Mr. Mubarak: The People’s Revolution Does Not Need the Internet

Mr. Mubarak: The People’s Revolution Does Not Need the Internet

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“Please use my real name Omar from now on. We have nothing left to hide anymore.”

That is how the man I was calling Yousry started his remarkable interview with me a few hours ago.

Yousry is Omar. A dear friend. An extremely articulate Egyptian and in my haze-filled 140 character days, a steady voice of reason and immense perspective. He does not know how to speak in sound bites. And every conversation I have had with him expresses the nuance, the complexity and the immensity of the day’s events, as no news broadcast can.

At 30, Omar is as old as the Mubarak regime. Today, his wife will join him for what should really be called the Million Man and Woman March. He was born in Cairo and studied in the United States briefly, before moving back and working for an oil company. He and his wife come from rich families. Like millions of others, they’re in danger of losing the country they love so much, and the only home Omar has ever really known.

I spoke to Omar at 9:30 p.m. Cairo time. A few hours later, a nation of 80 million people was successfully wiped off the worldwide web. These people are being held hostage by a ruthless and desperate dictator. Have they been silenced? I don’t think so. Omar does not think so either.

This interview is probably among the few long interviews with an Egyptian protester and citizen, before the nation went even darker on the eve of the planned marches to Heliopolis, the presidential palace, really the last frontier.

Me: I hope you all are ok. Just describe your day. I know tomorrow is very important, so I will try not to interrupt.

Omar: Today was a continuation of other days. We went to Midan Tahrir. It was a much larger crowd today, and there were way more women. People from all different groups of society, from Zamalek to Masriyat Naser, from Mohandessin to Giza…

Today for the first time it felt like the people had secured their homes well and could confidently come out. Other days, many family members, especially housewives, had stayed behind to guard. But today they were all there.

Everyone spoke about how the looting was a design by Mubarak to keep us in our home …. Parvez, there were also so many much older people today, you know, 60 and above, who had stayed away because of the violence. But today, any fear seemed to have disappeared. Really it felt like we knew exactly what we wanted. Amazingly, the military followed the same procedure — checked our ID’s and was very cordial.

Me: So tomorrow is huge—you must sleep tonight—both of you — all of you. Who knows what will happen?

O: We are meeting at Tahrir at 9 a.m., and marching to Helioplos—this is very important, Parvez. After seven days this government is comfortable with us spending time in Tahrir, and they are even spinning it and saying: “See we are allowing protesters in Tahrir, so we are so democratic.”

It was so clear today that we needed to go tomorrow to Heliopolis, to the presidential palace where Mubarak is hiding. All of the organizing I have seen since Friday really has been through fliers, through pamphlets. Today they said, if you can’t come to Tahrir in the morning, then join us on the way.

This is a huge turning point in this revolution, huge. It is also very important, Parvez, to know that people are saying. They want the fall of the regime, not the government. It’s an important distinction…

Me: Have you been watching Al Jazeera?

O: Are you kidding me? I can either be there or stay at home and watch the damn TV and try and get on the f-----g Internet, which is not working, and try and do these damn tweets you keep on telling me about.

I mean, yes, some people watch it when they go home at night, and today the word on the street was that the Egyptian media finally caught up with the international media. People were saying that for the first time they are starting to report — they are showing the people, looting, violence. Even state TV, Nile TV, is reporting. And, you know, we also have this state public radio channel…it’s at 88.7 FM. And even they are being more balanced than before. You know, till yesterday, the assholes were showing the streets of Cairo are calm.

Me: Today I had an Al-Jazeera free day—I did not watch the live stream at all—but on Twitter, I did see their updates…while I was constantly calling….

O: I have no time to watch. You know this new VP of ours, Soliman, who’s now with Mubarak, wants to show they are all in Tahrir, penned in. See how good we are that we are allowing people to voice their grievances…Maybe for any other revolution we could have stayed downtown…maybe it will be one day when it is safe to protest in Tahrir. But for now we have to go to him to make sure that he goes….

Me: It will be so hard to be at Heliopolis. It is not really walking distance, if you know what I mean…

O: (Laughs) Well, our weapon is not Jazira or Facebook or all that — our main weapon is the change we want, our focus, our peacefulness and the shoes on our feet, man…the shoes still on our feet…. So much talk in Tahrir today also about this new scam thing of the new cabinet…you know, Mohamed Rashid was asked to be Minister of Industry…. He declined…This is important. In the past, he had supported Mubarak….

But, please, Parvez, get this out—it’s really important: For 30 years of this dictatorship, many Egyptians, good men and women, joined the Mubarak government not because they hated the people, but because they felt that it was best to change the system from inside, from working within the government. Egyptians realize this…Egypt also was never a Ba’athist kind of cult regime like Syria or Iraq….

Me: I am so glad you are saying this.

O: And this is really important…this is not a vendetta revolution. It is an educated revolution. It’s looking at institutions…it has brought together educated middle class and upper class with everybody else… Egyptian people have come to the square with ideas. Many have listened through television to what the world is saying also. But they have taken all of that in an amazingly collective way; come together with a very focused set of demands.

It’s unbelievable…I never thought this could happen in Egypt. And because it is truly the people’s revolution, that is the only reason why it has not died down…why it continues.

We want a transitional government, not a military government. And there can be all kinds of people involved in that…even people like Baradei, who is definitely expected to play a role in post-revolution Egypt. What that role is going to be, he needs to decide. But most importantly, the people will decide…

I told you he lost a valuable opportunity yesterday. But let’s see. Today, people were even talking about Ahmed Hassan Zewail. You know, he got the Nobel Prize for chemistry….So there is no dearth of good people in Egypt to lead a transition….

