Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Tahrir Spirit --- Khallas? Part 2

A long school year in Cairo

It's almost the end of the school year in Egypt. Exam preparaions are normally the dominant subject this time of year but the chatter is different among the students here in Cairo. Nowadays when students talk about ‘results’ they often mean those of the presidnetial elections.

For the students of the Jesuites School in Cairo this has been a very eventful school year. I was invited to spend a day with a group of secondary students and discuss how they feel about the current political situation and who they hoped would rule their country.

The Jesuites is one of the oldest and most prestigious schools on Cairo. It also has a mix of Muslim and Christian students.

It is a boys’ school , situated in the neighbourhood of Faggala, about two minutes away from Abbasiya where the latest clashes between protesters, armed individuals and military forces have left at least eleven dead and hundreds wounded.

 The Jesuites boys

All classroom pictures courtesy of Jesuites Cairo students

It's also five minutes away from Tahrir square the epicentre of the Egyptian revolution and the many sit-ins and demonstrations that followed after.

We could just look out of the window and see it all happen.Marches , demonstartions everything. ” Fawzi Al Asmar, one of the lead teachers told me. “It’s all right at our doorstep.”
A lot has changed since January 25th 2011 for these students.Politics is no longer a boring subject their parents talk about. It has touched them closer than they’d ever thought possible.

The Jesuites Cairo students I was speaking to have a lost a friend last February. Karim Khouzam was one the 70 people killed when violence broke in Portsaid after a game between the popular Al Ahly club and the city’s home team of Al Masry which many blamed the securty forces for.

This gas mask from days of protesting in Tahrir
hangs in students' classroom
Karim Khouzam was a student at Jesuites Cairo .
He died in the Portsaid  Stadium violence. 

Before February, I felt that the protests, the violence ... all of this was happening to someone else. But when Karim died , I thought, this is my friend this could happen to me” Raymond Bolous, one of the students, told me.

The next day the studnets did not go to classes and left school early to attend the funeral. After that they went on marched to Tahrir Square denouncing the violence and the army’s rule of Egypt.

"A fresh face"

Most of these young teenagers are not old enough to vote but they have very strong opinions about the thirteen presidential candidates.

I don’t feel that any of them are competent enough to be president. They are either Islamists or Folool (Arabic word for remnants of the old regime)” Ali Shihata told me.

We need someone who represents the revolution – someone young. A fresh face” Mustafa Sadek another student said.

Of all the eight students that I met Mustafa Sadek was the most involved in politics. He’s part of a new student movement that he and his friends from other schools organised mainly to spread political awareness among school students aroumd Egypt.

An ambitious project, but chose to start with his friends.

Now we talk politics during our lunch breaks and after school we go on protests and join marches” Mustafa told me.

Mustafa had encouraged us all to get into politics” Rami ,class mate of Mustafa’s said.

It’s not just in school”Mustafa added. “We try as much as we can to talk to the general public get their opinion about what’s happening in the country.”

For example, when I’m in a taxi with a friend we start up a conversation deliberatley so the driver can near us and get invloved.

You find out really interesting things. For instance now most taxi drivers I talk to are fed up with the Muslim Brotherhood and tell me they regert voting for them in the parliamentary elections” Mustafa said.

Note your average classroom: Students have filled the walls with revolutionary posters and Tahrir  memorabilia

Ahmed Harara (on the left) has become an iconic figure for protesters. He lost both his eyes on two different clashes in
Tahrir Square: the 28th of January and the 19th of November..Both in the same year. 

The growing anger with the current political situation is palpable everywhere I go. At best it’s expressed in heated discussion between political rivals. At worst it’s deadly violence.

But many people see these students as a sign of hope and say that as long as they are engaged in what’s happening in the country there's still a chance for real change.

At the end of the school day the students take me for a walk around their school.

They are so obviously proud of it and its heritage.They take me to their classroom. At first glance it looks like any other classroom but a second look at the walls and it feels like a piece of Tahrir square!

Revolutionary posters against military and Islamic rule, A strip of an article with the title R.I.P Karim, a gas mask hanging from one of the boards and pieces of a guitar which broke in one of the protest. 

I asked them if their teachers object to these heavily politicized posters. 

"Not at all!" Mustafa told me. "They love it. They encourage us and I feel they respect us more . Our French teachers are really interested in it all!" He continued. 

 I asked them once more about the elections. What if someone that they really did not want took office... what can they do about it?

Ali smiled and said. “That’s easy. Tahrir Square is five minutes away remember!”


Since I met the students of Jesuites, protesters did indeed take to Tahrir square after the announcement of that the presidential run-offs will be between Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

Mr. Shafiq's campaign headquarters was set ablaze last night. t's not know n who exactly is behind the attack but it seems to be in an angry response to him making it to run-offs.

The numbers in Tahrir Square are still no parallel to the thousands that showed up throughout the last fifteen months  but there's enough anger and confusion in Egypt to promise more protest and possibly more violence. 


azzasedky said...

I enjoyed your piece. I like the way you write, and I do relate to it since I live overseas myself. And yet I'm still very Egyptian.
Here's my take on the election fiasco.

Okasha's Kid said...

Thanks Azza! I think I've become more Egyptian ever since I started living abroad and whole lot more Egyptian since Jan25...(If that makes any sense at all!) I think Egypt's got so much potential so much young energy embodied in those lovely young students and millions like them!But this country keeps sabotaging itself! It's painful!