Occupy Wall Street received a surprise visit Monday from several leading Egyptian activists, including 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz. She is one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, which is the group credited with helping to organize the January 25 protests that eventually toppled the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak. Prior to the protest in January, Mahfouz recorded a YouTube video urging people to fill Tahrir Square. Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to her at Occupy Wall Street. “Many of U.S. residents were in solidarity with us,” Mahfouz said. “I am here to be in solidarity and support the Wall Street Occupy protesters, to say to them, ’the power to the people,' and to keep it on and on, and they will succeed in the end.”
Asmaa Mahfouz, 26-year-old Egyptian activist. She is one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, which is the group credited with helping to organize the January 25 protests that eventually toppled the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.
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Amy Goodman: A tweet posted just before we went to air said police in riot gear have surrounded Occupy Oakland protest encampment and begun firing flash grenades and rubber bullets into the camp. We’re trying to reach someone for further updates.
Meanwhile, here in New York, Occupy Wall Street’s Liberty Plaza received a surprise visit from several leading Egyptian activists, including 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz. She is one of the founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, which is the group credited with organizing the January 25th protests that eventually toppled President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Democracy Now! went down to Occupy Wall Street yesterday and spoke to Asmaa Mahfouz. I want, though, to return first to a video we played in January. It was a recording made by Asmaa Mahfouz, which was posted to Facebook on January 18th, before the Egyptian uprising, that then went viral across Egypt and the world. In her video postings, Asmaa’s head is covered. She speaks directly to the camera, and she identifies herself. Again, this is when Mubarak is in power. The boldness of this act, speaking out so forcefully as a woman, inspired many others to start posting their images online, as well. Let’s go to that videotape. This is Asmaa Mahfouz.
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.
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: Again, that video posting by the Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz. She’s 26 years old. She did it on January 18th, one week before the start of the Egyptian uprising. On the eve of the protest, Asmaa posted a follow-up video outlining some of her expectations. 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, an end to the regime. The turnout was unprecedented, even among the organizers, including the April 6 Youth Movement. Asmaa Mahfouz kept posting YouTube videos, calling for people to protest January 25th in Tahrir. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ultimately resigned February 11th.
Well, Asmaa Mahfouz flew into the United States and visited Occupy Wall Street’s Liberty Plaza yesterday, where she and other Egyptian activists held a teach-in regarding the Egyptian revolution and the similarities to the Occupy movement and the current steps forward. We spoke with Asmaa Mahfouz just after she stepped down from the teach-in. I began by asking her why she flew all the way from Cairo, Egypt, to attend Occupy Wall Street.
Asmaa Mahfouz: Many of U.S. residents was in solidarity with us. So, we have to keep going all over the world, because another world is possible for all of us.
Amy Goodman: January 25th—you were sending videos before January 25th to say, “Join me, alone, in Tahrir.” What gave you that strength?
Asmaa Mahfouz: Because I saw many people died because there were demanding their rights, and actually all of our rights, but they’re dead. So I decided to go to the street and demand all of our rights and our freedom, even if I being alone, and just make a video and said to all the men in our country, “If you are a real man, you have to come with me to protect me and protect our country.” And I can’t believe it when I saw million of people go and join in the Tahrir Square. And now I believe that I’m not be afraid—I’m not a more brave, because I saw my colleagues, Egyptian, were going towards the policemen, when they just pushing us, and they died for all of us. So they are the one who are really brave and really strong.
Amy Goodman: Where did you grow up? And what is the April 6 Movement?
Asmaa Mahfouz: From 2008, and 6 April Movement were established by 6 of April. Six of April was the first general strike in Egypt, and it was in solidarity with the co-workers of Mahalla. They were just demanding one thing: to raise our salaries to get our food. And then we were generalized, our—this strike, all over the country. And we succeeded. So, we are trying more and more. And every day—or every month, we have been creating and organizing events to make the resistance.
Amy Goodman: Mubarak was fully in power when you put up these videos calling for people to protest his power. You risked your life. Also, you’re a woman in a male-dominated society. What gave you the strength to do that? You faced great danger.
Asmaa Mahfouz: Yeah, the freedom is very expensive. So, you have—
Unidentified: The freedom is very costly.
Asmaa Mahfouz: Yeah, you have to sacrifice something. And then, when I make this video, all of—everybody in Egypt come, solidarity, and protected me. I saw people, really, died in front of me, because they were protecting me and protecting others. So, they were the most brave, bravest men.
