Parvez Sharma: #GayinEgypt

By Parvez Sharma

Originally published on Advocate.com February 09 2011 6:30 PM ET

Even at an estimated 19 million people, Cairo does remain a very small town. Every single time I have been there I have been struck by the small cliques of people who hang out at the same parties, go out to the same restaurants and bars, visit the same art exhibitions, and gossip endlessly about each other. There is an interesting kind of tribalism. For example, many of the expat journalists reporting on the Middle East (until the uprising Cairo was considered the safest place to report from about the region) like to drink copiously at the Odeon Palace rooftop bar off Talaat Harb street, pretty much a stone’s throw from the ground zero of the Egyptian revolution at Tahrir Square.

As in any claustrophobic society ruled by autocratic regimes, the well-off hang out with the well-off and are usually cut off from the majority of Egyptians, at least 40% of whom live below the poverty line. The well-off and the poor never inhabit the same physical spaces, let alone the same spaces on social networks.

Remarkably, about half the country’s population has access to mobile phones and about 20 million Egyptians have access to the Internet. However, the most profound thing about the ongoing Egyptian revolution is that it has brought together young activists (who decided to not be as apathetic as their parents’ generation had been) with some of the poorest, whom they never really spoke to before these remarkable events unfolding live on television.

I have continued to report from my own front line of cyber journalism. I recently did an interview for Voice of America Urdu, which I know is heard in Pakistan. My hope: Perhaps some of this remarkable revolutionary spirit of the Egyptians will travel beyond the Middle East into one of the most troubled countries in the world right now. I joked to the interviewer who asked me if I would take back my earlier comments that this was not a Twitter revolution — I said I would not and that the only Twitter revolution that I knew was really happening was on my laptop and perhaps on the laptops of others not in Egypt (and of course the very valuable but relatively small critical mass that has been able to tweet from inside Egypt). TB PARVEZ SHARMA X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM

I continue to report my conversations and chats with my wide network of contacts in the “raw” — unedited, without spell checks, and trying as much as possible to keep the nuance of language as it is spoken on phones or online chat rooms. This is what might happen if I was a journalist with a camera hunting for vox populi in Tahrir Square. The immediacy of these and my previous conversations is what makes them important.

I spoke to many friends. Here is one who was not protesting at Tahrir Square. The most chilling thing he and others reported to me was that Hosni Mubarak (and the violence he unleashed in the past 24 hours) had succeeded in creating divisions among the protesters. Even family members are now arguing at their dinner tables about the feasibility of continuing the protests.

“MMQahira” is a 27-year-old gay man who lives in the relatively affluent Mohandessin area. I had not been able to reach him since the first day of the revolution (represented by that now famous #Jan25 hash-tag), but we found each other again on a restored Internet. Here is our entire conversation, raw, no spell checks.

Sharma:
hi
MMQahira:
hey
Sharma:
u there?
MMQahira:
yes i'm here
Sharma:
did u go out today?
MMQahira:
well.. i go out every day
only within our street limits
Sharma:
which area? not to tahrir?how r u getting info? al jazeera?
MMQahira:
for a week i've been stuck between our living room & patrolling the street with the rest of the guys downstairs…im in mohandeseen
Sharma:
have not been to tahrir?
MMQahira:
we watch a combo of cnn/bbc/jazeera/arabiyya
have not been to tahrir
have friends there



























Sharma:
do u think cnn is doing a good job?
MMQahira:
uhmm
tough question
i think they are doing the best they can
each channel tends to be operating within its own limits
Sharma:
what news frm frnds in tahrir?
how many frnds there?
anyone hurt?
MMQahira:
5 that i know of
Sharma:
able to talk on cell?
MMQahira:
they go in the morning when things are OK
yes we talk on the cell
Sharma:
while they are there?
MMQahira:
they were delivering medical supplies and food
Sharma:
and they leave before nightfall?
is it true that 6 people were killed yesterday?
MMQahira:
my
friends' mom went in the afternoon and was not allowed to go into
tahrir and was shoved out of her car and all supplies thrown on the
ground…it seems true of course
Sharma:
how old is she?
MMQahira:
have u not seen the images from tahrir at 4am?
i'd say mid fifties
Sharma:
yes I have
non stop
all night
I have not slept much for a week
watching al Jazeera and on phone to Cairo all the time…
and writing updates on twitter
MMQahira:
the thing is... no one is able to objectively say WHO was responsible for last night's massacre







































Sharma:
tomorrow? wont everyone march to helioplis?
MMQahira:
depressed not at all
hopeful definitely
i'm not marching every where. i am an observer not a participator
Sharma:
this is imp--do u think this is a twitter or fb revolution or is it way more than that?
MMQahira:
twitter and fb are merely a medium through which people can spread ideas
Sharma:
but most of the protestors r poor and not on twitter and fb right?
esp in smaller cities
MMQahira:
protestors
are of every age and social class…but in cairo…it is the educated young
generation that was able to get the ball rolling because they have the
means and knowledge…all other ppl followed
Sharma:
OK
what do u think will happen tmrw?
u think they can march towards heliopolis?
MMQahira:
absolutely not
Sharma:
its a long walk from tahrir for sure!
MMQahira:
that's a factor
Sharma:
why do u think they cannot walk?
MMQahira:
because the military is now again taking orders from the minister of defense who is in the ndp's umbrella
Sharma:
so what? if 2 million ppl start walking then?

