It is said that Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong’s premier, was once asked what he thought of the French Revolution, and he replied “It is too soon to tell.” Whether or not this story is true, it reveals an important fact about revolutions: their true measure is not in the immediate outcome of the uprising, but how it pans out in the long term. When Egyptians speak of the revolution, they usually mean the three-week uprising that started on January 25. Hosni, the NDP and the police are gone, but the activists are still in the street.
Every Friday after prayers in Tahrir Square, crowds address one or more issues with speeches, cheering, flag-waving and debating in a clear sign that they love their new-found freedom and want their Arab brothers to enjoy the benefits. Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, the day Palestinians commemorate their expulsion (some 700,000 people) from their homeland. This week, in crowds bigger than I have seen in my month in Cairo, demonstrators demanded rights and freedom for Palestinians. This video expresses the pain of living under Israeli occupation.
Just down the road from Tahrir in Masbiro Square was a separate demonstration urging equal rights for Christians. Coptic Christians lived in Egypt before the Muslims came, yet today make up only 10% of the population. The recent clashes at the Imbaba church in Cairo that killed 12 and wounded nearly 200 sparked several days of protests by Copts and sympathetic Muslims (though I am led to understand protests were planned before the Imbaba incident). Copts argue that 47 churches were closed by the old regime, and that they should have the right to open new opens; and that Muslims (salafis) are kidnapping girls who convert to Christianity and forcing them to submit to Islam. (Though I do not know how many times that has happened, it was what led to the fighting at Imbaba.) This week’s demonstrations took place in front of the Channel One television station with slogans demanding that it tell the truth about Egypt’s Christians, and another that “Muslims and Christians stand united”. One area was cordoned off for women, to prevent their being harassed; space was created for Muslims to pray (as well as for Christians); and in the last photo you can see one of many people shuttling drinks back and forth for the demonstrators.
Sectarian fighting is said to be on the rise since February, though it may in fact be on the wane. Today’s demonstrations were a strong indication that Christians, like all Egyptians, are not afraid to stand up for their rights, and that Muslims will stand by them. That so many Egyptians are still not tired of taking their grievances to the streets is a heartening sign that the revolution is far from over.