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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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An Interview with Noha Atef – Egyptian Journalist, Blogger and Dissident – on the Historic Events Underway in Her Country

“Mubarak’s Regime Is Dead… That Is What the People Want, and I Think That It Will Happen”

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

January 29, 2011

Publisher’s Note and Full Disclosure: In October 2009, a then-24-year-old Egyptian journalist and blogger, Noha Atef, sent us her completed application to the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism. We were moved by the work she had already accomplished, putting the issue of police torture of Egyptian citizens on the international and national agendas through her blog, TortureInEgypt.net, for which she and family members had been harassed, threatened and brought into police stations on multiple occasions. Noha attended the 2010 j-school last February in Mexico, where she also led a plenary session on her work, and collaborated with other students and professors there to produce, in a few days, this viral video, also titled Torture in Egypt. Last June, I invited Noha to co-chair a plenary session (video, here) with me at Tufts University in Massachusetts, at The Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict, an annual event organized by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. In May, Noha will return to the School of Authentic Journalism not as a student, but as professor and will co-chair our Online Reporting work group.

Noha Atef photographing the Mexico offices of the daily Por Esto! newspaper, February 2010, while at the School of Authentic Journalism.

When events in Egypt shook the world this week, Noha found herself in Europe, where she is studying. Airlines have stopped flights to her country, the Egyptian government shut down its citizens’ access to the Internet, cell phones and other communications systems, and she has had to watch the history unfold like the rest of the world, from abroad. Not without her own skills at breaking information blockades, Noha has been working around the clock to collect information from her land, and tell its true and accurate story across the globe. Here, we’ve asked her some questions, and we know you’ll be better informed on events in Egypt today from the answers and supporting materials she provides here.

Narco News: In many ways, the Mubarak regime’s order to Internet companies to shut down the Egyptian people’s access to the Internet is a compliment to people like you, who at blogs and online publications like your TortureInEgypt.net have informed about the real facts under his government, broken its censorship of the off-line press, and many commentators have credited all of you with the steady raising of public consciousness over recent years. Suddenly, history has taken a fast turn inside of Egypt, you found yourself outside of the country. How are you keeping informed of events? And how – telephones? alternate Internet access? other means of communication? – are those inside of Egypt getting the news out to the rest of the world?

Noha Atef: First I have to clarify that some topics (such as torture) were not mentioned in the Egyptian mainstream media, not only because of Mubarak’s censorship, but also because there are some private newspapers and many TVs, and the owners of all these are businessmen, who eventually should be ‘nice’ with the regime that has control over their businesses.

Also would like to note, I’m abroad to study, not to escape, and I’m not on the run!

Today information finds its way in all cases, and for a journalist, getting updates shouldn’t be a hard job. I’m finding updates through satellite channels, calls with friends on landline phones, since they are still on, and also some activist friends get connected by dial-up, and SMSs from international journalists in Cairo, who are covering the protests and keeping their home mobile numbers working.

In Egypt, people have managed to spread the word, even if the media are not alerted. For instance, last night the fire caught a building next to the Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and while protecting until the army surrounded it, protestors called some TV channels, told them of the situation and asked them to spread it.

In every way, Egyptians tend to document their lives, I’m sure that after the Internet connection is back, a flood of mobile video and pictures will be uploaded.

Narco News: In the global media we are shown many demonstrations, and the grand majority of participants are young men. Where are the women in the struggle and what are they doing?

Noha Atef: The women have been in this struggle from its beginning, I don’t mean just on the 25th of January 2011, but even before this, since 2005, when the chant, ‘Down with Mubarak’ was first heard. And in the hundreds of strikes that took place between 2007 and 2010, women were both organizers and participants. If anybody looks at the pictures taken back then, he will see women attending and sometimes leading the protest.

If you count me as someone who has done one’s share in this struggle, you could likewise say that women are not absent.

Have a look at this video taken by a protestor, and count how many women appear:

As you see, they are different ages, one of them is protesting while carrying her baby, and this protest was not in the capital, but a rural province (Zagazig).

