For 18 days this winter, hundreds of thousands of Azb’s fellow Egyptians joined her in demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that accomplished the unthinkable, forcing the ouster of the country’s autocratic leader of nearly 30 years, Hosni Mubarak.
But in the months since the revolution, Azb’s struggle has gone back to what it was before the uprising: a lonely fight that few in Egypt are inclined to join against a seemingly implacable foe. The youths who once were hailed for leading the revolution as national saviors and true voices of the Arab street are now seen by many as a nuisance, clogging traffic and spoiling the economy. Even Azb’s brother tells her she’s wasting her time.
And yet to Azb, the stakes remain every bit as high as they were in February, when Mubarak fell. With the military in charge and elections on the way, this is the moment when Egypt will either live up to the ideals of those who fought and died for freedom, or revert to the old ways.
“Why are you silent?” she screams at passersby during demonstrations in the streets of the capital. “Do we have human rights yet?”
Her call is met with shrugs, or worse.
Azb is a dreamer, not a realist. She swears incessantly but is moved to tears by injustice. She screams for the end of military rule and for compensation and justice for the families of slain protesters. But when pressed on what exactly would satisfy her, she has no answer.
‘Time to come home’
In the family’s small apartment, with cracked walls and laundry hanging from the balcony, Ahmed Azb watched with resignation one recent day as his sister repacked her orange backpack in preparation for a return to Tahrir.
He was worried about her but also annoyed. The protests disrupt daily life, hurting the family business — a car repair shop that brings in about $500 a month. Now that Mubarak is gone and on trial, Ahmed Azb doesn’t understand what more demonstrations will achieve.
“Tahrir is the center of the city, and if it stops life, it’s not a good thing,” he said. “We’re going to suffer, and freedom can’t come from vandalism and destruction.”
Rasha’s mother is frustrated but proud of her stubborn daughter. She doesn’t understand why her daughter won’t get married and have children, why she won’t fix her curly hair, which is always pulled into a tight bun, or exchange her uniform of jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers for a dress. She never knows whether Rasha will come home bruised or perhaps end up in jail again.
“It's enough. It’s time to come home,” Sabr Azb told her daughter. “You can’t change everything.”
Rasha Azb rolled her eyes. In her mind, people flowing into the streets, civil disobedience and, in some cases, rock-throwing are all necessary to force the hand of authority.