THE BLOG

From Egypt: A Proud Wimp Holding All None Wimps in Very High Regard

Having worked in private equity in Egypt for over 10 years, I am naturally a big proponent of investing in Egypt. The reforms introduced by the government since 2004 have made the case for investing in Egypt a piece of cake. The one thorny question that remained (especially among investors unfamiliar with the Egyptian investment landscape) had been that of political succession and stability. Even that, I had a convincing answer for: it is extremely stable -- Mubarak has such a firm grip on power that even questioning succession is unfounded. As for change -- we were going to get change by handing over the presidency to his son Gamal, a pro-reform career banker who is credited with sponsoring economic reform. My argument was strengthened further with the ridiculous results of the parliamentary elections of last November (which ensured that the NDP pulverized opposition in the people's assembly), which was the all-important step necessary for approving Gamal Mubarak's nomination for the presidency. I firmly believed that this was going to be the scenario, and like most people was sad for the state of the country, but was beaming with confidence at my ability to predict Egypt's political future.

January 24th: on a flight from Dubai to Cairo, I sat next to a gentleman who started a conversation about the need for change, and the need for an uprising. Very arrogantly, I asked him "where have you been living?" And went on to preach that change is coming our way -- change in the form of Gamal Mubarak. I might not have liked it, but I was convinced it was going to happen.

My sentiments and tone on this subject had always been that of arrogant knowing, mixed with a lot of buried shame that this was the sad reality of how things were in Egypt. For me, and millions of other Egyptians, the nine days since January 25 have been an emotional roller coaster ride marked by feelings of ridicule, admiration, hope, fear of the unknown and sadness, all amidst an overriding sense of pride.

Ridicule: when calls for the march started surfacing, my sarcasm kicked in, and I laughed at our having slept for 30 years, only to wake up on the sounds of Tunisian protesters calling for President Ben Ali to leave.

Admiration: At one point my Facebook status was "Noha Khattab is a proud wimp holding all none-wimps in very high regard." A wimp because I was not able to go to the demonstrations, and definitely holding all those who went to the demonstrations with the utmost of admiration, and respect. While I had my own legitimate reasons for not being able to participate in the demonstrations, I felt dwarfed and powerless -- a feeling that was constantly eating me up inside.

Hope, disbelief, humiliation, and sadness: Friday, January 28 was to be "a day of wrath." Once again, my feelings of inadequacy were on the rise, especially as more and more of my friends (hippies, yuppies, airheads, intellectuals... everyone) went to the demonstrations on Tahrir Square. Disbelief, and sadness kicked in when police started resorting to brutality in order to quell the demonstrations, turnout for which had surpassed anyone's expectations. Even more sadness and disbelief kicked in when the police vanished off the face of the earth, and left Egyptians at the mercy of looting and vandalism at the hands of over 4,000 prisoners who had escaped from prisons all over the country.

Interestingly, feelings of humiliation came coupled with feelings of hope. The humiliation came as a result of a president who sat by and watched his country being defiled without reaction, only to surface at midnight on Friday the 28th with a lame 10-minute address basically announcing a change of government! Until he had surfaced that Friday night, I was convinced he had followed Ben Ali's footsteps and taken a jet out of the country. The feelings of hope came when it became apparent that the protesters were going to stay put until Mubarak announced he was going or at least not running for the upcoming presidential elections. The feelings of hope quickly turned into feelings of pride, a feeling which I know will never go away.

January 29 marked our second day without mobile and internet services. The government had suspended them, as the protests were organized largely through social networking sites and BlackBerry messages. Egypt has a very high mobile penetration rate, and social networking sites and BlackBerry phones are extremely popular among Egyptians. For perspective -- Egypt has 64 million mobile subscribers and around 1.5 million BlackBerry users. Saturday saw the various emotions I was going through exacerbated by withdrawal symptoms from lack of Facebook and BlackBerry! With the neighboring police station coming under fire, we moved our small family out of our house that night, and went to stay with my parents.

Sunday was marked by fear of the unknown. I watched on as the country literally went up in smoke, and could not help but wonder if this marked the end of the economy and the stock market as we know them. I don't know how or when this will end, but I do let out a sigh of relief every time I hear that the stock market and banks will remain closed for another day.

Monday was marked by more humiliation as the new cabinet was announced. While I believe the choices for Vice President and Prime Minister are very sensible given the stage the country is at, I felt humiliated at the system that allows the President to completely disregard the demands of the public (stepping down, announcing that his son won't run for president, changing the constitution, and absolving Parliament, elections for which were rigged), and work in his own dimension by changing the government in a 'business as usual' type of gesture. Once again, my feelings of hope and pride escalated.

A 1-million demonstrator march was scheduled for Tuesday. The marches held across the country gathered much more than that ambitious target, and Tuesday night saw the President finally announce he will not run for re-election. Aah... the sweet taste of victory, with a small concern as to whether the protesters will go back to Tahrir Square tomorrow?? Indeed, I woke up on Wednesday only to find that they were still in Tahrir calling for Mubarak to go now!

