The Soul of the Square

Ahdaf Soueif (MA '73) shares luminous moments in Tahrir and optimism about the future


Photographed by Omar Robert Hamilton

On Friday, February 11, Egypt partied. Chants, songs, drums and zaghareed rang out from Alexandria to Aswan. Three chants were dominant and very telling. One, "Lift your head up high; you're Egyptian," was a response to how humiliated and hopeless we'd been made to feel over the last four decades. The second was: "We'll get married; we'll have kids," and reflected the hopes of the millions whose desperate need for jobs and homes had been driving them to risk their lives to illegally cross the sea to Europe or the desert to Libya. The third chant was: "Everyone who loves Egypt, come and help fix Egypt." And on Saturday, they were as good as their word. They came and cleaned up after their revolution.

Now, of course, we're taking stock of the size of the task that lies ahead of us, and it is nothing less than re-imagining and restructuring our country. And doing this in the face of powerful forces working against us.

But I am hugely confident. I'm confident because I've watched and listened to so many young Egyptians over the last few months, and I am awed by your clarity of vision, your articulateness, intelligence and determination. And so, over the course of 18 short days, I have like so many of my generation moved from guilt and despondency over the state of the world and the country we are bequeathing to our children to a feeling of pride and confidence in this younger generation: in you. You stepped forward, took responsibility and started changing the world. Our part now is to fall in line behind you, to put at your disposal everything that we have, and to offer you our support in the form, quantity and time that you tell us you want it.

It is in this spirit that this piece is written. And in this spirit that I end it with a quote from my son, Omar Robert Hamilton, 26, who raced in from Washington, D.C. to join the revolution: "We made a city square powerful enough to remove a dictator. Now we must remake a nation to lead others on the road to global equality and justice.

Tahrir Square worked because it was inclusive, with every type of Egyptian represented equally. It worked because it was inventive, from the creation of electric and sanitation infrastructure to the daily arrival of new chants and banners. It worked because it was open-source and participatory, so it was unkillable and incorruptible. It worked because it was modern. Online communication baffled the government while allowing the revolutionaries to organize efficiently and quickly. It worked because it was peaceful. The first chant that went up when under attack was always, Selmeyya! Selmeyya! (Peaceful! Peaceful!) It worked because it was just. Not a single attacking baltagi (thug) was killed; they were all arrested. It worked because it was communal. Everyone in there, to a greater or lesser extent, was putting the good of the people before the individual. It worked because it was unified and focused. Mubarak's departure was an unbreakable bond. It worked because everyone believed in it.

Inclusive, inventive, open-source, modern, peaceful, just, communal, unified and focused. A set of ideals on which to build a national politics."

By Ahdaf Soueif (MA '73)