Most of the global media has moved on from the streets of Cairo and now the situation is more complex. The story is alive, changing constantly. Where to next for a (hopefully) democratic Egypt? America and Israel should be worried.
Perihan Abouzeid, the 26 year old owner of an online supermarket, is one of the young, female, twittteriffic activists that the media has so far put, not without justification, at the centre of the story of Egypt’s uprising. When I first met her a month and a bit ago, it was at a posh coffee shop on the island of Zamalek, an island on the Nile populated by foreigners and wealthy Egyptians. She was participating in a meeting of Shabab Masri (Egyptian Youth), a group she formed with other young activists during the eighteen day uprising that ousted Mubarak.
Their plan, she told me, was to travel to the poor and less educated areas to carry out “public awareness” campaigns, utilising debate, performance and other visual mediums to explain the basics of democracy, like why people shouldn’t give their vote to the guy who gives them flour, cooking oil and money the day before the election.
Her participation in politics since then has further driven home the changes. On the day Egypt held their referendum she took to the same downtown streets that had once made her so anxious, donning a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “give your vote to Egypt”. Her role was not to tell people which way to vote, but just to encourage them to vote and answer questions about the options to the best of her abilities, and she was amazed by the enthusiastic response. Travelling to poor neighbourhoods has only further strengthened her faith in the people at large. She was especially struck by how many of these people were educated but poor. “They really understand the strong ties between the policies the regime has set and whatever problems and challenges we have in this country”.
On the other hand, she says she has also realised how many wealthier Egyptians, who are so up to date with western fashion, had only engaged with western culture on the consumer level and were otherwise uninterested in the ideals of freedom and democracy. They could be found, during the revolution, sitting in Zamalek’s posh coffee shops, drinking coffee and smoking shisha like nothing was happening.
This shift in perceptions has, as one might assume, led to a substantial shift in her politics. Whereas before she had favoured a liberal capitalist model, she now thinks that “whatever new government is going to have to have a leftist direction”.