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January 25th: One year on

January 25, 2012

A vendor’s son at Sheikh Rihan market. Summer, 2009. 

I know there are myriad posts of this nature today, coming from all over. I know my thoughts on Egypt’s one year anniversary of its revolution are nothing unique, nothing special. I don’t think there’s much I can add to the discourse. But the tremendous events in Egypt has undergone in the last 365 days are something I’ve felt acutely at such a great distance.

My strongest link is the folks I know there–the ones I chat with on GChat, on Facebook. And of course, Twitter. The many individuals–writers, professors, business people, activists–that I met in 2009, have colored my views of the events in the 365 days since, all thanks to the internet. It wasn’t just 365 days. There were too many fractures, too many protests, in the months leading up to what we knew as #jan25.

Never mind a year or two. I first spent part of a year in 2005 studying there, while in high school. That was nearly seven years ago. It feels like a lifetime. Egypt holds a special place in my heart, in my life. Trundling across Cairo in that taxi-cab for the first time, at 17, that’s when I fell in love with a place like never before. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life (whether I am closing in on that, well, not quite yet). It sounds rather bold, rather silly. As chaotic, hot and oppressive as it all was, Cairo was a source for the highest joy, the deepest anguish, all in a single day. It is exhausting.

And it is so hard to write about.

Fast-forward to 2009, a year in which I received a grant to work for Daily News Egypt, an independent English-language. I adored the job, and I adored the work, writing two to three stories a day for some of the most fantastic, bold and witty women I’d ever met (indeed, most of the editors and staff writers were women). Perhaps it was my own maturity, or perhaps it was the genuine shift in affairs, but the sense of looming change was more evident in 2009 that 2005. The once-again botched 2005 elections underscored the stagnation of the political system and anyone’s aspirations for it. Degrees of oppression and basic governmental ineptitude (think religious strife, the landslide victims, foreign policy snafus) converged.

Watching Twitter, watching MSNBC, through the month of January in 2011–it was at once shocking, and yet, not at all shocking. Resentment had long simmered, in everyone I spoke to. But the apathy seemed to buffer it, so strongly. The sense that “Mubarak will be here forever” was tangible. Thinking through a post-Mubarak world, not unlike the one we witness today, wasn’t feasible.

1981. 1981. 1981. Emergency rule. A man, his two boys.

Egypt’s people. The most compelling, most valuable asset of the nation. Their numbers, but also their ability to “make do” when the odds are stacked against them, are differentiating characteristics. Never did I meet an Egyptian that wouldn’t stand up to the challenge of needing more food, more education, more hours with pay. Egyptians are clever, determined. Working four jobs, learning a second language, taking care of kids not your own. Stringing together a decent existence, no matter how meager, verges on national identity. With a dictator warm in his palaces, with an economy (still) in dire straits, Egyptians found cracks, found a way to live. This is why Mubarak is now in prison.

Even with all this, sexual harassment and inequality pervades every corner of society. Companies fail to grow, to thrive. Tourism has ebbed. Questions of whether the elections already held, and those of the future, will be free and fair, remain unknown.

Egypt’s challenges are so vast. But for once, for the first time in a long time, they are being dealt with openly. Instead of the mirage that was Mubarak regime, one that floated some semblance of stability from Suez money, from peace with Israel, there is now a stark reality that must be met with the ingenuity of these same Egyptians.

It’s never been easy. It never will be easy.

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