Bread, freedom and social justice was the slogan chanted by Egyptians on the streets ten years ago yesterday. Yes, it has been ten years since the January Revolution.
I remember that day, as if it were yesterday. There was a small crowd of young people who did not know each other but were united by concerns mixed with confidence in their victory. They shared moments of anticipation and silence before the explosion, comforting each other, reassuring each other when hesitation seemed to be the best option, and encouraging each other when they were frustrated.
I was there, and was just 25 years old. With my heart beating faster than usual as the time for the protests drew nearer, I would calm down the louder that the chanting got, reassuring myself as the number of those around me grew. Slowly, fear became courage; confidence replaced anxiety; and we became certain that we could do it. The chants grew louder, and then we heard "Down with Hosni Mubarak" and "The people want to bring down the regime". Everyone in Tahrir Square understood then that we were facing some of the greatest days in Egypt's history.
Every time I write an anniversary piece about the January Revolution, my eyes fill with tears. Every time I have a guest in the studio or give an interview about the revolution, I am transported back to that cold footpath in January, near one of the main entrances to Tahrir Square. Every time that 25 January approaches, I find myself flipping through the photographs, looking at the faces and watching the videos over and over again. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I get angry, and sometimes I feel sad about the bitter defeat. I always rejoice that the Almighty blessed me with the opportunity to participate in the revolution.
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Egyptians born between the late 1970s and early 1980s lived three decades under Mubarak's oppression. We used to blame the older generations for living under the injustice of Gamal Abdel Nasser and not taking action or rising up against his regime.
In December 2010, after the People's Assembly elections were rigged blatantly in favour of the National Party, I met one of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. I was angry and said to him that participating in elections is no longer useful and there must be an alternative.
Over the past decade, many things have changed, as have the positions of many of those who took part in the January Revolution, so that they are now the complete opposite. However, there are still many who believe in the revolution, mark it every year, tell their children about it and address the Western world about it through their media and politicians. There are some who become severely depressed on every anniversary and isolate themselves on these days, but there are also those who remind us about the revolution year after year.
We brought down Hosni Mubarak, one of the most powerful tyrants in the Arab world for three decades. Indeed, we also made sure that Gamal Mubarak did not inherit his father's position and misrule the country for another 30 years. Those who participated in the revolution are right to be proud of what they did, and tell the whole world about it. We were part of a historic moment that no one expected, and we can be part of a similar moment if we hold on to hope and remain committed to the revolution's goals and principles.
In a conversation with some of the icons of the Egyptian revolution who ended up like me as political asylum seekers in Britain, one of them told me that the revolution's legacy is hope. That the Egyptian people, as well as the military regime in Cairo, know for certain that the revolution is an alternative solution for the people if they have an opportunity to see it through. This explains the alert level that the regime goes into on every anniversary.
Ten years is not long in any revolution; uprisings happen in waves and rounds; we win some and we lose some. What falls on our shoulders now is to challenge the regime's attempts to distort the revolution, which its mouthpieces describe as a conspiracy that wants to destroy the state, not as something to change the living conditions of the Egyptian people for the better.
On the tenth anniversary, therefore, let General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi hear it from me: the January Revolution is a part of us and we are a part of it, and if we were able to go back in time, we would do it all over again.
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This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 25 January 2021, and has been translated and edited for MEMO.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.