If you’ve been watching the news, I’m sure you know that the Egyptian people have rocked the Middle East in their effort for self-rule and democracy. As I sit typing this, the newly appointed Vice President issued a statement of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and his appointment of the Armed Forces Supreme Council to take power. It is the dawn of a new era. No delays, no lies, no half-solutions. We wanted our freedom. The temple of Corruption had to be toppled. No matter who supported it, be it the Army, thugs, the West, the East or even the planet Mars, the regime that has humiliated us and stole our rights and freedoms had to go. Period.
As I write this, the revolution has been on for eighteen days. During those eighteen days, my life has changed on a scale that I would have never imagined in my life. I am turning 24 in July, and in November 2010 I had just completed my dental internship, earning my license and Dental Union membership. Later on I opened an e-commerce business to make ends meet as I pursued higher studies. Who would have imagined that starting from the 25th of January, I would shift my activities to a neighborhood guard member, lumberjack and patrolman; then to an amateur online activist, protester, bodyguard and a small-scale speaker for the cause.
As I sit writing this, I look back at the past days, and have come to a conclusion: they have made a better man of me. Every stage I spent, from sitting at home watching the news and discussing the revolution, to guarding my neighborhood then actually participating in the protests, have taught me real-life lessons in being a better man. I seriously have felt a change in my character and perception, and this has inspired me to submit this article to one of my favorite sites, The Art of Manliness.
Lessons from the Neighborhood Patrols
I have to admit, I was involved in the revolution quite late. In the beginning I thought it didn’t affect me, that some reforms would be introduced and the protesters would go home. But Friday the 28th came, around 300 protesters were killed by live ammunition and 5000 more injured, and prisons and detention centers were mysteriously opened as the police disappeared, flooding the streets with convicts, and Cairo and other cities were ablaze in riots. To add insult to injury, the government shut down the internet. Only one word resonated in our minds: scare tactics – submit or face chaos. We were determined to prove the government wrong. Saturday afternoon we were in the streets to protect our homes, armed with whatever we had and setting up checkpoints in the streets. We stood guard daily, only letting go when local businesses started operating at night again and the police were returning to the streets. These were my first lessons in the revolution’s school of manliness.
A man adapts. I never expected in my life to stand in a checkpoint, armed with a hatchet and a hunting knife, checking cars and the ID’s of the riders with a case of homemade molotov cocktails beside me. Now that I look back, I’m actually surprised at the change. But my willingness to accept this change, in my opinion, helped me evolve for the better.
A man values his neighbors. The only reason the neighborhood patrols succeeded was the group effort. In my shifts, we caught nine criminals. We had it easy, since our middle class neighborhood was flanked by the Nile and surrounded by two other middle class districts near the center of Cairo. Those living in suburban areas and near prisons had it much worse: They caught tens and in some areas over a hundred criminals. We kept our homes safe, and most importantly we learned to look out for each other and each others’ homes.
A man respects others. Anyone passing our checkpoints had to be checked. We knew the criminals and hired thugs had hijacked sedans, police cars, ambulances, army vehicles and forged police ID’s and stole army uniforms. There were no exceptions. However, we had to appreciate the cooperation of those we searched. We weren’t policemen, nor did we have warrants; on pen and paper we were just concerned citizens. Showing respect helped us earn respect. And it wasn’t hard: it was as simple as saying thank you.
A man doesn’t think with his emotions. Like Mubarak’s speeches, anyone we caught tried to appeal to our emotions. They made up lies as to where their fake ID’s came from, acted dumb and sometimes begged on their knees not to be handed over to the military. I have to admit, sometimes I wanted to believe them, it was easier. But I had to remember the reality, and by reality meaning what he would do if he found his way into my house or my neighbor’s house. Cold hard reality: not everyone shares your good nature; it’s sad but you’ll have to accept it to do your duty.
On the other hand, a man shows compassion. People of all ages stood with me, some as young as nine and others in their seventies and eighties. The old ones were mainly war veterans, but the young ones were in an environment they never experienced in their lives. They acted tough and tried to talk like thugs, but the fear in their eyes appeared at the first cracks of gunfire in the distance. Lesser men made jokes about their age to hide what they lacked in grit. The best men I knew were the ones who gave a pat on the back.
A man is practical, not showy. I was armed with a hatchet and hunting knife, since I had read earlier that anything that couldn’t be used as a tool was dead weight. I used the hatchet to cut firewood to keep us warm at night and the hunting knife, well, cut things. Others were armed with butcher knives, clubs, sticks and swords. Some took it too far to look bad-ass: a man tied two butcher knives together, nunchaku style and hung them round his neck to look threatening. The man just made his neck an easy target. Another point, and I know many will not like to hear this, but a man who owns a gun who knows how to use it is a better man, period. Three men in our neighborhood had guns, and whenever we were on alert, we looked to them, since their reactions determined how the rest of us would respond.
A man doesn’t talk of things he wouldn’t do. No matter how manly I portray people who took part in these patrols, no one has the right to ask others to put their lives or the lives of their loved ones in danger. It also comes to actions: If you’re not willing to use your car as a roadblock, don’t talk about others doing it instead.
A man appreciates the efforts of others. Although I respected the opinions of those who genuinely feared the outcome of the revolution being negative, it was repulsive to hear lesser men belittling the efforts of others. I know of people who make fun of the protesters who were fighting for their rights. Celebrities came on national television to claim that protesters were getting paid and received free meals from Kentucky Fried Chicken to protest against Mubarak. Others had the audacity to belittle the neighborhood patrols, not admitting that our stand in the streets helped them sleep in their beds at night. The funny thing was, the people I expected the most manly stand from were the ones who belittled us. The better men I knew, even if they didn't participate, appreciated what others were doing for them.