While studying at American University in Cairo, Carol Gray found herself caught up in the largest revolution in the Middle East in decades, one that would end with the resignation of a dictator. Rather than remain indoors, Gray documented these events, and shared those records with a small crowd of students and professors Monday afternoon.
“I was at American university in Cairo. While I was there, the revolution broke out, and for someone studying human rights, this was the high point of my life,” Gray said. “I was told that if I stayed, they’d have to terminate my fellowship, and I did stay.”
Gray, now a graduate student in the department of political science, began her presentation with background information on the revolution, as well as what led her to document the revolution.
“I was in Alexandria for the first day…I saw my role as documenting the revolution with Western eyes,” Gray said. “I started going to Tahrir square and posting stuff to my blog on the same day.”
Although Gray was not a journalist, she still faced censorship and attempts to prevent her from gaining information about the protests.
“You click on something that looks like a protest and it’s just playing music,” Gray said. “That was the beginning of cutting the internet, for five days they cut the internet in the country.”
When she attempted to gain access to Tahrir Square, she found a small army of police forces preventing would-be protesters from gathering there.
“The streets to Tahrir Square, there were rows of riot police with gear. Every single street on the way to Tahrir Square was blocked with police,” Gray said. “What was happening in the square was that protesters couldn’t get there. It was so heavily fortified that whatever direction you came from, the police were there. These tank-like vehicles would be driving around shooting tear gas to prevent people from getting to the square.”
It was not only Tahrir Square that faced retaliation from the government. Gray recalled how there were times when she could feel tanks going through the city streets from inside her apartment.
“At one point, we were up to five tanks at the local police station,” Gray said. “You could feel the rumbling in the apartment building.”
As the protests grew larger, Gray said, the Egyptian government prepared to crack down on the protesters, including clearing out Westerners from the city center to prevent them from documenting the protests. Gray said she received an email from American University with a warning about police intimidating foreign nationals by arresting and blindfolding them.
“We were interrogated and accused of being spies and in Egypt to bring down the Egyptian government. I was left blindfolded and sitting with around 50 or 60 other Westerners who had been picked up while waiting for a bus or taxi or just walking on the street. None of them, like myself, were arrested near the protest,” Gray read from the email.
Gray and her husband, who was living with her in Egypt at the time, prepared a bag with money and their passports in response to the increased frequency and brutality of military crackdowns. Those were the essentials they would need if they had to flee the country.
“At one point during the protest the military got violent, and started torturing people themselves,” Gray said. “We had a bag packed with our passports and our money, which we took out before the revolution even began, because all the banks were closing.”
Five years after the Egyptian Revolution, Gray analyzed whether it is fair to call it a true revolution, given that the military remains in power in Egypt today.
“There wasn’t a revolution in Egypt, really. A revolution means changing the government, but the military has always been in control in Egypt…The military has never left power. Not only military power and political power, but economic power,” Gray said. “They own gas stations and bread factories too.”
At the time, however, Gray said that there were tremendous celebrations when then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned.
“There were all walks of life, all ages, lots of students and families. On the blog, I have a video where on the day Mubarak resigned, they played the national anthem and there was a parade,” Gray said. “It was really inspiring.”
Unfortunately, the revolution was not followed by an outbreak of democracy. On the contrary, Gray said, thousands of political activists were arrested and charged with violating Egypt’s laws on protests.
“The first year after the revolution, there were thousands of trials at military tribunals…Some estimates are that there are forty thousand political prisoners, mostly arrested for violating Egypt’s draconian protest laws.”
Gray also went over a series of atrocities committed by the Egyptian government after Mubarak resigned, including a massacre of Muslim Brotherhood members in August 2013 after a coup deposed President Mohammed Morsi.
“On August 14, the police went into a Muslim Brotherhood mosque and killed 635 people. Human Rights Watch called this the most serious incident of mass killing in modern Egyptian history, and they got away with it,” Gray said.
Students at the event praised Gray’s storytelling and in-depth analysis of the Egyptian Revolution.
“It was very informative. I’ve studied this subject in class, but to get a first-hand account gives you a whole new appreciation for what actually happened,” Christian Burr, a second semester political science major, said.
Despite the violence and strife that has followed the Egyptian revolution, Gray concluded her presentation with a message of hope, arguing that the Egyptian people are still ready and willing to push for freedom and democracy, and that it’s only a matter of time before another revolution takes place.
“Things are bad now, I’d say it’s worse than pre-revolution,” Gray said. “Maybe in twenty years, maybe in fifty years, even though it seems awful, and it is…There was a shift in the mindset that’s not going away. Right now, there’s a crackdown, but there’s a second wave just waiting to happen."
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.