18 days on Tahrir

Sara is an 18 year-old communication student at the MIU, Misr International University. She lives with her family in Nasr City, a residential neighbourhood in Northern Cairo. She likes basketball and teaches the Qur’an at a nearby mosque. Before the January 25th revolution, she had participated actively in several demonstrations organised by the April 6th movement. For the past three years, she has been involved in these events both individually and as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This came naturally for her, since her entire family is affiliated to the movement. But, since the uprising, everything has changed. Sara has grown up. In the span of only 18 days spent on Tahrir, she understood the decisive role she could play in the Egyptian society. She now has no intention to let this go.

“I saw a call on Facebook for a gathering. The Muslim Brotherhood hadn’t officially called for our participation, but I decided to go anyway. It was a personal choice before anything else,” explains Sara. On January 25, she spontaneously joined the small crowd on Tahrir, unaware that she would come to spend day and night on the square for three weeks. “It was a gathering in memorial of Khaled Said, the activist killed by police forces in Alexandria last June. State media were saying lots of bad things about him, so we had to protest. People were also asking for the resignation of our Interior Minister. We were very hopeful, probably because of what had happened in Tunisia only days before.”

After January 28, Sara decides that she can’t go back home. On Tahrir, she tries to be as helpful as possible: she becomes a nurse, a spokesperson, a cook. On average, 80 other Muslim Sisters slept on Tahrir during the uprising. “Sara is very humble,” states Abdel Rahman, a friend of Sara’s and also part of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. “Most girls of her age who were on Tahrir came accompanied by family members; parents, brothers. I know a girl whose parents rented a hotel room to make sure that she would be safe at night. Sara was alone most of the time.” Indeed, Sara’s father was busy staying at home to take care of the children while her mother, a high ranking Muslim Brotherhood member, had a lot of work and joined her daughter on Tahrir whenever her schedule allowed her to.

“I made lots of new friends,” Sara explains enthusiastically: “liberals, socialists. The headquarters of the socialist party were very close to Tahrir. They let me sleep there several times and they offered coffee to everyone. Otherwise, we slept in a mosque, which had turned into a first aid center, located right behind the square. That’s how I became a nurse for five days!” Unsurprisingly, worried members of her extended family as well as close friends advised Sara to return home, but in vain. “I have friends whose parents forbade them to go out. I had the feeling that I had to be on Tahrir and nowhere else. My parents didn’t say anything.”

“For 18 days, nobody ever asked me about which party or movement I belonged to” analyses Sara. “We were Egyptians before anything else. It was only after Tahrir that my new friends and I discovered our political backgrounds. We started to debate, it was fun.” This is precisely what seems to characterise the new generation of young Muslim Brothers and Sisters so strongly: their ability to be in contact with other political groups. This makes them much more independent-minded than their elders. Sara, for instance, holds a surprisingly lucid and emancipated speech on her organisation: “Talking to people from different backgrounds and participating in debates enabled me to understand the need for the Muslim Brotherhood communication-wise. Since I study communication, I’m very interested in these topics.”

Sara’s experience on Tahrir only reinforced her feminist and democratic values. “Among Muslim Brothers, the idea that women should stay at home to take care of their children is still very widespread,” explains Sara. “But, it must change. Women must participate more in political life. Muslim Sisters must be represented at the top of the movement’s hierarchy.” Today, no woman is allowed to be elected to the Executive Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood. The positions of the highest ranking women are only equivalent to those of average ranking men.

According to Sara , a revolution has started also inside the party. “I think they’re very afraid of us now,” says the young activist in a burst of laughter. “They know how important the role we played on Tahrir was, so they try to listen to our demands. My superior asked us straight out: ‘What do you want from us?’”. But, Sara didn’t wait for anyone to pop the question. She took the initiative of meeting with her superior and gave her opinion on what reforms the Muslim Brotherhood should start implementing. “I told him that the Sisters must become real decision-makers inside the movement. I also told him that we must be represented by women at the top of the organisation. He was very shocked!” recalls Sara.

“In Islam, men and women are equals,” states Sara’s mother when asked about the future of women in the Muslim Brotherhood. “When the Prophet Mohammed was alive, women were working, and even fighting. They lead mosques. The Egyptian mentality needs to change, and the Muslim Brotherhood needs to rethink the status of its Muslim Sisters.” Sara concludes: “The revolution needs to change people. Before the revolution, girls I know thought that their only duty was to stay at home. This revolution must help them understand what kind of role they can play in our society. If they realise that, our entire culture will be transformed.”

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