Glory or Tragedy: What Did the 2011 Egyptian Revolution Bring?

By Na Ma, Indiana University

(Hundreds of thousands protesters took on the streets across Egypt on Sunday, June 30, to demand outing of President Morsi. In this indepth interview, Ghazzal Ali, a participant of the revolution that ousted then President Mubarak two years ago and now a student at Indiana University, reflected on his journey.)

“Every single moment in the revolution is unforgettable. My parents are proud of me, because I have added great chapter to the Egyptian history.”

Ghazzal Ali, a Fulbright scholar at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB), had participated in all the revolutionary events starting on January 25 2011. He told the following stories with occasional smiles.

On January 25, the police used water canons and tear gas canisters, and threw stones to disperse Ghazzal and other demonstrators. One of Ghazzal’s legs was hit and began to bleed.

On January 28, the fight became fiercer. The police sent out snipers and used three armored cars to chase Ghazzal and the other demonstrator, and ten thousand more people joined the revolution. Around 5 p.m., the police gave up fighting and fled.

“We won! We felt so excited and celebrated the victory in the square.” Ghazzal recalled the celebrating scene, ravished with joy. The 2011 revolution had brought glories to 27-year-old Ghazzal.

When the revolution happened, he was a low-paid teacher. After the revolution he got the Fulbright scholarship to study abroad. He said his personal statement including the revolution experiences, mostly attracted the scholarship committee’s attention.

The Egyptian revolution ended with triumph. The world cheered, as it appeared a democratic movement had overthrown a corrupt regime. But two years later, the influence of that movement still persists, even as far away as Bloomington.

“Happy birthday to you!” Said Asmaa M. Oudah, another Egyptian Fulbright scholar who studies psychology at IUB.

On February 28, in a Starbucks near the Sample Gates, Asmaa and her two American friends were celebrating a 19-year-old man’s birthday by Skype.

“Wish you be happier, my dear friend.” Said Asmaa. She worked as a medical doctor during the revolution and had provided long term of psychological treatment to this man.

“What you did for Egypt will never be forgotten by history,” said Alissa, an American doctoral student in political science.

“Don’t lose hope!” Katie, another American graduate student in Islam Study, encouraged the man.

The man had attempted suicide several times. But in 2011 he was a hero. He had contributed hugely to the victory of the revolution. He fought against the police bravely and won freedom for Egyptians. But he lost his own freedom forever. A bullet hit him in the spine. Now he is a quadriplegic.

At the time of the revolution he was a freshman in college. Now he cannot continue his college studies and hang out with friends. He can only shake or nod his head on the bed.

“What happened to him was a tragedy.” Asmaa said, “I wish our blessings to his birthday can make him happier.”

On March 28, a month after the 19-year-old man’s birthday, Asmaa gave a talk “I am the People” in the IUB’s Center for the Study of the Middle East.
Many people attended the talk, including Katie and Alissa (Asmaa’s American friends mentioned above), Ghazzal Ali, and me.

Asmaa talked about her personal experience as a medical doctor in a Cairo hospital during the revolution.

In the hospital, Asmaa did the binding, stitching, and blood testing for patients in the emergency room. She also provided psychological treatment for those who had psychological trauma.

Among those, she deeply remembered a baby who wouldn’t stop crying.
The baby was seriously psychologically injured because her mother had been shot in the back. The baby was found under the mother’s body. It appeared that her mother had used her body to protect the baby.

“The baby was saved. But the mother died.” Sympathy and sorrow was leaking out from Asmaa’s deep dark eyes.

Then Ghazzal told the audience that he also participated in the revolution and could not sleep well for a week after the revolution. He often dreamed about blood and bodies.

“Everyday in the morning and at night, I would read the Egyptian news to see what was happening in my country.” Ghazzal said with serious expressions. “I hope there is no more blood or injuries.”

“During the revolution, I worked in a television station. I did not participate in the revolution. I advocate peaceful ways to solve the conflict.” Another audience member who sports a mustache shared his personal experience.

His name was Nada Hashim Taha, a doctoral student in the religious studies. He is also a Fulbright scholar from Egypt. He was a technician when the revolution happened.

At the time, Nada worked in a television station in the city of Giza. He said his work was bothered by a curfew and censorship system imposed beginning from February 5 by the People’s Soldiers, an organization established after the revolution.

The curfew was from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. Everyday at 3pm, Nada went to his office and worked on the next day’s television program, and went home at 7 a.m. He ate and slept in his office. The curfew was lifted on February 14, when Mubarak resigned. Finally, Nada could go home to sleep.

In addition to the curfew, there was also strict censorship from the People’s Solders. When Nada passed the bridge from Giza to Cairo, he needed to provide his identification.

“I could not sleep well in the office during the curfew,” Nada said. “One night I dreamed people’s soldiers misunderstood me as a plain-clothes policeman and wrongly killed me, when I crossed the bridge.”

Though Nada did not participate in the revolution, but deep trauma from the revolution could be read from his melancholy eyes when he recalled his experience. The revolution was a nightmare that he would never forget in his entire life.

From the 19-year-old man to the baby who lost her mother, everybody was impacted by the revolution. “The revolution is a great victory, and it also brought Egyptians different pains and sufferings.” Asmaa said. “Some people could live a better life, if they had not experienced the revolution.”