MMQahira:

we'll have to wait and see
it would be a miracle
Sharma:
well do u think tmrw is big?
MMQahira:
what we all really wish for is that mubarak truely reaches out to people heart-to-heart
to give us any glimpse that we could trust his regime
but quite the opposite is happening....that's what i do not understand





































what do u mean?
dont u think it was his guys?
MMQahira:
of course we all think so
Sharma:
but?
MMQahira:
but where is the proof?
Sharma:
so who else cud it be?
MMQahira:
i don't know!
Sharma:
the brothers? no way?
El B no way?
MMQahira:
there's no reason i could think of to justify that it would be the brotherhood
Sharma:
let me say this
MMQahira:
go ahead
Sharma:
it seems people were paid between 100 to 500 pounds even those guys on horses
and the molotovs they are making on 6th october seems to be their guys
MMQahira:
they were not only throwing them from the bridge
they had taken over 2 buildings
and were receiving supplies of gasoline on a regular basis
to fill up the molotovs in the comfort of the building's roof
to throw down
Sharma:
tell me what are u thinking? whats going on in your mind? what emotions?
MMQahira:
anger
that the truth never prevails
and no revolution ever turns out as expected
Sharma:
depressed?
hopeful?
MMQahira:
and shocked at how mubarak's regime was able to divide the people's views and deceive them







































