Cairo The first day is a “shakeout” day for the Organizers’ Forum and with an outstanding delegation of over 20 people from diverse and outstanding organizations in the USA and Canada, just moving about from place to place was a project in the crowds and chaos of Cairo. After an excellent orientation offered by individual
Cairo residents and activists in the January 25th and 28th activities, and particularly in the post-revolution campaigns to really create change from these movements and build the organizational capacity to sustain it all, we almost felt like we had been there ourselves.
Listening to Ahmed Rehab of CAIR in Chicago talk about the meeting at the mosque and the excitement of pouring out into the streets with the crowd shouting “Down the Mubarak!” and seeing the crowds build in waves from around the city as the protesters took the Square through his eyes, we felt like we were there. Equally moving was hearing our visiting sisters speak to us of how change worked block by block as women moved to organized the security for the communities, stood on their balconies in Zamalek, made the maps and assigned the men, all the way down to pulling on helmets and poles to fight hand to hand themselves. We were hearing how change happens in the mess of real life, where some have to take the first uncertain and scary steps and others have to make sure the change leaches down to the deepest points in every community and finding the personal power to prevail. This is what happens in th
e mess of movements. Every word from our new friends cried to the sky for change.
Later in mid-afternoon we moved to the streets across for one of the ministry buildings only a few blocks from Tahrir Square. Several unions including the teachers and the health care workers had begun strikes and were rallying in central Cairo to build support and increase the pressure. At first the scene was so calm, I couldn’t believe this was really a union rally, but after pushing into Square and finding nothing, we were back between the police line and the encroaching military. This was a post-revolution strike. There was no fear in the air even as as a small delegation of the military moved to clear the area before the curfew. The players now knew their lines and moved within the new script. There was drama, but it was mostly drama, rather than the knife point of pressure and reaction. No strike would be won or lost on this street as we watched the health care union demand more money.
Morning or afternoon it was hard not to hear the repetition of disappointment. There was pride at the surprise and power of the change, but there was disappointment on the pace and product of change. There was optimism but it was now tempered by the difficulty of digging out the established folks who were dug in for power. The problem of having lost one overarching target and now holding the coalition
together as parties and politicians elbowed forward to the November election day, was depressing, difficult, and depressing.
There is no sugar in our coffee in Cairo. It’s strong and bitter. But it is also exhilarating and promises an amazing week before us as we try to get our arms around the revolution and the work to be done.