Interior Ministry policies and the need to respect human rights. Nevertheless, President Mubarak, in a gesture that surprised everybody, declared the Police Day to be an official national holiday for the entire country. Many considered this to be a reward from Mubarak to the police and as such, an act of support in the face of widespread and legitimate criticism of their actions. The April 6 Youth Movement then decided to transform the celebration by monitoring the illegal actions of the police throughout the year and as such began distributing photographs of the police involved in in illicit activities and torturing citizens. In mid-December we began preparing for the 2011 National Police Day on January 25 and we decided to organise a protest march in the popular areas away from the capital centre and organize marches to the headquarters of the Interior Ministry to demand the resignation of the minister. The success of the revolution in Tunisia was a beacon of hope for the people in Egypt. All political groups agreed to refrain from making any partisan demands and to strive to ensure that popular protest marches would call for social issues affecting the people. As we marched through the streets we shouted to those who remained indoors to, "Leave your homes, we march to claim your rights". Our intention was not to block the streets and to leave room for traffic to flow so that nobody would suffer and turn against us, or at least, so that they would not oppose our aims and would respect our right to protest peacefully. This was what we had agreed and this was what we did. Some people were against the action but within the limits of our strength and capacity, we wanted to respect them and even when we were confronted by trucks and military transport vehicles, under the control of the Interior Ministry but which didn't clash with us, we applauded them.

At the heart of Tahrir Square, art played an important role in getting our message across, because a group of men formed a corner dedicated to caricatures, announcing that they were accepting all kinds of artistic work. Much of the work on show there mocked the instructions and slogans hurled at us by the security forces and this made people laugh. A group of musicians sang revolutionary songs and others poked fun at the regime. This went on until we managed to topple Mubarak.