In early 2011, amid unrest in Egypt during the last days of President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year rule, a handful of protestors set themselves on fire in a startling demonstration against the government. Soon afterwards, Asmaa Mahfouz, a twenty-six-year-old youth activist living in Cairo, posted a video to her blog in which she asked her fellow Egyptians to join her in another, separate protest in Tahrir Square on 25 January. In the video, her fury and courage are on full display, as is her fearlessness; she speaks confidently, staring directly into the camera. She recalls a previous demonstration against Mubarak, during which she was harassed by riot police: ‘I posted that I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square, and I will stand alone.’ Of the upcoming protest, she says, undaunted, ‘I will not set myself on fire. If the security forces want to set me on fire, let them come and do it.’
Mahfouz’s video soon went viral, attracting messages of solidarity from across Egypt and abroad. On 24 January, she posted an additional video urging participation, and on 25 January, the day of the planned protest, tens of thousands of Egyptians filled Tahrir Square. Violent protests roiled nearby cities as well, culminating in Mubarak’s resignation on 11 February, 2011. The uprising fell in line with radical changes sweeping Egypt’s neighbours: revolutions in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere are now collectively known as the Arab Spring. Mahfouz’s words have been widely recognized for their role in inciting action. ‘Sitting at home and just following us on the news or Facebook leads to our humiliation, leads to my own humiliation,’ she says in her vlog. She leverages her identity as a woman by calling out men, specifically. She seems to say: If I can do it, why can’t you?
The Vlog that Helped Spark the Egyptian Revolution 2011
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….
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’s not worth it coz there will be only 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!…
Go down to the street, send SMS’s, 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 5 people, or 10 people; if each one of us manages to bring 5 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 no hope. 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 that He “will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Qu’ran 13:11). Don’t think you can be safe any more! 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!