Cairo is burning. So is Egypt. Twitter is exploding. Everyone seems to have an opinion -- many who have never even been to Egypt, but feel a strong sense of solidarity with the most remarkable revolution in a generation, perhaps. A revolution that importantly is not really caused by Twitter or by Facebook -- as much as the self congratulatory social networking types in the West would like to believe.
Full disclosure: Sleepless but still sitting in relative comfort in my Manhattan apartment I am one of those relentless tweeters. However my obsession stems from a long love and association with Egypt and the presence of way too many friends who have jumped into the chaos not really knowing what consequences their actions might have for themselves or their friends and families.
I must also be clear. At this point -- on this, the longest Egyptian night in a generation, perhaps longer -- most Western self-professed Islam/Middle East and other assorted pundits have no clue about the harsh reality of Egyptian life. Many have probably never taken a walk down Manshiyat Nasser, the largest slum in Cairo. This is why they do not realize that this "revolution" is not about social networking and its success. The majority of the 80 million people of Egypt live in abject poverty. They do not even have cell-phones let alone smartphones like the iPhone or the Droid. They go to kiosks to make calls. A pretty substantial number of them have NEVER used the internet and do not have email accounts: the complicated mechanisms of self-promotion and information gathering and sharing on social networks is not a part of their lives -- they have never had the money or the resources to get access to this other world that often lives in the relatively more affluent neighborhoods like Zamalek or Garden City or Mohandaseen -- all within some walking distance of where the dissent started in Tahrir Square.
The majority of the protesters in Cairo, in Suez, in Alexandria, in Luxor, in Mahla, in Manoura, and all over this ancient land that is the very heart of what it means to be Arab, are not "twittering" or "Facebooking" or "emailing" or even watching the landmark live coverage that Al-Jazeera is providing. They are out on the streets -- and yes, without phone access -- risking their lives and giving vent to three decades, and perhaps more, of anger.
They are fighting for very basic human rights. They are fighting for affordable food. They are fighting for dignity. They are fighting for accountability. They are fighting to somehow improve the non-existent financial opportunities in their lives.
They are not interested in Mohamed ElBaradei's Nobel Prize or his rather recent and opportunist political ambitions. Most of them have not really seen him and have no idea of what he has been up to for the last three decades as they have suffered. They are angry that he decided to show up just last night and started posturing immediately as the potential savior and the best person to lead them into their uncertain future. Many here in the West would be surprised to know that a lot of these simple folk would actually prefer the "Muslim Brotherhood" taking over. At least they recognize the "Islam Light" the Brotherhood has honed to perfection after a pretty radical and conservative beginning with an ideologue like Hasan al-Banna.
My friend Fouad Hani, though, has had access to all of the above including a very nice smartphone. That has not deterred him from stepping out every night and after about six hours of trying to get him on the phone.
As always here are his primary bullet points unfiltered in his voice from a brief phone conversation (and yes, he has been dodging very real bullets today):
• My beloved city is on fire. My country is on fire. But each one of us on the streets is also on fire. • I am exhausted. Mobinil is down. So is Vodafone. I have no idea what is happening beyond what I have seen myself. Facebook and Twitter seem like a joke right now. • I live in Mohandaseen and decided not to go the big Mostafa Mahmood mosque near my house, because I know that "they" would be there. I went to pray at a smaller mosque. It was beautiful to pray. I had tears. • But as soon as we stepped out they pelted us with tear gas and with tear gas canisters. We threw them back. But my hand got burnt. • They tried to separate all of us as we walked towards Tahrir square. • Police were throwing rocks at us. • There are bruises and bumps all over my body. • I saw two bodies on the ground in Tahrir. Like an animal I just kept on walking past them. • We threw Molotov cocktails at the police. • Is there a curfew Parvez? Really? I had no idea -- it certainly did not look like a curfew when I was just walking home. • Has Obama said anything? I don't expect much from him anyway, this Mubarak is his "puppy." • Mubarak should go and share a room with that asshole Ben Ali in his Jiddah hotel! We were chanting that in Tahrir. • This is a joke. Btw can Obama find a working fucking phone in this country? I guess Mubarak's phone is working rt? • Pray for us.
Fouad is one of the smartest young Egyptians I know. He has a ready wit. And I have always had a crush on him. He doesn't know. Maybe he will after this? (If he can get online again).
As has happened with every one of my phone conversations with my friends in Cairo, I get disconnected. Silence again.
One more friend for me to pray for.
Mubarak, meanwhile, stays in hiding somewhere possibly in his presidential palace in Heliopolis. The army is rolling through Egypt's battered and smoky streets. Al Jazeera continues to televise this "revolution" like no other network has ever done before. Perhaps the pro-Israel lobbies in the US will start to respect this amazing network and allow it to broadcast freely in this nation?