I’m not sure of the reason behind not showing such footage in global media, maybe they didn’t expect it; hence they didn’t look for it!

Narco News: Another thing about the global media coverage is that it makes it seem that the only tactic being deployed is street demonstrations. What other tactics are opponents of the Mubarak regime doing that you have heard about?

Noha Atef: This time, it started with protests only, and then the escalation left no opportunity for creating something more in opposition to Mubarak, but just to handle the situation without stepping back. I mean since the protests kicked off, live and rubber bullets were shot, then Internet was shut off. Maybe there are some creative productions to be uploaded after the Egyptians return to cyberspace. Here is something that was quickly made in the first night of protests (see video above).

Here, I want to underscore something you might not hear in the global media; Mubarak’s police were shooting people, and then arresting them! The injured didn’t go to hospitals, since those who did were arrested. Alternatively, a number of doctors volunteered to treat them. They got them off the streets with First Aid. They did what they could do in the houses and in the entrances of the buildings, and they received some injured in their private clinics.

I’d say, untraditional tactics were used for resisting the police, such as throwing garlic from balconies on the policemen when they beat protestors, also pouring water on them when they were in front of a building, raining them with small items when the beating starts. These things were used in the last century, when Egyptians resisted Napoleon’s army, and now they do what their grandparents have done.

Just to add, I’m not sure if it’s creative, but we heard Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son, has a flat in London. I’ve just tracked this and got his exact address in the British capital, spread it, and now a demonstration in front of his flat is being discussed!

And let me tell you, there have been many unusual tactics used for rejecting Mubarak, mainly through art, some can be seen in video clips. For example, this:

And this:

There have also been posters and poems. In addition there is also plenty of humor, jokes, which were enough to be featured in the magazine, Foreign Policy.

Have a look at these posters and check out how we tweeted him to death when he was in Germany for treatment:

Narco News: The global media began to pay attention during the January 25th demonstrations. Which sectors of Egyptian society organized those demonstrations?

Noha Atef: It is difficult to sort out the organizers, what happened was just a call for protests, a call on Facebook, for what seemed similar to the 6th April strike, but the surprise is that people were more angry than two years ago, then it went that massive. On the first day, those who took to streets were addressing the people who stood at balconies, saying, ‘come to us.’

The protestors you watch on TV, most of them are not politically active, most of Egyptians do not practice politics, as they lack the trust in politicians, and ‘opposition parities’ are in most cases nothing but puppets in the hands of the regime. Meanwhile the active parties, such as Ayman Nour’s party, are immensely paralyzed from taking actions.

To answer your question, I can say emphatically this is a hundred percent popular spontaneous movement. The protestors are the organizers, No one dares to call himself ‘the protest leader,’ and no group has claimed it can organize over 80 million people in this huge country of Egypt. Nobody was able to do this.

However, I found some of the global media mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the organizing group, which is both funny and pathetic! As MB announced in the 4th of January, it won’t take part, although some of its young members didn’t accept this and took to streets like the rest of Egyptians. I see two explanations for hearing this in the global media, first is that Mubarak has been trying to convince the world that a kind of ‘Islamic’ opposition is trying to take over. He does that because the US surely would prefer keeping a (fake) secular leader to an Islamic regime, therefore, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement on the 25th of January denouncing the protests lead by MB, a group that is officially absent!

The second possibility is that global media was deluded with the prayer scenes in the photos and videos. I mean, probably their correspondents saw protestors praying, and mass protests scheduled after Friday prayer, then the it-must-be-Islamic assumption was made. The truth is that if you ever have been to Egypt, you’ll find people praying on streets, and they are not affiliated with Muslim Brothers. Any non-Egyptian who has lived with us can confirm this to you. And scheduling protests after Friday prayers is not new, since this day is the weekend in Egypt, both Muslims and Christians exercise their devotion in mosques and churches, hence you easily gather the people.

