I had gone to Egypt to see the remains of its glorious past. [Read: A Passage to Misr]. But before I could see much I had to see instead its tumultuous present. Both sides were equally adamant – the protestors would not leave the Tahrir square till Mubarak relented and resigned his post which he was doggedly refusing to do. Initially the fight was between the police and the protestors. After a few days the police and the prison guards abandoned their posts leaving a large number of convicts and criminals free to carry on depredations – many thought it was deliberately done by the administration to create chaos and confusion. The common people faced this situation with stoic determination.
To fight a last ditch battle Mubarak now seems to have unleashed his party cadres. On the 2nd of February on my way to the airport I found the activists of Mubarak’s party out on the streets in considerable strength. Head on clashes however could not take place on a large scale because of the role of the army and, in spite of provocations, the exemplary non-violent behaviour of the crowd. Who knew how long the situation would remain peaceful.
It was becoming increasingly uncertain if I should be able to return home by the scheduled flight. Thanks to the Indian embassy officials at Cairo, whom I found working round the clock to help their countrymen, I could escape this turmoil and safely reach Calcutta on the 3rd of February. This should have given me a great sense of relief. Instead my mind was now full of worries and anxieties. I had left my daughter behind where any time administration could completely collapse and conditions become anarchical. Not only personal safety could be at risk, even day to day life could become impossible. ‘After me the deluge’ all along that had been Mubarak’s argument. But at last after another of his maneuvers, the reshuffling of the cabinet, failed to pacify the agitators, and mounting pressure was put on him by his big brother, the US government, on the 11th of February he ultimately stepped down relinquishing his charge to a Supreme Council of the Army. At Cairo it was midnight.
Many I know were obviously very excited but I had a foreboding. I had a feeling that it was not the end but the beginning of a revolution which will not remain confined to Egypt alone but will engulf the entire Arab world. It started from an apparently innocuous event of a Tunisian street vendor’s self immolation. A long awaited change was in the air, one who didn’t choose to keep his eyes and ears closed could not but sense it. In no time it proved true when the people of Libya rose in rebellion against their strong man Colonel Gaddafi who has been ruling that country as his personal fief for long 41 years, much longer than Mubarak of Egypt. Within a few days similar protests began to take place in other countries of the region. The entire Arab world was in flames. In Tunisia and Egypt the rebellion had achieved its goal shedding the least amount of blood which prompted many to term them as glorious. In Libya it started more or less in the same fashion but soon degenerated into a full scale bloody war of attrition. Gaddafi didn’t flee or resign but refused to negotiate with the agitators. He deployed his regular army and the mercenary hoodlums hired from outside the country - not to suppress but to kill the unarmed protestors.
And to add to my worries and anxieties in such a time of great disturbances my daughter left for the Mediterranean in one of the ships that were sent by the government of India to evacuate thousands of Indians stranded in Libya. To me now she became totally incommunicado. It is her career compulsion that she will have to spend a considerable time in that disturbed region. I do not know how long this turmoil will continue. Thus I have a personal reason to try to understand the current situation. In order to do that I have followed as closely as possible the course of events that are taking place almost at a bewildering pace. And I find that they are not only matters of my personal but also of global concern.
I am not an expert political analyst and my knowledge about the region is negligible. I had gone to Egypt only for sight seeing; my visit was also short which was further shortened by bad weather and the agitation. I don’t know the local language without which an intimate knowledge about the place and its people is impossible. A common Egyptian speaks only his mother tongue Arabic. In Cairo I found that the names of streets, house numbers and car number plates are all written in that language. My Arabic speaking daughter could spare very little time and after 23rd of January any assistance from her was out of the question. When she left for office I was still in bed and when she came back I was fast asleep! She didn’t get even a lunch break. So my encounter with Egypt was both short and imperfect.
The loud thinking that I propose to do here will therefore be based on whatever little experience I had during that imperfect encounter supplemented by information from secondary sources. I would expect the readers to treat this space as a forum and express their opinions freely because it concerns us all.