Egypt unrest: A brave native woman’s view

February 7, 2011, 11:51 PM UTC

Last week on Postcards, Kissinger Associates President Jami Miscik, a former senior official at the CIA, shared her take on the unrest in Egypt and her story of being in Cairo when it began.

Over the weekend, I received an email from a woman who has an even more up-close-and-personal view of what’s going on in Egypt. Amany Eid lives in Cairo, works in the telecom industry, and spent a month in the U.S. last spring as a participant in the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. This is a program that invites rising-star businesswomen from developing countries to shadow U.S.-based participants of Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit. The moment I met Eid, I knew she was a spirited and fiercely determined woman. Now, with Egypt on the brink of change, her spirit is rising to the occasion. Eid was never politically active until last week when she joined the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, where she was tear-gassed. Her experience made her even more determined to use her voice. Here Eid, 34, shares her perspective on her country. – Patricia Sellers

Eid last spring in New York's Time Square

I have always felt safe in Egypt. I never had to worry about being attacked in my own home or about my car being stolen. Last week, with the lack of police and with escaped prisoners on the streets, it was a nightmare.

Around 4 p.m. on the Saturday after the unrest began, we heard screaming in the street and went to the balcony to find out what was wrong. It turns out that all the men in our neighborhood were downstairs, armed with whatever they could find and calling all men to come down and protect their cars.

I live in Cairo with my mother and sister. We don’t have a man in the house. Our car was downstairs. We didn’t know what to do. My mom — a lady to the core, by universal standards — did not want me to go and be involved in any potential fighting or stand with the men in face of escaped convicts. Not knowing what to do, I thought that we could dismantle one tire from the car so that anyone trying to steal it would not be able to do so. They could damage the car or break a window, but they wouldn’t be able to run away with the whole car.

Then we thought, “What if we had to escape? What would we do?” So we didn’t take away one of the tires.

If they want to take the car, that is OK, let them take it, we decided. As long as they do not harm us physically. So we pushed a couch in front of the apartment door, and we prepared some tools. We got out all our kitchen knives, the biggest and the sharpest. We prepared oil to be boiled in a pot on standby. We got our nail-polish remover and put it in an old spray bottle. To add to it, we had a large broom and a mop ready to use as sticks. As pathetic as they sound, these were the tools we had.

I live in a middle-class area, which is usually safe. But as the night kept dragging on, we kept hearing the men yell and run. We also heard many gun shots. We could not sleep. So my mom, sister and I, we all slept in my sister’s bedroom. We pushed the two beds together and all slept on the newly made king-size bed. Gunshots rang all through the night. We have shops next to us, and a lot of them were broken into.

Meanwhile, my brave fellow Egyptian men, whom I usually made fun of and constantly say that I don’t want to marry, have been there for me and my family. The men in my neighborhood took it in their own hands to protect us. It reminded me of the neighborhood watch concept. All day and night, the men set up check points and security posts across the neighborhood. Any stranger, they would stop and ask to see his ID and ask where he was going. Any strange car with no license plates would be stopped. Although some would think this is annoying, everyone — yes, everyone — was complying.

Now I hate to say this, but anyone who has been here before knows that Cairo is chaos — lovely chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Amidst all this, it was very organized and the people were very cooperative. Shocking. I began to fall in love with Egypt again.

But all the while, we kept wondering: Where are the police? Why are we being punished? We heard of incidents of people who called the police for help (in Egypt, you call 123, like 911 in the U.S.) and were told, “We are not available, let the Army help you.” At that point, the Army was not on the streets yet.

We stayed at home all the time, except for three times: twice to go to the demonstrations and once to meet a friend because I was going insane sitting at home. I was in almost daily fights with my mother, as she didn’t want me to participate in the demonstrations, as I could be killed there. I thought my mother was exaggerating and simply being emotional. But my mother was right. There are many who died and many who got hurt. The times when I went, I came back with eye infections because of the tear gas they were using against us.

To add to the boredom at home, there was no Internet! How could we live without internet? The government decided to cut it off because of Facebook and Twitter. The mobile phones were cut for a day. Incredible. So we were stuck at home doing three things: watching the news, eating and sleeping.

After more than a week and after the Egyptian government has made some concessions, my friends and I are not content. We want the President to leave, as he is not to be trusted. Some other friends and family think we are being very cruel and we have humiliated him extensively. They have gone as far as saying that he is a father figure and you should never insult your father.

Eid (right) and her friends in Tahrir Square

A friend of mine hung up on me when she found out I participated in the protests. I put a few photos of the demonstrations on Facebook, and when a friend of mine saw them, she insulted me on Facebook in public, in Arabic. She told me, shame on me, and that I should leave the country, as I have a Canadian passport. I wrote, in response, that I’m beginning to notice that some people don’t know what their rights as human beings are, nor what they are worth or capable of.

Egyptians are very emotional — too emotional, and I am like my people, I guess.

I will be joining the protests again on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, we will be having a vigil in Tahrir for all those who died. My friends and I are working on supporting the demonstrators with medical supplies and also providing food staples for certain areas of Cairo. It is not over yet. I would hate it for him to win, after all this.

Just for the record, I have a Canadian passport. I could leave tomorrow. So can my family. But I don’t think I can leave now, until it’s over.