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.
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.
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.