Three weeks ago today, 26-year-old Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video online urging people to protest the “corrupt government” of Hosni Mubarak by rallying in Tahrir Square on January 25. Her moving call ultimately helped inspire Egypt’s uprising. "I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor,” Mahfouz said. "Don’t think you can be safe anymore. None of us are. Come down with us and demand your rights, my rights, your family’s rights. I am going down on January 25th and will say no to corruption, no to this regime." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Right now, as we talk about sparks of a revolution, from Wael Ghonim to a young woman, I want to turn to a video recording that was posted to Facebook three weeks ago—that was January 18th—and then went viral across Egypt. It’s recorded by a young Egyptian named Asmaa Mahfouz. In the video, the veiled 26-year-old activist appealed to her fellow citizens to join her in protest at Tahrir Square on January 25th to demand their rights. Asmaa Mahfouz is one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement. The group has been credited with playing a leading role in organizing the January 25th protests. This is Asmaa.
ASMAA MAHFOUZ: [translated] Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire to protest humiliation and hunger and poverty and degradation they had to live with for 30 years. Four Egyptians have set themselves on fire thinking maybe we can have a revolution like Tunisia, maybe we can have freedom, justice, honor and human dignity. Today, one of these four has died, and I saw people commenting and saying, "May God forgive him. He committed a sin and killed himself for nothing."
People, have some shame.
I posted that I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone. And I’ll hold up a banner. Perhaps people will show some honor. I even wrote my number so maybe people will come down with me. No one came except three guys—three guys and three armored cars of riot police. And tens of hired thugs and officers came to terrorize us. They shoved us roughly away from the people. But as soon as we were alone with them, they started to talk to us. They said, "Enough! These guys who burned themselves were psychopaths." Of course, on all national media, whoever dies in protest is a psychopath. If they were psychopaths, why did they burn themselves at the parliament building?
I’m making this video to give you one simple message: we want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25th. If we still have honor and want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25th. We’ll go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that video posting by the young Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz on January 18th, one week before the start of the Egyptian uprising.
While much of the youth organizing in Egypt has been over the internet, much of it has been through anonymous postings. In her video postings, Asmaa Mahfouz speaks directly to the camera and identifies herself. The boldness of this act, speaking out so forcefully as a woman, inspired many others to start posting their images online, as well.
On the eve of the protest, Asmaa posted a follow-up video outlining some of her expectations.
ASMAA MAHFOUZ: [translated] It’s now 10:30 p.m. on January 24th, 2011. Tomorrow is the 25th, the day we’ve been waiting for, the day we all worked so hard for. The most beautiful thing about it is that those who worked on this were not politicians at all. It was all of us, all Egyptians. We worked hard. Children no older than 14, they printed the poster and started distributing it after prayers. Old people in their sixties and seventies helped, as well. People distributed it everywhere they could—in taxis, at the metro, in the street, in schools, universities, companies, government agencies. All of Egypt awaits tomorrow.
I know we are all nervous right now and anxious, but we all want to see tomorrow’s event happen and succeed. I’d like to tell everyone that tomorrow is not the revolution and is not the day we’ll change it all. No, tomorrow is the beginning of the end. Tomorrow, if we make our stand despite all the security may do to us and stand as one in peaceful protest, it will be the first real step on the road to change, the first real step that will take us forward and teach us a lot of things. Our solidarity in planning is a success in itself. To simply know that we must demand our rights, that is success.
AMY GOODMAN: Asmaa Mahfouz. The next day after that recording, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Liberation Square, to call for the ouster of President Mubarak and an end to his regime. The turnout was unprecedented, even among the organizers, including the April 6 Youth Movement.
The next day, Asmaa Mahfouz posted another video with her reaction. She called the demonstrations "the happiest day" of her life but said there’s still more work to do.
ASMAA MAHFOUZ: [translated] The people want to bring down the regime. This is what we were all chanting yesterday, January 25th, 2011. Thousands upon thousands—I could not count how many there were. Demonstrations from all sides. Riot police could not control the sheer numbers.
What we learned yesterday is that power belongs to the people, not to the thugs. Power is in unity, not in division. Yesterday, we truly lived the best moments of our lives. We learned that the Egyptian people are not chaotic or disorderly. The government keeps saying that we are a chaotic people and a revolution will lead to chaos. Yesterday, we were truly one hand, concerned for one another. Yesterday, not even one girl was harassed, even among those thousands. No one stole anything. No one struck anyone. No fights broke out. We were defending each other. Everyone was concerned for one another. Some bought water bottles and distributed them; others distributed sandwiches. We all said it was from our hearts. Long live Egypt! Some boys and girls even cleaned the streets of trash and garbage. This is the Egyptian people that we have always dreamed of. I can now say that I am proud to be Egyptian. I truly wish to kiss every Egyptian’s forehead and say, "Thank you for being Egyptian." I never imagined that I would see this.
But we must continue. The riot police was after us until 5:00 a.m., chasing us to beat and arrest us. Yesterday, we saw them scared. Live ammunition and rubber bullets and tear gas and water cannons to break us up. But we did not break up, and we’re still united.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Asmaa Mahfouz, 26-year-old Egyptian activist, part of the April 6 Youth Movement. We will post the full video that she posted on January 18th, before the uprising, calling for people to go to Tahrir, on our website at democracynow.org.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back right now to a bit more of the recording of this young, brave Egyptian woman, this young activist with the April 6 Movement, who posted a video on January 18th. We just played a clip of it at the top of the show so that we could fit everything in, but we wanted to go back and play a little more for you of Asmaa Mahfouz, a week before the January 25th uprising.
ASMAA MAHFOUZ: [translated] I won’t even talk about any political rights. We just want our human rights and nothing else. This entire government is corrupt—a corrupt president and a corrupt security force. These self-immolaters were not afraid of death but were afraid of security forces. Can you imagine that? Are you going to kill yourselves, too, or are you completely clueless? I’m going down on January 25th, and from now 'til then I'm going to distribute fliers in the streets. I will not set myself on fire. If the security forces want to set me on fire, let them come and do it.
If you think yourself a man, come with me on January 25th. Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on January 25th. Whoever says it is not worth it because there will only be a handful of people, I want to tell him, "You are the reason behind this, and you are a traitor, just like the president or any security cop who beats us in the streets." Your presence with us will make a difference, a big difference. Talk to your neighbors, your colleagues, friends and family, and tell them to come. They don’t have to come to Tahrir Square. Just go down anywhere and say it, that we are free human beings. Sitting at home and just following us on news or Facebook leads to our humiliation, leads to my own humiliation. If you have honor and dignity as a man, come. Come and protect me and other girls in the protest. If you stay at home, then you deserve all that is being done, and you will be guilty before your nation and your people. And you’ll be responsible for what happens to us on the streets while you sit at home.
Go down to the street. Send SMSes. Post it on the net. Make people aware. You know your own social circle, your building, your family, your friends. Tell them to come with us. Bring five people or 10 people. If each one of us manages to bring five or 10 to Tahrir Square and talk to people and tell them, "This is enough. Instead of setting ourselves on fire, let us do something positive," it will make a difference, a big difference.
Never say there’s no hope. Hope disappears only when you say there’s none. So long as you come down with us, there will be hope. Don’t be afraid of the government. Fear none but God. God says He will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. Don’t think you can be safe anymore. None of us are. Come down with us and demand your rights, my rights, your family’s rights. I am going down on January 25th, and I will say no to corruption, no to this regime.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Asmaa Mahfouz, 26 years old, calling for people to protest January 25th in Tahrir Square.