Sharma:
do u think he was ever sensitive?
to what people felt?
MMQahira:
no he was always robotic
Sharma:
in the past?
so then why would he listen now?
MMQahira:
because the shit has hit the fan
Sharma:
true
but he is a dictator rt? agree?
MMQahira:
haha
MMQahira:
lol..
is it not obvious
Sharma:
what are the slogans today?
MMQahira:
Varied…a lot of people are cussing him out straight to the point
Sharma:
using abuses like?
MMQahira:
i don't know
u can see on people's statuses
Sharma:
on fb?
MMQahira:
and pictures of people holding banners
yes
Sharma:
yes that I can
will any of your friends be marching tmrw?
MMQahira:
probably yes but i am discouraging them
because look at was is happening
Sharma:
which is? the killing?
MMQahira:
it could be deadly
Sharma:
but if people dont go..he stays…
MMQahira:
They are ruthless
parvez it looks like he stays regardless
it's like he is invincible
Sharma:
u really feel that?
MMQahira:
yes
but i know that god is just
and nothing really changes over night
i think we are very much in the early stages of this revolution
Sharma:
do u want people to stop and just wait till september?
MMQahira:
i would have been OK with till september a few days ago but he is too late
Sharma:
so i dont understand
u dont want your friends to go
MMQahira:
and with all he is doing to the people in their neibourhoods, sending out lunatics to scare the people into hoping non of this had happened
Sharma:
but u want others to keep going?
MMQahira:
no
i want whoever wants to go, including my friends, to go
but i am not optimisstic
as a friend i have to discourage them
because it is a matter of life or death
and the odds are high
that this regime will do everything to keep things the way they are
including killing their own people
does that make sense
Sharma:
u getting any info thru fb or twitter? A few more people are sending regular updates…since the internet came back…
MMQahira:
what sort of info?
Sharma:
about stuff on ground
developments
MMQahira:
yes of course
i'm on twitter all day i even saw you post a couple of times
and on fb i read my friends' pleas for help in tahrir
but i don't have a twitter accountSharma:
so how can u see my tweets?
MMQahira:
i just got onto the homepage typed #egypt and your post was in one of the many thousands by coincidence
Sharma:
M…any idea how many people in cairo tweet?
MMQahira:
do you think that this is a virtual revolution....
Sharma:
or have fb?...out of 19 million…many in media think its a virtual revolution
which is why I was so angry about it!
MMQahira:
well i'm telling you it could have been what started it…in a small way…not all of it…
that is all…and the proof is, things went on regardless, when the internet was cut off and phones…
for ppl in egypt
you cannot give out fliers
you cannot stand and make a speech in the street
you cannot express any political views
so people resorted to the www
as a medium through which to talk
just like people in palestine are doing to get their voices heard
Sharma:
but how many? thats my question
80 million people-how many on fb and twitter?
if u dont have money for food do u twitter?
MMQahira:
well just go to the original fb page about the revolution
it had 90,000 people listed as 'attending'
Sharma:
I know that
MMQahira:
it was sent to 600,000
that is a lot
even our buwab's son has FB
Sharma:
and then it spread through them…I understand
But now?
MMQahira:
it is a revolution of the youth
Sharma:
Its even more than that no?
MMQahira:
because they are the ones who dont keep their mouths shut
they spoke for the poor
they spoke for the innocent
they spoke for every one
and it is clear
now the ndp is putting fear in people that egypt's a goner if this goes through
that we will be in hands of the brotherhood to rule
that economically we will be doomed
etc
so there has happened a split in views
from within the same people who just a couple of days ago were united
Sharma:
and mubarak did that
with his second speech?
MMQahira:
i wouldn't say that
the second speech angered people
because it was too little too late
had he done this speech 2 days before
Sharma:
so how did that split happen?
MMQahira:
things would be different
all the people who would rather just get back to their lives the way they were are now speaking out
the poor, who are worried that they will starve to death while people protest
and the rich, who were not really affected by the regime
and the middle class, who have an affiliation with mubarak
and the normal person who is afraid to leave the house wants stability back
so many people are blaming the protestors
instead of blaming the system
Sharma:
true
what time is it? how much have you been sleeping? u there?
MMQahira:
sorry was on the phone
Sharma:
how much have u slept?
MMQahira:
i sleep from 8am to 2pm
Sharma:
and then?
MMQahira:
shower, and off to the street with the rest of the shabaab from the area
we block the street from both sides with our cars
and make a bon fire on each nasya
Sharma:
So u don’t need to be in tahrir necessarily to participateMMQahira:
and sit around it with our stick/shouma/guns/whatever we can find
Sharma:
I know u were religious once…is it helping now?
MMQahira:
it has been very interesting
i like to consider myself a true muslim
Sharma:
so then allah swt helping?
MMQahira:
what's swt?
subhanahowata3ala
Sharma:
Yes…easier to type swt!
MMQahira:
of course
Sharma:
yes
MMQahira:
it's no joke... every time i pray or meditate
i get a perspective on things
it's magical
Sharma:
which is?
the perspective with salah is?
MMQahira:
that ultimately this is one of god's filtration systems...what is going on
whose truely good
whose truely not good
and that i do not have to feel helpless
Sharma:
So the truly not good will be filtered out?
MMQahira:
absolutely
their judgement not necessarily will be in this life
Sharma:
any particular surah that helps?
MMQahira:
the last verses of surat al baqarrah
but why do you ask?
Sharma:
yes...
just wondering
I think its special...
parvez i wanted to ask you about something
Sharma:
fi amanallah btw
MMQahira:
Thx…i knoww of all people you must have an idea
Sharma:
pls do
MMQahira:
ok
it's very scarey what's going on
because hour to hour things change completely
Sharma:
I know
MMQahira:
me and my partner/husband
had made a pact in our vows
that no matter what happens
we will be together
Sharma:
hamduliilah
MMQahira:
yes
Sharma:
so the question is?
MMQahira:
i am lucky to have an american citizenship
he is egyptian
we were considering if our lives are at threat that we would go to the U.S
and wait it out
Sharma:
u should
let me see how I can help
MMQahira:
how would i go about in taking him with me
Sharma:
let me think who can help
MMQahira:
we want to get married in the U.S
Sharma:
I know an immigration lawyer in NYC who is amazing
MMQahira:
but i know it's not legal on a federal level
Sharma:
yep u cant get married my friend here for sure! Ask me, I know lol!
inshaallah we will try and figure out a solution
MMQahira:
i know friends in Europe where i lived, and brought their boyfriends over from whatever country, and were able to get the same benefits as any hetero couple
but i don't know what's the situation in the US
Sharma:
its pretty horrible
lets talk about this soon inshaallah
let me make a few calls
btw was he the one who had a live feed from his phone at tahrir on the first night?
MMQahira:
i'd truely appreciate your help in whatever you can find out or help with
no, that was one of my best friends from school who had the live feed from his android phone I think on the first night…
Sharma:
OK…Listen…I will talk to ppl about this… I promise and I will publish this chat anyway so maybe people will rspnd with ideas
MMQahira:
god bless you
Sharma:
u2 fi amanallah
MMQahira:
thx
Sharma:
Be v careful on twitter or fb or phone…he has people setting up alibis now and monitoring…ahmadinejad did this in Tehran in 09 and there was a crackdown…tell all your frnds pls…
MMQahira:
yeah
god
Sharma:
lets chat tmrw inshaallah
MMQahira:
ok... let's.
Sharma:
send me reg. updates pls whenever u are online
tayyib bye
MMQahira:
Sure…bye