January 25, 2011. One year ago, a revolution began in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. For the next eighteen days, millions of Egyptians across the country would demonstrate in the streets, demanding the end of their 30-year dictatorship. They were inspired by Tunisians, whose protests, that same month, had forced out the authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Now it was time for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to go.
A few weeks after the protests, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch interviewed some of the organizers of the January uprising: union leaders, civil rights workers, young social media activists, family members of of murdered protestors, and mothers who brought their kids to Tahrir to clean after the protests.. These Human Rights Watch interviews provide a rare, eyewitness account of a revolution, told by the Egyptian people, the activists, human rights defenders, and bloggers who persevered during those eighteen days.
Ahmed Seif Al Islam, 60, is a veteran Egyptian lawyer, activist and former political prisoner. Arrested and tortured by State Security Investigations officers in 1983 for his political activity, he served five years in prison. Founder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, which since 2008 has been the leading Egyptian nongovernmental organization providing legal assistance to protesters. The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre monitored state violence during the 2011 protests, and became a gathering place for human rights activists during the revolution. Ahmed Seif was arrested by Military Intelligence with his staff at the height of the protests.
Alaa Al Aswany is an Egyptian writer born in 1957, author of acclaimed novel The Yacoubian Building. He was a founding member of the political opposition movement Kefaya (“Enough”). Al Aswany is an influential news columnist and also a practicing dentist. “I really do believe writing a good novel is much more important than being the president of Egypt.”
Leading web activists, left to right: Mahmoud Salim, 29, is an irreverent Egyptian blogger, best known by his web nickname “Sandmonkey.” Salim was arrested and beaten but continued blogging and tweeting throughout the Tahrir street protests. Mona Seif, 25, is an Egyptian blogger and youth activist who participated in the Tahrir Square protests, she is the daughter of veteran activist and lawyer Ahmed Seif. Gigi Ibrahim, 24, is an Egyptian journalist, blogger and political activist. Hossam El-Hamalawy, 33, is a leading Egyptian labor rights advocate, blogger and journalist. All four web activists used their computers and cell phones to provide frequent updates during the demonstrations on the violence against protesters.
Muslim-Christian unity youth organizers, left to right: Moaz Abdel Kareem, 28, is from the youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and participant in the Tahrir Square protests. Sally Moore, 33, is a psychiatrist, feminist, Coptic Christian youth leader. Mohammed Abbas, 26, is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth movement and a leader in Tahrir Square who worked with secular counterparts and the April 6 movement in planning protests. Mohammad Abbas and Sally Moore drafted a “birth certificate of a free Egypt” shortly after Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011.
Heba Morayef is the Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, covering Egypt. In the middle of the demonstrations and violence during the Tahrir protests, Morayef visited hospitals and morgues to document the civilian death toll from government attacks and sniper fire. This casualty figure became the indispensable count for global media as President Hosni Mubarak teetered in power.
Hossam Bahgat, 31, is the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which he founded in 2002. His organization has litigated for cutting-edge rights issues including minority rights and personal freedoms. Recipient of Human Rights Watch’s 2010 Alison Des Forges Defender Award, Bahgat has long played a prominent role in exposing human rights violations in Egypt, including the government’s failure to prosecute sectarian violence against Coptic Christians.
The success of the Tahrir Square uprising was virtually guaranteed when union and labor activists brought hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets to join the protests. Labor and human rights organizers, left to right: Kamal Abass, 57, is a labor rights activist, director of the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services. Kamal Aby Eita, 58, is a labor rights activist, president of the independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees—the first free union in Egypt. Khaled Ali, 40, is a human rights lawyer who founded the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights to document and defend labor rights, as well as other socio-economic rights. He won key cases against the Mubarak government on minimum wage and the illegal sale of state property.
Laila Said with Wael Ghonim. Laila is the mother of 28-year old Khaled Said, whose torture and murder by Egyptian police on June 6, 2010, helped to spark the discontent that eventually led to the Tahrir Square protests and President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall. Speaking out about the murder of her son, Laila became known as the “Mother of Egypt” and as an emblem of the consequences of endemic police torture and impunity.
Sama Lotfy, 2, Neama El Sayed, 26, Yassin Lotfy, 6 months, are the children and widow of a protester killed by Egyptian security forces during the Tahrir Square demonstrations.
Mohammed Abbas (left), key leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth movement who worked closely with secular counterparts and the April 6 movement in planning and executing protests in Tahrir Square, and Moaz Abdel Kareem, Muslim Brotherhood youth organizer and participant in the Tahrir Square protests.
Dr. Nawal El Saadawi, 80, is an Egyptian writer, veteran women’s rights advocate, psychiatrist and author of more than forty fiction and non-fiction books, many of which address the persecution of Arab women. In 1981 she was imprisoned after being charged with “political offenses.” In 1982, she founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association. One of the earliest to report on the taboo topic of female genital mutilation, Dr. El Saadawi’s decades-long struggle for women’s rights and against FGM helped pave the way for the adoption of a historic 2008 law that banned the practice in Egypt.