Amy Goodman: Did you have any thought that what happened in Tahrir would happen?
Asmaa Mahfouz: I was believe that change is coming. I was really believing this. And we were calling. But I don’t believe that it will come very fast. I couldn’t realize when I saw on 25th, on 2:00 p.m., million of people just raise up the Egyptian flag and just say one chant. It’s “food, dignity, humanity, equality.”
Amy Goodman: What do you say to the U.S. government today, to President Obama, who spoke in Cairo?
Asmaa Mahfouz: You promised the people that you are the change and “yes, we can.” So we are here from the Wall Street Occupy, and we are saying the same word: “yes, we can.” We can make the freedom, and we can get our freedom, even it’s from you.
Amy Goodman: What about the U.S.’s support for the Mubarak regime, the money that was sent, the weapons that were sent?
Asmaa Mahfouz: The U.S. were sending every day for Mubarak regime, and now the SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces]. While they giving money and power and support to Mubarak regime, our people, Egyptian people, can success against all of this, against the U.S. power. So, the power to the people, not for the U.S. bullets or bombs or money or anything. The power to the people. So that I am here to be in solidarity and support the Wall Street Occupy protesters, to say them, “the power to the people,” and to keep it on and on, and they will success in the end.
Amy Goodman: How old are you?
Asmaa Mahfouz: Twenty-six.
Amy Goodman: Are you a university student?
Asmaa Mahfouz: No, I graduated, business administration.
Amy Goodman: And what do you do now?
Asmaa Mahfouz: I just left my job to come on to the revolution and to continue.
Amy Goodman: And what do you think needs to happen in Egypt right now?
Asmaa Mahfouz: To get off the SCAF away, and to get very democratic elections, and to build a strong organization to build our new country.
Amy Goodman: Do you think you might run for president, now or someday?
Asmaa Mahfouz: I’m now—I’m running for parliament elections. Maybe someday I can run for the presidency.
Amy Goodman: And what platform are you running on? What are you promising?
Asmaa Mahfouz: My policy is called Egyptian Stream. Its ideology for the Egyptian Stream is very neutral.
Amy Goodman: Egyptians…?
Asmaa Mahfouz: Stream. Yeah, and we believe that we can make any change, [if] the people is coming with us, and to become one hand to build our new Egypt.
Amy Goodman: What do you think of Occupy Wall Street? You’re looking at it right now. You just addressed it.
Asmaa Mahfouz: It’s a small—
Unidentified: Tahrir Square.
Asmaa Mahfouz: Yeah, it’s a small Tahrir Square, really.
Unidentified: As soon as she came—I was talking to her—she was like, “Oh, no, let me go. Let me go around. Let me go and feel it.”
Asmaa Mahfouz: Yeah, I would like to go to—under any tent here, to join, yeah.
Unidentified: She wants to go, like, in any tent, so she can get her memories back.
Asmaa Mahfouz: Yeah, it’s great. Really, it’s great. And all the people here is great and very brave and strong.
Amy Goodman: And what message do you have for young women today?
Asmaa Mahfouz: You are very strong. Women are stronger than men, really. This is not just words. But the reality is the women have many things can do, in life and for change and for freedom. So don’t—you have to believe in your own power. If you don’t believe in your own power, you couldn’t change anything. So you have to believe in yourself, because you are very, very strong.
Amy Goodman: Thank you very much.
Asmaa Mahfouz: Thank you.
Amy Goodman: That was Asmaa Mahfouz, 26 years old, now at Liberty Plaza, speaking last night shortly after holding a teach-in on the similarities between the Egyptian revolution and the Occupy movement. She is flying back to Egypt today.
In an update on the developments at Occupy Oakland, the Mercury News is reporting, at 5:00 a.m., Oakland police moved in. Police donned gas masks. Some kind of smoke has been released. Ring of police around the plaza, police blocking off the intersection of 14th and Broadway, police dismantling the barricades, throwing them into the streets, also tearing down signs, ripping them up. Protesters are sitting down. Police are now leading them away handcuffed. Police in masks are moving in on the camps. Again, that from the Mercury News. The Chronicle also reporting, the San Francisco Chronicle, that flashbang grenades were used. We’ll have an update later in the broadcast. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.