And once again, Parvez, it is not a vendetta revolution. I mean, there are people who are now chanting for Mubarak to be tried or die…, but that’s not what we want. We want our basic rights that my generation never even had…you know…Mubarak has been the president of Egypt for my entire life!

Me: True man.

O: I mean, some people need to be punished and tried…like the Interior Minister, who has committed so many atrocities. Oh, and this is important, Parvez…: People saw the images of that scam swearing in. You know, even Omar Soliman, after the oath, saluted Mubarak and shook his hand. That image takes people back to the chant of a civilian government, not a military government….

Me: Please explain.

O: That is because only military men salute military men…If Soliman salutes Mubarak, then he is saying my allegiance is to you. But guess what? Neither of the two is even military anymore! Every single person has noticed that.

I mean look at it this way…Does Hillary salute Obama? This means that they have created a military government…and it’s a f-----g farce, man…I mean he creates a new Ministry of Antiquities taking it out of the Ministry of Culture? What kind of government takes a frivolous step like that in the middle of its biggest existential threat…a revolution of the people.

Me: That’s a lot of insight we are not usually hearing. Not even from these pundits running around between studios here in New York or in D.C. It’s so funny, they even tweet their movements.

O: (Laughs) F-----g idiots, man! Well, me and most of the other people in Tahrir are not watching even our own channels…forget what the American cable are saying….

Me: Hey, Omar, you know that there are many tweets coming in saying he is going to shut down everything tonight…whatever little Internet was left and mobiles and landlines even.

O: F--k the Internet! I have not seen it since Thursday, and I am not missing it. I don’t need it. No one in Tahrir Square needs it. No one in Suez needs it…Go tell Mubarak that the people’s revolution does not need his damn Internet!

Me: Ha-ha! You just gave me a possible title for the piece, my friend…

O: Tayyib, good. But honestly I mean 40 percent of this country is living below the poverty line, and a large chunk above that is barely surviving. And then you have middle class doctors and lawyers, etcetera.

Then you have rich people like me…. I mean it’s true that cell-phone penetration has improved very much….They even say that maybe 60 million have cell phones, but it’s like those basic, really basic mobiles…nothing fancy…no Internet bullshit for example…

I can tell you that the majority of Egyptians have no idea what Facebook or Twitter is. Look at this… a very basic mobile cost upwards of 180 Egyptian pounds…a fancy Internet-capable phone like an iPhone and that Droid thing or the Blackberry cost around 3,000 pounds….

I will just talk about the so-called middle class for a second…. Before revolution they said they would increase the minimum wage to 1,200 pounds a month…. Right now it is about 800 pounds--800 pounds to feed a family of four, maybe more? Then you go and buy an Internet-enabled phone that costs more than three months of your salary?

Me: So how and why is this whole narrative evolving?

O: Before he shut us out on Thursday…there was vibrant communication between a certain and very small class of society in terms of relative numbers…. This is the class of people who have always been absent and apathetic toward the suffering of the Egyptian majority…the poor people…. You know, that was good…, so maybe a little bit through Twitter and all the apathetic students and professional class started communicating for the first time…

Me: True. I have been saying that---someone in Zamalek is not tweeting at a Zabaleen you know. They tweet to each other in their nice apartments with AC and stuff.

O: Yes, true…, but I know it played a good role for maybe the first day-and-a-half…. But if you are saying that it is pivotal to the revolution or the lifeline of the revolution, then you are not doing justice to Egyptian people, man, or even to the functionality of this specific tool. This is a huge danger for the future…because in other Arab countries for example…you will misinform people about this Twitter/Facebook tool—you will overstate its importance…, and misguide people, who want change in other places. Its biggest weakness is that it can be cut off.

Me: I know I have been saying that…. The greatest revolutions in history happened before the Internet.

O: Yes…listen…it’s not about all this at all. It is one tool…some people can use it and they should and it’s great! But our bigger tools are posters, fliers, pamphlets, the shoes on our f------g feet, man! If someone wakes up in Cairo tomorrow after having slept through the last six days…and didn’t know where to go…they just need to walk on the street and follow everyone else….

But let me say this…for educated kids like me, at least, we can communicate faster and more effectively than our parents ever could, right? And we have something to communicate about…, the people’s revolution! In any case, this concern of people sending messages to the outside world is secondary…. We don’t think it is our function to report this to the world. Reporters can do that. We need to stay focused on what we need to do inside the country. Our weapon is our focus on what we know needs to be changed.

Me: Must end soon my friend…my hands hurt…my laptop will catch fire…it’s been used like nobody’s business…and I haven’t even eaten or showered today.

O: Parvez…this is amazing…you are doing so much…anyway so tomorrow we all go…. Remember the Alfa supermarket in Zamalek? Today that was open and also some groceries. Tomorrow we head out with our backpacks which is a mini f---ing pharmacy in there…I mean betadine, gauze, bandages, vinegar, a small first aid kit, lots of water…my camera…my bloody useless Blackberry, which is usually not working nine times out of 10…. But I am confident…everyone is confident that the army will not attack us….

Me: Sorry Omar…explain quickly.

O: Well, there are two armies in Egypt--the conscript army and the volunteer army…. The volunteer army is the standing army, and the officer core come from middle and upper middle class…same class you get our professionals from…. But the conscript army is drafted.

Illiterate men have to serve for three years, and educated men have to serve for only one year. Wages in the conscript army are basically minimum wage. No one would want that job unless you were really desperate…so really poor people will join that… Then there are the educated draft types, who are basically forced, right? The majority of the army on the streets right now is not happy to be in the army anyway.

Me: Please be safe…Fi Amanallah, and all that good stuff, man…. Hey, before you go. there are all these tweets and websites up with ideas on how to get online! Want?

O: Ha, ha. Right! As I said before, go tell Mubarak to take his f-----g Internet and shove it!