Capturing the Revolution

by Accolades Staff
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Barber in Cairo

The Egyptian revolution became real for Professor Brian Barber (Child and Family Studies) when he first visited Cairo in February 2011. It became even more real when the sting of tear gas invaded his own eyes and when Aly—one of the young men he had been conversing with for nearly a year—lay in a hospital with gunshots to his head and body.

As founding director of UT’s Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, Barber kept a close eye on the revolution when it began in January 2011 because of the involvement of youth and the impact he knew it would have on them. He traveled to Cairo in February 2011 and began blogging, not only his thoughts and observations of the day-to-day aftermath of the revolution and its impact on the youth of the country, but also about the young people he met like Aly and his friend Kholoud. Below are excerpts from the blog “How The Hell Did They Do It,” which can be found at

The center recently received a $450,000 grant from the Jacobs Foundation of Switzerland to conduct quarterly interviews with key youth and a national survey, as well as to begin work on a  documentary, with his colleague Jim Youniss.

February 18, 2011
A Hearty Party in the Square
The drive in from the airport on Friday afternoon seemed unremarkable and I wondered where the evidence was of a country emerging from revolution. Passing Mubarak’s former palace, one saw vestiges of the events, with a couple of tanks guarding the entry, but otherwise all seemed quite normal. Soon enough, though, the evidence mounted as the taxi approached Cairo city center. As if a portrait was being slowly phased in, Egyptian flags started appearing—held aloft by youths on motorcycles, thrust out car windows by adults and children of all ages, and hoisted by growing groups headed somewhere . . . Once in the Square, it was surreal. How many people? Some said that 3 million were there earlier in the day, but “just a million now.” How does one count such a mass?

February 25, 2011
Kisses for the American
By noon crowds have gathered and the noise is deafening … The atmosphere is festive; whole families are milling about. I appear to be one of the few Anglos here … All of the journalists have gone to Libya. A captain asked me to stop filming his squadron as they marched to take up a new position on the perimeter of the square; then asked where I’m from … He smiled genuinely when I told him I was there to tell their story. An elderly man approached … His smile was deep when he learned of my purpose … he kissed me thrice on alternating cheeks. This may have been a youth-led movement, but they have clearly spoken for all.

March 12, 2011
Rally to Revolution—(and, Where Has All the Kitsch Gone???)
The most common response I’ve gotten from youths when asking for their most important memory of the revolution has been a sense of surprise and awe upon seeing so many of their people – young and old – at the January 25th annual rally. That moment for so many was deeply moving and fundamentally motivating – indeed, transforming. At once, they learned that their people might have it in them after all to stand together against injustice and constraint, and they, as individuals, discovered an authentic drive to contribute. This is what they did so marvelously – committing so firmly and with such unwavering insistence that the unexpected magic moment not be lost.

November 24, 2011
In Your Face in Cairo
I had learned from Kholoud that Aly would be in Cairo this week. So, as soon as I arrived on Monday night I called while walking through Tahrir Square … He said he was also in the Square . . . and would call later. I didn’t hear back from him. Several calls and SMSs went unanswered.  …Last night at about 10pm I thought to try one more time to reach him. A voice picked up and identified himself as Aly’s friend. I could hear Aly in the background overruling his friend’s decision to turn me away and he took the phone. He was excited to talk, as was I to hear his voice. It wasn’t a surprise, but no less difficult, to hear from him that he lay in the hospital with bullet wounds to his head and body. He said that he “would love so much” a visit and, getting directions from Ayman, I hastened to see him.

December 18, 2011
The Agony of Betrayal: An Ugly Face of Revolution
The remarkable tenacity of Egyptian protesters (surfacing repeatedly despite bruising setbacks) likely bodes well for the eventual success of the revolution … But there is no escaping the agony that accompanies this process. This has been no more clearly evident than in the last 3 days when vicious battles have taken place between protesters and the military … it is especially excruciating that it is their military … that is now, not just occasionally, but fully leading these escalating assaults. The callous, cruel, and sometimes savage beating of citizens that populates news broadcasts of revolutions across the world sears Egyptians particularly, because these military perpetrators not long ago walked hand in hand with those they now abuse.

June 11, 2012
Shafiq 4; Moursi 0; Abstention
The presidential run-off is less than a week away… The Christian grandmother that sat next to me on the flight from Amman found the choice impossible … Shafiq would signal a return to the Mubarak regime, and the thought of Moursi frightens her … The young man who was first in the tag team of greeters at the airport was clearly for Shafiq. He will bring strength and stability. He handed me off to the middle-aged driver, who … by the end of the 30-minute drive had made clear that Shafiq is the only reasonable choice. Moursi is unknown, and dangerous. A young male receptionist at the hotel said that the choice is impossible and that he wouldn’t vote. Another proclaimed clearly for Shafiq.