Egyptian blogger from Cairo.
Revolutionary Socialist.
Partner & Creative Director at ThePlanet.

Constant phone calls

Under: Egypt Tags: .

Communication, especially voice calls, became an integral part of my experience at the square, and in fact consumed a considerable chunk of the daily routine. It was an activity that tired me out at a time when every piece of energy was needed. While some calls were very important in the process of the ongoing revolution, others, and sadly an overwhelming majority, were a waste of valuable battery life.

Bansyon by Rowan el Shimi

With Hatemation, Waleed and Mom in front of el Bansyon. Photo by Rowan el Shimi

The following are the characters that bombarded me with phone calls at Tahrir square as I juggled between three different phones (only one of which is a smart phone with applications):

  • The outsider – 12% of all calls

    While a revolution is taking place in the heart of the Arab World, many Egyptians are stuck overseas glued to their TV screens. The outsider is one who, for whatever reason, is no longer in Egypt, and feels plagued by a dark cloud of guilt that haunts him or her when sleeping. It became a time to question why he or she has ever left the country in the first place. Consequently, not only do outsiders feel like they’re missing out, but they also attempt to make up for not being there, and not taking part in the historical events.

    The outsiders make up a significant minority of the calls received. They tend to start by expressing support, then talk about information they’ve gathered after extensive research hoping it’s life-changing, followed by stories of ‘actions’ they’ve taken from abroad, before an emotional breakdown to indicate how they loathe not taking any part.

  • The insider – 9% of all calls

    Much like the outsider, the insider might live a few blocks from Tahrir, but a combination of fear and/or pressure by parents and loved ones prevents much desired visits. For that reason, the insider develops a feeling of guilt that leads him or her to trying to become an ‘insider’ and provide supposedly much anticipated information. He or she will always have a sketchy loose contact with someone who might know something about the military, and will therefore take on the role of the ‘intelligence’ in the struggle, and attempt to reduce the inevitable guilt trip suffered.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work. Frequent calls, loads of talk, stacks of rumors, cells-worth of battery life, and absolutely no point. The revolution continues, and the guilt trip is just as persistent.

  • The bored and uninterested – 5% of all calls

    This is when a distant cousin of yours calls you up from a different number (aware of the fact that you wouldn’t answer if you recognized him or her). You know you’ve been hit with a bored and uninterested caller when the standard greetings at the start of the call are abnormally elongated with awkward silences seeping in while the call’s only getting started.

    The question’s imminent, ‘so…tell me…what’s going on in Tahrir, anyway? What do you guys want?’ Needless to say, it’s at these moments that I wish I had been shot dead by the police forces and died a relaxed martyr. But no. Unfortunately, I’m alive and have to answer.

    The bored and uninterested has nothing better to do. He or she is completely oblivious to the events and only hears about them coincidentally when switching between a Turkish soap opera and MBC2.

    With a combination of babies crying and banging cooking utensils in the background, the task becomes more difficult. And before I’m done pointing out that we simply want the fall of the corrupt regime, I get interrupted with interrogative questions like ‘Why? Didn’t he promise he’s not running in September? Even his son won’t be next…’

    Hey, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!…or so I had to think.

  • The overwhelmingly cheap journalist – 43% of all calls

    While all eyes were on the Egyptian revolution, every media outlet wanted to get a share of the pie and cover the story for its viewers. Sadly, only the main media outlets could afford to have correspondents on the scene, and in fact many were too scared or couldn’t be bothered to get involved.

    That’s where the Tahrir residents come in. Why go through the hassle of coordinating correspondence from Tahrir square when you can invest a fraction of your money on international phone calls instead? Since I speak English and Spanish, I was targeted by dozens of TV stations, Radio shows, newspapers and reporters of all types.

    I felt it was my responsibility to share the inside story to the world outside and therefore contribute to the media battle we were fighting in parallel to the one on the ground. However, I’d say that the majority of journalists, naturally boasting a bit of an arrogant attitude in the name of significantly aiding the revolution, got carried away into thinking that we actually work for them. It was to the point of corresponding with the same outlet several times throughout the day, and it almost felt like a daily routine.

    The overwhelmingly cheap journalist is not very happy with life and makes sure you feel the same way. He or she is willing to nag continuously, call you late nights and early mornings, call your mom (and make her believe the revolution depended on getting in touch with you), and call every mutual contact available. It gets to the point of feeling that your value is only equal to the information the journalists can sell. You’re like the prostitute who knows that her only asset is her body, and has no control over it.

    The worst of the pack were the Colombians (especially Mario Sanchez of Radio Colombia) who would average over 30 missed calls on a hot day, and a journalist named Rodrigo from the main newspaper in Brazil, who called at least 5 times every single day.

