Witness to a Revolution

Devon Youngblood 06’ recently departed Cairo, where she was living on Harvard’s Michael C. Rockefeller Fellowship. She shares her experience with Egypt’s revolt.

When the protests first started happening in Egypt, I, along with many others, wasn’t really sure how it was all going to play out. Before the first protest on Jan. 25, the majority of people thought the day would be an anomaly in the grand scheme of everyday Cairo happenings. I remember still making plans for the rest of the week before the first protest. When I attended the first protest in Tahrir on Jan. 25, it was spectacular to see just how much enthusiasm and positive energy was able to spread through downtown and across the city.

I called my family Thursday night (Jan. 27) before the major protests on Friday to let them know that they may not be able to contact me for the next few days. By Thursday night the government had shut down Facebook and Twitter, then text messaging, then internet altogether, so everyone figured that phone service would be cut off sooner rather than later, which it was.

I went to protests on Friday, Jan. 28, and while they started out quite positively, violence began to escalate as the day went on. At one point in the day, we were tear-gased to the point of being chased back into our apartments, while the police blockaded us from the major streets. Things settled down once again as night came, but as the hours went on, the police became more violent and started using live ammunition instead of only tear gas and rubber bullets.

What made it more stressful was the fact that all communication was cut off at that point. All we had was Al-Jazeera (an Arabic news station) and the noises we were picking up from outside. I still wanted to stay in Cairo the next day, but once the supposed looting began (some people say the state television spread rumors to cause chaos), my neighborhood started handing out pipes for self-defense.

At that point, honestly, I was genuinely scared. In addition to this, because I was there on a Harvard fellowship, the school informed me that I was required to leave the country due to the US state department warnings against travel to Egypt.

I have a number of friends who are still there, and they’re all just taking the experience in. I’ve emailed with people and been watching Facebook updates of my friends going into Tahrir to celebrate when Mubarak stepped down, traveling downtown to clean up the city, creating art and expression in honor of the revolution, and just generally embracing their country. No one really has a day-to-day schedule, but I think they’re just doing what they feel needs to be done for their country.

No one is really sure what will happen now, even those on the ground. I honestly can’t predict what the outcome will be, but I can only hope that the military will stay honest and hand over control to the people come election time in September. The changes to parliament and the constitution are what the country needs right now. One can only hope that the foundations will be put in place for a new Egypt to rise again.

I plan to go back as soon as possible, by the end of this week inch’Allah. Even throughout all of the events, I never once expected to ultimately cut ties with Egypt. I never would have imagined all of this occurring when I first arrived in August, or frankly even in December, but now I just hope to be lucky enough to watch Egypt become a country of the people and gain the respect that its citizens have both demanded and deserve.