Last night I said -- Would it be the scent of jasmine or the smell of blood in Egypt today?
I now have my answer. We all do.
Dear readers, I have been blogging, texting, skyping, twittering, gmailchatting, fbchatting for 72 hours now. I have not slept. I do not intend to-- as long as my many friends-- are out there in the streets of Cairo not daring to sleep either.
This below is a timeline of my tweets from the last five or six hours--it serves I hope as as a very good indicator and timeline of how exactly things have unfolded. I have tried very hard to only tweet/write on current and accurate information. Forgive me if I have made any mistakes.
I have tried to not be emotional and just be clinical. I have not suceeded.
The top and most recent tweet is one of the main reasons why the ouster of Hosni Mubarak is so personal for me.
Do follow me on twitter @parvezsharma is any of this is meaningful or join me on my FB page where I am continuing my experiment in cyber-squatting at Parvez Hussein Sharma.
Text from survivor of #Cairo52 profiled in #ajihadforlove. He was raped and tortured by #Mubarak thugs I HOPE HE DIES TONIGHT #Egypt #Jan25 1 minute ago
#AJE dont analyze #Mubarak lies. He said nothing new Leave that to the whitemen on US cable Show us the #Egypt not sleeping tonight #Jan25 12 minutes ago
#Egypt Itisalat cell service is working now. What about Mobinil and Vodafone? Has #Mubarak gone to bed or for a nice long bath now? #Jan25 20 minutes ago
If you are thinking why I am doing this so obsessively pls read some of my writing #Egypt #Jan25 Fi Amanullah those who dont sleep tonight 24 minutes ago
Is this Hosni #Mubarak last speech? Will the #army join the people or will they use their brutality? Where is #GrandSheikh? #Egypt #Jan25 35 minutes ago
#Mubarak was NOT LIVE. His lies were pre-recorded #breakingnews #Egypt #Jan26 42 minutes ago
#Mubarak MY government is stepping down BUT I AM NOT. The long night of misery is just beginning #Cairo #Egypt #Jan25 #Jan28 44 minutes ago
#Mubarak My Government is resigning BUT GUESS WHAT I AM NOT. THE SHAME OF THE people of #egypt is complete tonight #Jan25 45 minutes ago
Is he imposing Emergency? #Mubarak 48 minutes ago
#Mubarak "Course of reform we have set"? #Egypt my heart bleeds for all of you out there tonight-really #Mubarak? What now? #Jan25 48 minutes ago
#Mubarak "My fellow citizens" "We will continue reforms" What is this guy smoking? I want some #Egypt #Jan26 #Jan28 His fellow citizens? 50 minutes ago
#Mubarak looks rather well slept & freshly scrubbed This dictator will need to be pushed out How much more blood does he want #Egypt #Jan25 53 minutes ago
#Mubarak the despot has no intention to leave. This is horrible. #Egypt #Jan25 He sounds arrogant and defiant and he is LYING
#Mubarak speaking. I am monitoring situation. Stand and take a pause #Egypt #Jan26 #Jan28 I regret casualties
#NileTV saying #Mubarak to speak shortly #Egypt #Jan26 #Jan28 #breakingnews 1 hour ago Matters in #Mubarak safe hands? Is this what #Speaker just said? Reuters says yes. Surreal! #Egypt #Jan28 #Jan25 1 hour ago
#NDP fire just meters away from #NationalMuseum. Is it true that #Mubarak palace in Heliopolis is surrounded? Confirm? #Egypt #Jan26 1 hour ago
What will #speaker say? Is #Army taking over?Where is the #AlAzhar Grand Sheikh? Has #Mubarak left? #Jan25 1 hour ago
#Egypt 3 private jets leave #cairo airport #Egt speaker to make major speech Has #Mubarak fled? Who will control chaos now?#Jan25 1 hour ago
#Egypt military chief rushing back from US #parliament #speaker to speak soon #statetv showing burning wideshot live #Jan25 #Jan28 #Mubarak 1 hour ago
Good piece on #CNN that "seems" to misquote me ever so "slightly" http://bit.ly/fjHcyV #Egypt #Jan25 #Jan28 #Mubarak 1 hour ago
#Egypt Al Arabiya saying that #Mubarak audio speech to be broadcast soon? #Jan25 #Jan28 1 hour ago
#Egypt rumor created by #Israel ? #Mubarak on a plane to Switzerland? #Jan25 #Jan28 1 hour ago
#AJE reporting a #breakingnews tweet? We reached the presidential palace in #Egypt go go. #Jan28 #Jan25 Proxy servers #tweetdeck working? 1 hour ago
