The University of Iowa

Nights of Fear and Hope

February 25th, 2011

The following commentary was written by UI alumnus Dr. Ali A. Soliman. He is the former senior undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy and International Cooperation in Cairo. He and his wife, also a UI graduate, live in Egypt.

Dear Friends,

Finally we can breathe fresh air! Egypt is now free. A band of young people were able to topple a fossilized and brutal regime. Despite controlling all sources of power in the country, it collapsed in a matter of days.

It is only now that we can fathom how corrupt and how fragile the REGIME was. It is only now and many days [after] that we can relate to what happened in our days and nights of fear and hope.

The Egyptian Revolution makes you believe in the old adage about mind beating muscle. It was not only mind power that these young people had, but ideology and faith which defeated Mubarak’s regime. You had to witness how valiant those young people were to understand why the regime collapsed. The “liberators” (no longer called demonstrators) stood with bare chests in front of rifles and armed personnel carriers. They were able to topple some of these vehicles and later dismantled and burned them. The people of Suez were particularly brave. They have proved their mettle before, in the 1973 war, when they stopped the Israeli Army at their gate, and fought to prevent them from taking the city even when the governor was ready to surrender.

The people of Suez carried the day on Jan. 25 and gave the revolution new impetus even when the police were able to clear Tahrir Square in Cairo. So there was another day on “Friday of Rage on the 28th.” This time the police withdrew in the afternoon after committing awful atrocities and killing scores of demonstrators. But the game was now almost over and Mubarak was ready to make concessions. The first one was very meek. He will change the government and appoint a VP.

Additional demonstrations on Tuesday, Feb. 1, this time including  a million people, brought additional concessions. He is not seeking reelection and will change the articles in the constitution which would have guaranteed the candidacy of his son.

We almost believed him, were it not for the events of the second day when counter demonstrations took to the street.

In the now famous “battle of the camel” — when sword wielding thugs attacked the demonstrators on horses and camels — the young defenders of freedom were able to dismount the attackers and take them prisoners. This battle sealed the fate of the regime. There were no concessions now. He will have to go and take with him his corrupt entourage and institutions.

Demonstrators came back in [the] millions on Friday, Feb. 4, and for most of the following days. My own family went down to the square. My wife joined 1,000 other University of Cairo professors and converged on the Square. I believe that the youth movement began to succeed once it spilled to the other segments of the society.

While the events on the Square were played out we were confined at home as the curfew hours kept getting longer and longer. In the evening, neighborhood youths would man the streets to protect home and kin, while we sat at home channel hopping to get the latest news. The tension was reflected in [the] constant run to the kitchen. Sandwiches and Egyptian savories were invented. I brought in large quantities of nuts and savory seeds. Finally we resorted to energy boosting snacks. Imported chestnuts and local sweet potatoes (we call them Batata). Both are cooked in the oven, so they give additional warmth and great aroma. Needless to say, by the end of period we had freedom and gained a number of additional kilograms.

God Bless the youth of Egypt who gave us a new country!