Now, if we moved from organizers to protestors themselves, the answer remains the same! Egyptians are the protestors. Christians and Muslims are protesting. Today I heard on TV a call with someone in Cairo saying that Sheiks were protesting in their religious attire and bringing in their families. This hasn’t happened since the 1919 revolution. Women and men, youngsters and aged people, even children whose parents brought them along:

It’s also been students, the well educated, skilled workers, the poor and the middle class all are protesting, even people with special needs participated. The amazing thing is that some police officers joined the protestors, too, and chanted with them against Mubarak!

Finally, no sectarian or sexist slogans were chanted. If someone says something of this kind, people don’t repeat what he said. Instead they shout their favorite sentence. The people want to bring this regime down! I translated some slogans here.

Narco News: How do you analyze the speed with which the United States has changed its position from, on Wednesday, “Mubarak is our friend” to, on Thursday, “Mubarak must make reforms” to, on Friday, “Mubarak must allow free assembly, open the Internet, and we won’t say whether we stand with him or not”?

Noha Atef: I cannot analyze the American positions regarding anything! It’s too complicated for someone who is not a political commentator to read behind the lines what the US writes. But I can tell you what United Stated means to the Egyptian protestors; look at this picture one of them took.

This is one of the hundreds of teargas cans that were thrown in Cairo. It’s Made in U.S.A. I know it doesn’t necessarily mean the American administration sent it to Mubarak. Maybe he merely got it from a U.S based factory. But who gave him the dollars? Unfortunately, the American taxpayers’ money was being sent to support dictators, who are experienced enough to convince Obama that they’re guarding the borders, or fighting terrorism.

Let me get more honest with you, when we Egyptians do something, we don’t expect support from any part. For us, it’s empowering to get support from an Arab nation, and encouraging seeing westerners give us the thumps up.

Narco News: We are told by the global media that when the Army came into the streets with its tanks, demonstrators in many areas welcomed them. How much do you trust that the Army will continue to exercise restraint and not repress the assemblies?

Noha Atef: That’s true! I know many people would not believe it, as the Army in many countries is involved in the dirty work. But in Egypt it’s the opposite. Unlike policemen, the military is respected and considered a guard or a freedom fighter; I, and my generation, had our fathers serving or volunteering in the military in the years of the sixties and seventies. We believe that the Army is protecting Egypt.

We love the soldiers as much as we hate the police officers, who insult people, torture them and extort money, unlike the military officer.

I think the soldiers themselves will not shoot people dead, or even beat them up, I’m saying the soldiers since I am not sure of the leaders. Those in the tanks in Cairo streets now do not have to repress any group, as people would obey them if they asked them to do anything, because they trust and respect them.

Something to add: Today a protestor in Tahrir square in Cairo mentioned that protesters were allowed to ride over the tanks and move around the square while chanting, ‘People want to have this regime down’, which is meaningful I think!

Narco News: What do you think could happen next?

Noha Atef: Mubarak will step down, or get a heart attack! Anyway, this regime is dead!

Narco News: What do you want to happen next?

Noha Atef: When the country gets rid of the corrupt dictator, the chief of the constitutional court will take over. A president should be chosen in four months. He should amend the Constitution to enable candidates to run for the presidency (now the conditions for candidacy are too hard for anyone but Mubarak or his son Gamal!). Afterwards, a new president and a new parliament will make a new constitution.

This what the people want, and I think it will happen.

Narco News: How can people around the world in solidarity with the Egyptian people best help their cause today?

Noha Atef: People around the world are already showing great solidarity, many of them shared their Internet passwords with Egyptians when the DSL was shut down. They emailed Egyptians in the Diaspora so we could connect with our families at home and let them get connected.

I wish people would carry on sending solidarity messages to their Egyptian friends, on Facebook and every other way. They will come back online one day and will feel very proud to see such messages. Also spread the word to let others know that people in Egypt are changing their country. This might stimulate others to do the same, especially those who used to label Arabs as ‘oppressed people,’ ‘oppressed women,’ or ‘oppressed minds.’ If you don’t agree with your government position toward Egypt, express your disagreement! Finally, when the dictator dashes off, you should come and visit. I’m not going to say how you will like the country, the people and the details of life, but you‘ll get to listen to more great stories, much more honorable than what you hear in the media.

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