#NDP HQ symbolically burn to ash #Cairo #Army surround How Army will behave in the next few hours is the most critical issue #Egypt #Jan25 1 hour ago
#breakingnews I explain why so many are so wrong on #Egypt and Fouad's hrtbreaking testimony http://bit.ly/gxU7Dy Fi Amanallah Fouad #Jan25 2 hours ago
I know what they are watching in #WhiteHouse. Its called #AJE. Not #CNN. Not #Fox. Not #MSNBC. Yo #Gibbs is #Mubarak phone working? #Egypt 2 hours ago
Obama not spoken with "President Mubarak" Still calling him that #Gibbs? Can the White House actually find a working phone in #Egypt dude? 3 hours ago
#EgyptAir suspends all flights in and out of the besieged country. Where the f is the tyrant Mubarak hiding? #Egypt #Jan25 #Jan28 3 hours ago
#Egypt #Tunisia show the way. #Syria #Jordan #Yemen then follow. End the post-colonial tyranny that was unleashed on all Arab lands. #Jan25 3 hours ago
#Cairo is burning Pls know the majority on the streets of #Egypt have never used the internet or had the $$ to buy smartphones #jan28 #jan25 4 hours ago
Frnd in #Cairo. Looters at #NDP HQ which is on fire. The bravest Arabs are taking #Egypt back from #Mubarak & thugs. His escape plane ready? 4 hours ago
Al Arabiya TV interviews young Egyptian "The NDP building has been completely gutted, some people took money that was stolen from them" 4 hours ago
Egyptian student shows Al Arabiya year gas canister that says "Made in USA". "How can we allow this in Egypt?" http://yfrog.com/gyooazmj 4 hours ago
Al Arabiya: Egyptian Army has moved to protect the Egypt Museum #Jan25 4 hours ago
Had 2 take break. Sorry. Got on phone finally! Tanks crawling all over #Cairo and people cheering them. The bravest Arabs tonite r in #Egypt 4 hours ago
My 10 hr old piece up on Huffpo now? It feels like years ago @this point http://huff.to/hJ1KSL Pls pray for Negma Fi Amanullah #Egypt #Jan25 4 hours ago
Just turned down #Iran #PressTV request 4 i/v. How do I tell them that I dont like media mouthpieces set up by tyrants? #Egypt #Jan25 5 hours ago
Thousands of them cannot #tweet post #fb status updates or watch #AJE #Egypt tonite is giving us the biggest Arab heroes ever #Jan25 5 hours ago
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin: Not a single fire truck has tried to put out the fires at the ruling party's headquarters. #jan25 5 hours ago
The brave #Egypt protesters r not sitting like us in comfort #tweeting They r risking their lives every single minute. Fi Amanullah #Jan25 5 hours ago
#Curfew?Bldgs being stormed all over #Cairo RIGHT NOW This is a people who have been in an information blackhole for hours! #Egypt 5 hours ago
Rowya Rageh - Live from Alexandria - Army tanks can be found on the streets and welcomed by the protestors #Jan25 #Egypt 5 hours ago
No more #stupidwhitemen with their silly #tweets copied from #AJE. This from #Cairo friend I just managed to find on a working phone! #Egypt 5 hours ago
Foreign ministry stormed. #Mubarak hiding. #Egypt your longest night in a generation has just begun. All of this w/o #tweets and #fb #Jan25 5 hours ago
14yrold killed. 80,000 protesting near #Cairo. Western journo's stop looking @ #Baradei as solution. Will u ever learn realities of #Egypt? 5 hours ago The #military joining the revolutionaries in Alex? thumbs-up! What is #Mubarak up to? Getting ready for the Isha prayer? #Egypt #Jan25 5 hours ago
Never believe anything until it's been official denied by Egyptian state TV. #lol #jan25 5 hours ago
Eyewitnesses: Sayeda Zeinab police station burned #Jan25#Jan28 5 hours ago
#Ben Ali you ready to share your hairdye and your #Jiddah pad with #Mubarak? U guys talking on his working #mobile? #Egypt #Jan25 #egytweets 5 hours ago
#Hillary Clinton dont be "deeply concerned" Have you heard of the word condemn? What's your ally #Mubarak doing in Heliopolis rt now? #Egypt 5 hours ago
Hillary #Clinton Shut Up! It is too late. Your friend #Mubarak can see his end. Get him on a flight out of #Egypt instead #Jan25 #egytweets 6 hours ago
Does #Mubarak know how to pray or #tweet? Has he ever #emailed Can he hear #Egypt exploding Can he smell blood flowing on the streets #Jan25 6 hours ago