Wednesday afternoon saw violent clashes erupt between a new group of people called "Mubarak supporters," who although small in number are well-supported by the National Democratic Party and succeeded in turning the peaceful Tahrir demonstrations into a terrible, violent, civil-war like clash. Planted on my couch in front of the television set zapping between news channels, all feelings of pride, sadness, hopefulness, disbelief, and humiliation made way for gut-wrenching heartache. Watching as men on horses and camels wielded their whips at the peaceful demonstrators, I frantically called those of my friends that I thought were likely to be at Tahrir to make sure they were alright. Although none of my friends were physically hurt, that's more than I can say for the country, and the hope that Mubarak's announcement he would not run for another term in office had given! Sleepless nights have become commonplace since the start of this ordeal -- mostly on account of fear that our house would come under some sort of attack. Wednesday night's sleeplessness came as I realized that the glimmer of hope I had been seeing since Mubarak's announcement was gone.

Overcome with sadness, I watched as the new Prime Minister held a press conference on Thursday. Sadness aside, the Prime Minister's attitude was sincere and refreshing. Sincere in the sense that he admitted not knowing who was behind the police disappearance that led to days of lawlessness, and similarly not knowing who was behind the horsemen incident on Tahrir Square. He did, however, promise to bring to trial all those responsible. The attitude was refreshing in the sense that this marked the first time in at least thirty years that an Egyptian Prime Minister publicly apologized! This was followed by the District Attorney placing a travel ban on the former Minister of the Interior, who is largely blamed for the intentional police negligence that led to the lawlessness.

Since the beginning of this crisis, I watched as several of my Egyptian and foreign friends left the country "temporarily until things stabilize" without for once thinking of moving my little family, even temporarily. I have to admit that the thought of visiting relatives in Europe had occupied a part of my thoughts for the first time on Thursday morning. This came to a surprising end as I received a call from the Canadian Foreign Office asking if we (as Egyptian-Canadian Citizens) were interested in being evacuated. Automatically, I found myself telling the lady politely that we were not interested in an evacuation. I guess that means I felt hopeful again!

The inevitable happened late Thursday night when one of our friends didn't return from a trip to Tahrir square. He was eventually released by police at 6 am on Friday. I felt numb.
It is late on the Friday of Departure, and sitting on my couch I feel drained. Today's protests have been massive, and protestors say they will not leave until Mubarak does. On a positive note, clashes reported so far today are relatively small (at least compared to the 12th century horsemen incident).

So, where does this Egyptian stand in the midst of all this: Well, for now it still leaves me planted in front of my television set waiting for someone to budge. I believe the Egyptian people have won a huge battle, and are on the verge of winning what has turned into a war fueled by 30 years of repression. Egyptians today are not comparable to Egyptians on the morning of January 25. Egyptians today are proud, have demands, and have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with. Egyptians will no longer put up with humiliation at the hands of police at airport customs or at a traffic checkpoint. Egyptians will no longer be taken for granted by politicians, who are today learning the hard way that Egyptians have discovered their voice. They have discovered that united they are a force to be reckoned with. Muslim and Christian Egyptians who took shifts guarding churches and mosques overnight in the absence of police will no longer make distinctions or segregation based on religion. Egyptians, who collectively cleaned Tahrir Square to show the world that we can hold clean and civilized demonstrations, will no longer litter. Usually notorious for verbally harassing women walking on the streets, Egyptians who abstained from this in the midst of thousands of women in Tahrir Square -- where there was no shortage of opportunity -- will give it a second thought before harassing. Egyptians who saw the world sit on the edge of its seat at the events on Tahrir Square have a new found sense of strategic importance. We've always known we're important for regional stability, but never in a million years would I have thought that Tahrir Square could have such an effect on the Dow. So we have a new sense of self-worth, but are we about to throw it all away? Judging by the current stalemate between a President who once told one of his advisors that he has a PhD in stubbornness, and a people so high on their new-found sense of revolution that it is clouding their ability to quit while they're ahead -- unfortunately, yes!

Unfortunately we are falling prey to a mixture of NDP anger, hungry wannabe politicians wanting to ride the wave created by the people, and we are killing each other at a time when our number one demand has been secured. The president has announced he won't run again. What more do we need? Are the people killing each other while I write this really squabbling over a timeline? Because that's really what it boils down to -- does Mubarak leave now or in eight months? One week ago we had no hope of this ever happening -- are we throwing it all away over timing?

I believe we should let him stay till fall, let him do what he does best, and usher in stability, which God knows we need badly right now. Egyptians need to come together, stop the squabbling, and think of the future. Let's look forward to presidential candidates presenting their campaign agenda to us in a few months' time, let's look forward to constitutional change, let's look forward to a new parliament. Let's look beyond Tahrir Square, beyond the Tahrir ultimatums, and start working on the big picture. I'm sure we can give up a few more months in the interest of stability. After all, aren't we the same people who waited 30 years to stage this magnificent, once peaceful revolt?