A woman whose Facebook message sparked Egyptian unrest

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CAIRO - A 26-year-old woman worried about the state of her country wrote on Facebook: “People, I am going to Tahrir Square”. The message was soon to snowball into a movement to oust Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The Facebook appeal by Asmaa Mahfouz led to popular protests that saw tens of thousands congregating at Tahrir Square to demand an end to Mubarak’s unbridled 30-year rule. Mubarak has said he is ready to step down at the end of his term in September, but has refused to quit immediately now.

Violent clashes during the protests have left six dead and over 800 injured.

Asmaa Mahfouz told Al-Mihwar TV (Egypt) that the first activity was on Facebook.

“Yes. I was angry that everybody was saying that we had to take action, but nobody was doing anything. So I wrote on Facebook: ‘People, I am going to Tahrir Square today’. This was a week before January 25.”

“I wrote that I was going to demand the…rights of my country. I wrote that I was 26 years old…,” the Middle East Media Research Institute quoted her as saying in a report Thursday.

Referring to the uprising, Asmaa said: “Whenever we talked to the people and told them to express their views, they would say: ‘Who can we talk to? We will be thrown in prison and tortured.’ When they saw what happened in Tunisia, the people realized that there was an Arab people that revolted and demanded its rights.”

“We began to tell people that we must take action, that we must revolt and demand our rights.”

“…People began to set fire to themselves, one after the other, and the response of the officials was that these people were mentally ill. The people’s blood began to boil.”

She recounted: “The number of people setting fire to themselves gradually rose, and in response, people began to say, on the streets and in Facebook: ‘How come nobody is doing anything? Why aren’t you taking action? Everybody says that something must be done, but the streets are empty’.”

Asmaa said she wrote on Facebook that whoever is worried about Egypt should accompany her to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.

The gutsy woman said she also wrote, “Anyone who is worried about me or thinks that I am mentally ill should come in order to protect me…If the police wants to burn me - fine, I will be at Tahrir Square in half an hour.”

“There were lots of messages saying: Wait until January 25. I said: There is no reason to wait for the 25th. I went to Tahrir Square and raised a sign,” she recounted.

“I began to shout at the top of my lungs in Tahrir Sqare: ‘Egyptians, four people set themselves on fire out of humiliation and poverty. Egyptians, four people set fire to themselves because they were afraid of the security agencies, not of the fire. Four people set fire to themselves in order to tell you to awaken - we are setting ourselves on fire so that you will take action. Four people set themselves on fire in order to say to the regime: Wake up. We are fed up. We are setting ourselves on fire in order to convey a message’.”

Then she began to talk about 30 years of corruption.

“People began to gather to listen, and filmed me with their cell phones. All of a sudden, I saw four vehicles of the Central Security Agency arriving, and the square was suddenly filled with hundreds of agents and officers…They tried to push us into the entrance of a building. People began to shout: ‘Leave them alone, leave them alone’.”

“When they got us into the building entrance, the officers began to say: We are as fed up as you, but why didn’t you inform us of your demonstration? I said: What are you talking about? Four people set themselves on fire, and you are asking why we didn’t announce the demonstrations?”

“You should be asking yourselves why they set themselves on fire. Because of the poverty and the corruption. One of them couldn’t feed his daughter. Yet, you still continue this oppression. I am not going to remain silent. If you want to set me on fire - go ahead. I am not budging from Tahrir Square,” Asmaa recounted.

That snowballed into the unrest which has rocked Egypt for the past 10 days.

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