As Masaccio wrote this morning, popular uprisings – transmitted by social media, building on the networks we have all been expanding as we reach more and more across digital connections — are not just an Egyptian phenomena.
The single most moving part of the day was the women’s demonstration. A group of about 50 of the many women present – a few young women in hijab, many other young women in jeans, older, seasoned feminist activists wearing khaffiyehs and dresses – took up position next to the bus station at 1st of May Square holding a large Algerian flag. One of these women, prominent psychologist Cherifa Bouatta, told me on Friday as we watched the celebration in Cairo:
“I have been waiting for this for years. This is the beginning. From the years of terrorism [the 1990s] and what came after, everything seemed lost. Our hopes for a just society were dying. But now the possibilities are fantastic.”
… Reportedly, as many as 350 were arrested during the day. Many were roughed up, including the prominent, 90-year-old lawyer Ali Yahia Abdennour, who is the honorary president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH). Cherifa Khaddar, the redoubtable human rights activist and president of Djazairouna, an association of the victims of the fundamentalist terrorism of the 1990s, whose brother and sister were brutally murdered in 1996 by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), was arrested twice. I watched in horror as policewomen manhandled her – unfortunately, not an oxymoron.
Just before she was arrested the first time, Khaddar was attacked by a group of the young pro-government “protesters”, some of whom attempted to pull her clothes off while another attempted to simulate sex with her. A policewoman dragged her away from this melee, only to help a group of male cops throw her to the ground and arrest her, rather than the perpetrators. Later on, at the police station, she found herself in a cell with 20 other women. Together, they continued the protest, chanting and singing: “My brothers do not forget our martyrs. They are calling you from their tombs. Listen to their voices, you free ones.” The police became enraged and attacked the women in the cell, dragging one away by her hair.” Khaddar was later released.
In Italy, yesterday saw mass demonstrations by women tired of Berlusconi’s hold on power and in Sudan, women protested the continued detention of men arrested in an Egyptian inspired protest for democracy.
All of these movements are inspirational, suggesting that we are at one of those moments in time when justice calls out more strongly than the fear and complacency that infests modern life. People are rising up – outside of traditional political parties – and demanding significant change, genuine democracy and respect for human rights.
Here at home, we should be studying these activists, learning from them and their organizing strategies, for, as Micah Sifry noted today on twitter:
Egypt shows what might have happened had the young people who supported Obama used the internet to empower themselves instead of him.
If we pay attention, maybe we will have a second chance, maybe we will find our voices and join them.