Behind #Jan25: Young In Cairo–Bassem’s Story

Photo: An Egyptian demonstrator waves his national flag in Cairo's Tahrir square. (Getty Images)

From the middle of Tahrir Square in Cairo and from his balcony just 300 meters away, Egyptian filmmaker Bassem, 30, has been recording a revolution unfolding before his eyes. As unprecedented levels of youth engagement continue to rise, Bassem shares with Act the raw, gritty details of what it’s really like on the ground in Egypt today.

(Act) Describe your typical day since the protests started.

(Bassem) Every day is the same: I wake up in the morning, watch the news, head out to the square. My place has been a camp for protesters. There are at least six people at my place most nights. In the afternoon, I go back to the square, film, come home, eat, go back to the square.

Is the government media fair or honest?

The government media never shows the truth, but everybody has satellite TV. I get my news from BBC, BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, CNN. I watch government media just to see what lies they’re telling.

Describe the mood of young people in Cairo right now–and how has it changed since Jan. 25?

The people spending most of their time in Tahrir Square are very optimistic. They are powerful. Many are sleeping there every night, but there are others who are not inside the square, who are getting info from elsewhere and abroad, and they see that it’s not easy to overthrow a dictator. They’re more pessimistic.

There are also both young and old people who are against the idea of protesting. They want things to return to normal. Mubarak has spread out gangsters across the city; they’re initiating fights with protesters. People¬†who live in neighborhoods, they go out at night with knives, guns, sticks, etc. to protect their neighborhood. Cairo feels hectic and not safe right now. It’s not usually like this.

What are the different ways Egyptian youth are taking action as part of the uprising?

[First], some organizations have been working toward making this change happen for a long time. They are trying to maintain the momentum of what has become a revolution. Some of these political groups were formed over the course of the past 10 years.

The second level is a group of young people who feel this revolution had to happen. They’re excited to fight for freedom, to fight for human rights, to live without fear, to live without corruption.

When someone is being attacked, they’ll work to find a filmmaker to document it, find someone with water to flush their eyes, find someone with medical supplies. I’ve seen people throwing bottles of water from their balconies to help those who were hit with tear gas…saying the [freedom] slogans.

Inside the square it has been a utopia. [People] have organized themselves, going around the square with trash bags and cleaning. There’s been no sexual harassment during this time. Women have been staying in the square overnight, which is highly unusual in Egyptian culture. There has been no tension between Muslims and Christians.

What’s the most shocking thing you’ve seen in the last couple of weeks?

It’s been like living in an action movie–seeing battles, smelling tear gas. The police were throwing tear gas bombs like they were candy. I’ve seen people getting beat up and people beating up the police.

The most depressing incident was [Friday, Feb. 4]: a street war between the pro-Mubarak supporters and those against Mubarak. They were throwing stones at each other. There were balls of fire, people trying to cause as much damage as possible. The pro-Mubaraks incited the violence.

What does this uprising mean to you personally? What emotions has it brought out?

Extreme happiness mostly. Happy to witness Egyptians working together towards one goal: their basic right of freedom, of democracy.

I feel positive about how things are developing, but it’s still hazy. Transitions are always painful.

Are the protesters fatigued?

The energy is still really positive and high. These people aren’t going to give up until their demands are met.

Learn more about the unfolding of Egypt’s revolution in Act’s Behind #Jan25 coverage and stay tuned for updates throughout the next week.

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