    On the other hand, journalists like Pedro Brieger of the Argentinian radio were enjoyable and intriguing. In fact, I joined live on Brieger’s show four times, always debating interesting topics, and on the last one he announced on air that he was coming to visit and asked me what I wanted him to bring along. I suggested something representing the revolutionary spirit of el Che. Sure enough, when he came to Cairo and we went out for dinner, he gave me a book with photos and writings of Che Guevara, as well as a souvenir from Buenos Aires. Good times.

  • Your backwards uncle – 7% of all calls

    let’s face it: the majority of the Egyptian people were not completely supportive of the revolutionary movement. And it remains as such. That’s generally an acceptable obstacle until you find yourself at the wrong end of an hour-long rant about why the revolution should not be taking place. I usually shut out such headaches, but if it’s your 60 year-old uncle who’s absolutely sure he’s right, there’s no room for debate. Not to mention that the ‘arguments’ thrown your way are so infuriating, you come to realize the lack of space at the square as you search for room to patrol your anger away.

    But it’s not all harsh talk. You hear things like ‘what you youth did was amazing’, ‘I’ve been completely supporting you’, and my personal favorite, ‘This has been a great achievement that has made us all proud’, but then always followed by, ‘but now it’s time to move forward and return to stability.’

    Your backwards uncle doesn’t know any better, and you can only hope his children aren’t half as incompetent. He makes you feel like you’re single-handedly responsible for the gathering in Tahrir, and that yelling at you will make you realize how much of a bad boy you’ve been, and ‘normality’ would be immediately achieved. What a jackass!

  • The steam in your struggle – 24% of all calls

    So rewarding, it makes up for all the other calls received. I remember I got a call from an uncle of mine (whose son actually works with the Security Forces and had been hospitalized) that lasted 2 minutes exactly. As soon as I answered, I was on the receiving end of a poem recital that recognized and saluted the young and the brave who fought to bring freedom to our beloved Egypt. It was the most beautiful thank you note I’ve ever had the honor of receiving. He didn’t even want to talk afterwards, he had a clear mission to recite a short poem he wrote for me, show full support, encourage me to keep going, and leave me to it. Spectacular.

    The steam in your struggle tends to be from friends and loved ones who are away from Tahrir, many of whom are not Egyptian and therefore do not suffer from any guilt trips as they don’t feel its their battle. They can be so considerate, that they send SMS and Facebook messages instead of calling just to be sure they’re not interfering with the revolutionary efforts. It’s a quick reminder of the overwhelming support out there.

    In a revolution there are highs and lows. And when you’re on a downer, good words from loved ones can help keep your head high, and focus on achieving victory.

Answering calls and keeping up with the communication was a challenge, but a responsibility. A revolution can only succeed when the masses can coordinate and mobilize. It’s a time when information becomes a valuable resource, and even as a renewable energy, it is never sufficient. Technology, therefore, provides the tools which, at this day and age, seem ideal for movements to happen. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to who uses it, and how.

Girl with flag

Communication at Tahrir square

This is a civilization counting past seven thousand years, and proving it’s worth every bit of praise by starting a historical revolution. The Egyptian people are capable of sharing information across space and time like our lives depended on it. Because it did. And we won.

This is, my friends, power to the people.

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11 comments

CVirus

April 16, 2011

For me 99% if the incoming/outgoing calls were from/to my friends inside the square, as we tend to lose sight of each other every few minutes.

Nevsh

April 16, 2011

I would like to offer a slightly different perspective on the first category of “12% outside callers”, whom you describe as “plagued with guilt that haunts them during the night”.

Not sure that’s how I would describe it. I would rather term it something along the lines of “angry/concerned/sad/ecstatic/hopeful/scared/proud/angry/scared/ecstatic/jealous”. Basically an emotional roller coaster that I doubt I will ever experience again in my life. And here are some memories I have connected to these frantic emotions:

Sad because we are so far away from our loved ones, while you have each other to comfort one another. Angry because we have to deal with uninformed people in our day-to-day lives that have NO idea that the most important (to us) events in history are taking place RIGHT NOW. Angry that random colleagues are putting their “two-cents” worth of predictions and saying Mubarak will never step down. FURIOUS at Egyptians in Egypt who are not taking part and even worse, blatantly asking protesters to go home while they lay in front of their computer screens being “bored to death” of staying at home and cannot wait to return to their boring-ass jobs, because they miss “normalcy”. Jealous that you guys don’t have to deal with having arguments on f’ing facebook defending the revolution while it is taking place. Envious that your hopes and dreams are being fueled and protected by the most amazing Egyptians who took the streets every day, and hoping that these dreams will not be crushed once yo realized that half of Egypt were not on our side.

