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Jan 25, 5 years later: On the revolution that I missed

Every year, on January 25, I have the same thoughts. I don’t have any memories to share.

Every time I’m with friends who nostalgically remember moments of happiness and triumph, I stay silent, because I have no memories to share.

During the 18 days of the revolution I was in Gambia, watching on television. Many people living abroad fled back to Egypt during the 18 days to be present and not to miss the revolution. I don’t know why I didn’t return like the others back then, perhaps mostly for personal reasons. I convinced myself it was good I didn’t go back then, as I would possibly have been injured or died. I told myself everything happens for a reason, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand it now.

When I was done with my work abroad, I returned to Egypt in March 2011. Back then, a friend wrote me saying, “you missed the revolution.”

It took me a few months to understand what happened after I came back. A lot of the time I felt like a stranger amid my family and friends, who shared a certain condition that is not accessible to someone who didn’t live it. Then I had days where I understood why I felt like a stranger. These are days where I felt the world should end now: the first time I sniffed tear gas, the first time I ran away from soldiers. These were all foreign moments for me. Probably there is something in common that was born back then, between me and those present around me, and no one will understand it but us, even if we don’t know each other.

The street and the gas and the running away were our shared space. It was enough to get to know each other and create intimate relationships. The first time I saw a tank was when I was trying to go to Maspero in October 2011; the first time I entered the cathedral was during the funeral of the Maspero martyrs; the first time I felt the world needed to end was when my flat mate and I were running in the midst of tear gas in Mohamed Mahmoud street in November 2011; the first time I felt I was that small was when I was attending the interrogation of one of those who was arrested in Mohamed Mahmoud; the first time I saw torture survivors was when I was attending the interrogations of those arrested in the Cabinet sit-in in December 2011. There were countless first times.

After I returned, I continued to feel guilty that I didn’t go back during the 18 days. I felt that I missed the revolution. Regardless of the protests and marches I took part in later, I continued to feel indebted for missing the challenge of hitting the streets collectively for the first time. Every time I took to the streets, I felt I could do it because of the bravery of those who took part in the 18 days.

My guilt trip and indebtedness ceded a bit after I was arrested. I felt I was paying an old debt. I never took part in every march and every protest. I always knew that participation has a cost and that cost flits somewhere between arrest, injury and death. And I always believed that evading that cost is not something one can rely on.

Until today, I see the main take-away from the revolution as a consciousness of our right to be in the street, a right that both we and those against us have equally enjoyed. That’s why I decided that any protest in solidarity of prisoners of conscience deserved the risk. I felt that if our right to be present in the street is taken away from us, there is nothing left.

Now the moment is different. Many things have changed since the last time I went to a protest. All my time in Qanater prison I was told things had changed outside. I returned to feeling like a stranger. I came out of prison after 15 months of separation from all the changes unfolding in Egypt, even if some news reached us during visits. I came out of prison to find places I love closed, streets changed and people dealing with events differently. I came out of prison to feel like a stranger with only my comrades from the Askari prison cell able to understand me, as we shared the news of the January 25 anniversary last year on the radio.

In prison we had different visions, but we shared a belief in the revolution. Each one of us believed in different ways of acting, but we never differed on the importance of the revolution in our lives and its marking of important moments for us. The revolution changed things in us and changed the way we see ourselves. It weaved relations that couldn’t have been the same otherwise. For all the moments that were first times, the revolution continues, despite the impasse we are in today.

The revolution is continuing because there are still many things that have to be done, albeit differently. Maybe the priorities and the tools we have used in the last five years are not relevant now. Maybe we should accept the heaviness of the moment we are living in, where our ambitions stop at not wanting to be kidnapped or have our houses raided. But the heaviness of this moment won’t make me forget what I lived in the last five years. I won’t forget my feelings toward the revolution and I don’t want to forget the price that has been paid by many, a price that I don’t have the right to overlook. The revolution is continuing no matter how much they fight us. The revolution is continuing because we deserve a better life, where we live happily, with dignity and freedom, and we deserve to learn how to make our country better.

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