Ramy Essam, 23, is a charismatic singer, guitarist and songwriter who became famous during the Tahrir Square protests as “The Singer of the Square.” Detained and tortured by the Egyptian military after President Hosni Mubarak fell, Ramy Essam has written an album of songs called, “The Square,” based on his experiences during and after the protests.
Sarrah Abdel Rahman, 23, is a social media activist whose popular “Sarrah’s World” YouTube commentaries report from Tahrir Square. She aspires to be a television producer/journalist.
Sondos Shabayek, 25, is a writer for independent Egyptian newspapers and magazines and a “citizen journalist” who participated in and tweeted the story of the Tahrir Square protests.
On April 1, 2011, Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square in Cairo for a rally to “save the revolution” and protect their right to demonstrate.
Wael Ghonim, 30. Ghonim is a Google regional marketing executive who administered the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page after the young Alexandria man’s brutal killing. Ghonim’s emotional and passionate appearance on Egyptian television after being detained for 12 days by the security police helped to energize the protest movement.
The voices from Tahrir in this hour are:
Gasser Abd El Razek, 42: Human rights advocate, member of the board of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and country director for Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance Egypt.
Alaa Al Aswany, 53: Egyptian writer born in 1957, author of the acclaimed novel The Yacoubian Building, and influential news columnist. Founding member of the political opposition movement Kefaya (“Enough”). He is also a practicing dentist.
Sarrah Abdel Rahman, 23: Social media activist; creates of the popular “Sarrah”s World” series of YouTube commentaries; tweets, and aspires to be a television producer/journalist.
Sondos Shabayek, 25: Egyptian citizen journalist who participated in the Tahrir Square protests.
Tarek Shalaby, 26: Egyptian freelance web designer, social media activist and participant in the Tahrir Square protests. Message from Tarek’s website http://www.tarekshalaby.com/about/: “The Internet is power to the people. For the first time in history, everyone has the chance to express his or her thoughts and feelings, and reach out and learn from any others. It is bigger than any government or organization can handle, and there’s no way of stopping it.”
Nawal El Saadawi, 80: Dr El Saadawi is an Egyptian writer, veteran women’s rights advocate, psychiatrist and author of more than forty fiction and non-fiction books, many of which address the persecution of Arab women and subjects as female genital mutilation (which was ultimately banned in Egypt in 2008) and prostitution. In 1982, she founded the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association. In 1981 she was imprisoned after being charged with “political offenses.” She wrote her Memoirs From the Women’s Prison on a roll of toilet paper with an eyebrow pencil smuggled to her cell by an imprisoned young prostitute.
Jawad Nabulsi, 29: Wounded in the eye with a lead pellet while protesting near the Intercontinental hotel in Cairo on January 28. He works as a volunteer in organizations that help the poor and needy in Egypt. A Facebook page set up in his honor, called “We are all Jawad Nabulsi,” notes his selflessness after being injured: “While looking for a hospital to be treated for 10 hours, he listed down the names of others that needed to be treated although he himself needed someone to help him.”
Mahmood Salim (Sandmonkey), 29: Irreverent Egyptian blogger, best known by his nickname, “Sandmonkey.” Salim was arrested and beaten but continued blogging and tweeting throughout the Tahrir street protests.
Mona Seif, 25: Egyptian blogger and youth activist who participated in the Tahrir Square protests; daughter of veteran activist and lawyer Ahmed Seif.
Gigi Ibrahim, 24: Egyptian journalist, blogger and socialist activist. Gigi was a one-woman wire service for on-the-ground reports of violence against protesters. Featured on the cover of Time magazine (issue dated February 28, 2011) as a member of “the Generation Changing the World” in the Middle East: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20110228,00.html
Sally Moore, 33: A activist, psychiatrist and feminist, Sally Moore is a Coptic Christian who with Muslim Brotherhood youth leader Mohammad Abbas drafted a “birth certificate of a free Egypt” shortly after Mubarak’s resignation on February 11.
Mohammed Abbas, 26: Key leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth movement who worked closely with secular counterparts and the April 6 movement in planning and executing protests in Tahrir Square.
Hossam Bahgat, 31: Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which he founded in 2002. Litigator for cutting-edge rights issues including for minority rights and personal freedoms. Recipient of Human Rights Watch’s 2010 Alison Des Forges Defender Award, Bahgat has long played a prominent role in exposing human rights violations in Egypt, including the government’s failure to prosecute sectarian violence against Coptic Christians. On March 15, he and other Egyptian activists met with Hillary Clinton in Cairo.
Heba Morayef (show host), 30: Egyptian Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, covering Egypt and Libya. Heba was in the middle of the demonstrations and violence during the Tahrir protests. By visiting hospitals and morgues, she researched and documented the civilian death toll from government attacks and sniper fire. That figure became the indispensable count for global media as Mubarak teetered in power. While monitoring violence in the protests, she wrote these two op-eds: “The View From Liberation Square, Int. Herald Tribune, 1/28/11, “Tahrir Square Voices Will Never Be Silenced,” The Times, 2/11/11.