During the revolt, I avoided talking to anyone unless they were Egyptian. And from our conversations, it was so obvious that every single Egyptian abroad had their heart in Egypt and was fighting their own battle from abroad (something that will always bring tears to our eyes just to think about those moments when we curled up in bed with Al Jazeera live waiting for the molotov cocktails to disappear from tahrir). Our lives were put on hold, yet we didn’t have the excuse of being in tahrir and therefore had to somehow still be productive in our jobs.

And on a final note, it seems that every revolution is unique and therefore the outcome can never be predicted. However, what is common to all is that for the revolution to actually take place, many “stars must align” in the right place at the right time. For example, if the media did not show so much interest in the aspirations of the Egyptian people, and thereby filming everything happening in tahrir and every protest taking place around Egypt and outside of the country. Those of us who gathered tens of thousands of miles away from Egypt to show solidarity played a much bigger role in helping topple the regime, than the useless Egyptians in front of their facebook screens telling protesters to go home because the Egyptian economy has suffered enough in the 10 days that Mubarak had already made good-enough concessions…

So if I had to call it something, then it would be an emotional roller coaster and “guilty” isn’t part of the ride…because we knew, if anything, being in tahrir would ease all our concerns, and therefore, it was more along the lines of “envious”.

Nevsh

April 16, 2011

and of course I forgot to mention SUPER SUPER proud!

SouSou

April 16, 2011

am lost! ana anhy no3 fehom? lol

Amr

April 16, 2011

Yeah I’m not sure where I fit either… can you create another category for me and the guys at b dental (0.01%)? Thanks!

Tarek Shalaby

April 16, 2011

Noooovi: Thank you very much for shedding light on the ‘Outsider’. Very well illustrated. It’s interesting because as Egyptians on home soil, it is impossible to fully comprehend how compatriots oversees experienced the events.

And just in case you weren’t aware of it, even though you were technically an ‘Outsider’ (and as you explained, shared some aspects), you were very much the steam in the Egyptian struggle.

SouSou: Aywa ba2a ya SouSou ba2a! You were switching roles. At the beginning you weren’t calling because you were at Tahrir the entire time. But then when you had to leave for France, you became ‘Faksana’. Hehe, just kidding. You obviously continued the fight from abroad.

Shalabee-e-e-y-yy: Hehe, the guys at b dental? If I didn’t know you well enough, you would’ve passed as ‘bored and uninterested’. But actually, you were very much ‘steam in the struggle’ in your own way (which is basically following the news, and receiving calls from Novi! hehe).

The post doesn’t take into account calls from mom, and numerous calls to dictate directions to the Bansyon.

Tarek Nasr

April 16, 2011

This was one of your most enjoyable posts; which is saying a lot; having spent a lot of time with you I have been next to you many times while you have received those non-stop phone calls and I (not a mobile phone fan) have wanted to just take your cell phone and chuck it into the nile many times from the constant ringing hour after hour and I’m not even answering any of the calls so I can only imagine how annoying it is to be actually answering! Keep it up;

Btdub these tahrir diaries should be pusblished in a book or something; I’m sure someone will approach you on that front; keep it up!

Vicki Moore

April 16, 2011

Thank you for your past, current and future belief in change and strength of a human spirit in us all. Thank you for your generosity and caring for those you know and those you may never meet.

Nevsh

April 16, 2011

and one last after thought on the “outsiders”… The only times I felt slightly guilty were the three times I bought tickets to Egypt (and returned them in less than 24 hrs with no penalty – discovering that was in and of itself emotionally draining b/c I was just constantly buying tickets, and then returning them!). I felt guilty because I knew I was only going for more “selfish” reasons…I wasn’t going to be the heroine who was going to scare the thugs away…I just wanted to be there…and felt guilty about throwing my boss under the ditch because he also has a life that will only be sustained if I continue to do research and eventually publish…also felt guilty for putting robin through constant emotional stress because he would’ve been too worried to be functional, if I had gone without him…

Tradwan

April 17, 2011

Essentially what Nevsh said. But really dude? I mean… really? It seems I need to come back and discuss some of these finer point with you Mr. Revolutionary.

:)

blacklisted

April 18, 2011

Journalists were the do-it-yourself enema of the revolution (yes, I said enema, not enemy) that literally made you experience the feeling of voluntarily sticking something up your own ass, but then ultimately feel like you may have done something for the betterment of the short-term. I feel for you. And loathe 43% of your phone calls. It … keeps me up at night.

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