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Liberation Square Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation

Liberation Square Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation

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Published by Pete Willows
Book review of Ashraf Khalil's "Liberation Square" - he was at AUC last week, and signed a book for me and answered a few questions; this review ran in the May 15, 2012 print edition of the Egyptian Mail, which is the weekly edition of the Egyptian Gazette;
Book review of Ashraf Khalil's "Liberation Square" - he was at AUC last week, and signed a book for me and answered a few questions; this review ran in the May 15, 2012 print edition of the Egyptian Mail, which is the weekly edition of the Egyptian Gazette;

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Published by: Pete Willows on May 12, 2012
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05/16/2012

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Pete WillowsMay 12, 2012Word count: 968willows@aucegypt.edu
Revolution on the Installment Plan
 Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation
. 2012. AmericanUniversity in Cairo Press. 312pps. LE150.Journalist Ashraf Khalil was at the American University in Cairo’s Tahrir campus lastweek, to talk about and sign his new book,
 Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation
. He spoke in the leafy, green courtyard near the fountain of the AUC Press bookstore. Just a few yards behind Khalil was Tahrir Square, where the Egyptian revolutionignited by spontaneous combustion. Late afternoon crept in as Khalil spoke of revolutions and journalists’ anecdotes.There are many books on the 2011 popular uprising in Egypt that felled Hosni Mubarak.This is the best one I’ve read. Khalil gives context, nuance and minutia to the events taking placeduring the eighteen days that were modern Egypt’s defining moment. And Khalil does so withouttedious digression, or pedantic explanation.When asked about the rule of Mubarak, compared to other dictators in the Middle East,Khalil called Mubarak ‘La vache qui rit,’ referring to a French brand of processed cheese popular in Egypt, which means, ‘the laughing cow’ and is marketed with a rather goofy-looking cow on the package that smiles. “Mubarak didn’t seize power like Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein,” Khalil said,“he practically backed into it.”
 
Khalil writes about the curious choice of Mubarak as vice president by Anwar Sadat.Mubarak was everything Sadat wasn’t. Neither a plotter, nor a politician, Mubarak was alsoconsidered neither ambitious nor exceptionally bright – and he posed no threat to Sadat’s strong, presidential and impetuous personality. Mubarak, while no charismatic leader, did however, play asignificant role in Sadat’s 1973 October War with the Israelis, as commander of the Egyptian Air Force. Regardless of what anybody thinks of qualifications and abilities, then or now, Mubarak took office following Sadat’s assassination in 1981, and remained the uncontested ruler of Egyptfor almost thirty years.The unexpected events in the uprising that took down Mubarak engendered dramaticimages that flashed across the world’s television screens. Major news sources broadcasting long panoramic shots of massive crowds swarming in Tahrir Square—demonstrators pitched in violentstreet battles with the under-trained and under-motivated state security conscripts, amid clouds of wafting teargas—grotesque, disturbed-looking goons riding roughshod into the square atop horsesand camels in an attempt to break the demonstrators’ inertia, while swinging medieval war clubsthat maimed and blinded those in their path.Khalil was there, and in the thick of it all.He told me, “shutting down the Internet and cell phone service providers only broughtmore people out into the streets,” that the regime’s attempt to end communication and coordinationamong the young revolutionaries ultimately back-fired. As the uprising gathered momentum, it became apparent there was no escape plan for Mubarak and his coterie of yes-men; they simplynever saw it coming.
 
There were other propellants in the years leading up to the revolution, which Khalilexplains in his book, like the 2010 death of Khalid Said whom, became a martyred symbol to therevolutionary call. Stencils of Khalid Said could be seen across downtown Cairo as recently as lastsummer. Said was dragged from an Internet café in Alexandria and brutally beaten to death in adoorway by local police, and in front of a crowd of people who were conditioned by fear of reprisal not to intervene. It wasn’t the repulsive photo of Khalid Said’s demolished face, whichwent viral on the Internet, and that triggered the deep emotional response among the Egyptian public, rather, it was the ‘before’ picture.Khalid Said looks like your brother, your cousin, your nephew or your son. He is one of themillions of educated, but unemployed youth who saw no opportunity under Mubarak’s crushingand intolerant regime—where regime connections, not competence, talent or hard work landed youa job in the bureaucratic machinery. In the cover up that followed, the police issued a report thatstated Said had died by choking on a packet of hashish he had attempted to swallow, while the police were attempting to arrest him. Why he was targeted is not clear.Khalid Said’s death was one of the many sparks that lit the fuse of the revolution, Khalilwrites, explaining that the youth’s death meant it was no longer good enough to mind your own business and keep your mouth shut. You could still be randomly selected by the state-sponsoredgoon squads for a senseless, fatal beating. It meant the government had broken their unspoken dealwith the public one too many times—the ‘give us your silence and acquiescence in exchange for laissez-faire’, had been invalidated.As the sun set behind the American University in Cairo’s Tahrir courtyard, Khalil talkedabout other dynamics of the revolution, like the unsustainable hype of Mohamed ElBaradei as the

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