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Egyptian Blogger: 'Five Years Ago I Was A Minority Opposition. Today, I Am The People'

"Sandmonkey" is one of a number of bloggers and activists in Egypt getting the message out of the country through Twitter. RFE/RL spoke with him about Internet activism in Egypt and its role in the country's uprising.

"Sandmonkey" is one of a number of bloggers and activists in Egypt getting the message out of the country through Twitter (he is sending his tweets via a friend in Jordan). RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service correspondent Nigar Fatali spoke with him about Internet activism in Egypt and its role in the country's uprising.

RFE/RL: What does it feel like to live in a country where Internet and mobile phone connections can be shut down by the government at any time?

It is not fun [laughing]. It clearly affects you. People are being transported back to 1980; they have to go back from technological progress to using landlines. And most of them don't even know the landline numbers of their friends to call and check on them. Having no access to the Internet and a curfew are driving people insane. For activists it means the inability to upload pictures and videos of the horrors that are taking place here, while for many other people it basically means the inability to do their job. No one goes to work because there's no Internet. The banks don't work because of that; the country in general is in paralysis. The fact that the government can shut down the Internet and phone connection anytime they want is simply unnerving.

RFE/RL: Why do you blog under a nickname? Do you plan to reveal yourself?

I've always kept my identity anonymous and I'm not planning to reveal it because some members of my family are affiliated with the ruling NDP party and I don't want to put them at risk.

RFE/RL: What is it like to be an activist in Egypt? Do you get oppressed or threatened?

These days it actually feels strange; scarier and more exciting. One day you're breaking barricades, the next day you get tear gassed, and the day after that you try to escape the gunshots of street thugs. But it's very rewarding because we see ourselves and our people being validated. We're proud of them for taking responsibility for their destiny and saying "No" for the first time in their lives. Everything about being an Egyptian got redefined in the last days. Before, many people would not agree with us. No one would believe that we could take action or do anything together, as a nation. Today, everybody is with us. Now people believe it's possible. Five years ago I was a minority opposition. Today, I am the people. And this feeling is indescribable.

RFE/RL: Are there any activists missing there now?

People are missing here every day. They are being arrested from demonstrations. As far as I know, no one was taken from their homes. Wael Ghonim, an activist who is also the marketing director for Google in the Middle East and Africa, is missing. There is a Facebook list of missing people. They ask users for information and pictures of the "missing" people, but the lists are basically "fed" to them by State Security. Many people there are not missing, that's just security's way to find us. My name was also there. I contacted the group, telling them about the security's trick. They deleted my name.

RFE/RL: What do you think will be the destiny of those missing?

Nobody knows. They can get detained, or tortured, or worse. The Egyptian regime is actually capable of horrifying things.

RFE/RL: You're saying you were an opposition minority five years ago. When did it "click" for you and why?

That's when I became an activist, when I started blogging and it turned me into an activist. Once you start blogging about actual problems there's no way you don't become an activist. I started blogging in 2004. First I was just blogging and commenting, but after the terrorist attack in Taba, which I narrowly escaped, I got more involved in democracy and freedom of speech issues. After the terrorist attack in July 2005 I decided to organize an anti-terrorist action. I applied for the permission and got it. The same night I received a call and was advised to cancel the protest because they didn't want it to become an anti-Mubarak demonstration. That's when I decided that this government shouldn't be allowed to govern.

RFE/RL: What were the main factors for Egyptian people to change their mind?

Mostly living conditions. Even though Egypt is a rich country, income gaps are increasing, prices keep rising, while wages remain low. People simply can't keep up. They're tired. They feel like they have no rights, no dignity. Any police officer can insult or assault them, and there's not much they can do about it. Basically, people had enough of Mubarak and his regime in [the last] 30 years.

RFE/RL: In your opinion, as an insider, what are the chances for Egypt to repeat the Iranian destiny and cut off relations with the U.S. and Israel in case a revolution is successful?

It is obvious that we're alone in this and there's no hidden agenda. The whole world wants stability in Egypt and Mubarak is a good choice for them. This protest was organized by the people, mostly from the poorest areas. It's people of mixed religions and ethnicities; all they want is their freedom. [Mohamed] ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood play a minimum role in this. One of the chants was "No Baradei, No Muslim Brotherhood. We're just the poor people of Egypt." We're fighting because we want to bring a new meaning to the Arab world, to Egypt. We want democracy and equality. We are tired of corruption, injustice, and state control. We deserve better, we can do better.

RFE/RL: What is the situation there now? How is the general mood of the crowd?

People will soon run out of basic goods. No restaurants are open; there is no food or gas. They're trying to exhaust the protesters, but the protesters don't get exhausted. They're planning a big demonstration tomorrow and another one on Friday. Right now there's a curfew, but people still don't follow. There are thousands on Tahrir Square and they're not planning to leave.

RFE/RL: You probably don't know, but there is a statue of Hosni Mubarak in Baku and a school named after Susan Mubarak. What can you say about it?

I can say that I don't know your opposition, but I like them [laughing]. Dictators should not be idealized. Never, in no conditions. And especially by people who have no connection to them whatsoever. I will gladly host anybody who destroys that statue in my house in Egypt.

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