Before she became involved in politics in 1997, she convinced her tradition-minded family that, although a woman, she would strike her own path in life. She stopped donning a head scarf in high school, though the rest of the women in her family wear one.
Azb spends her days with other activists, many of them the children of upper-crust families who learned about socialism and injustice in college classes. She learned about those concepts in her neighborhood, where the poor don’t have the money or the government connections to right the wrongs against them. She makes fun of the elite, saying they are too soft and out of touch in a country where millions live at or below the poverty line.
Azb shares her views in a column she writes for the al-Fagr independent news weekly. Her pieces are harshly critical of the nation’s military leaders; sometimes her editor tries to tone down her work.
She prints fliers to publicize protests. She has thrown rocks at the country’s former security chief as he was being carted off from yet another postponed trial, where he faces charges of killing protesters. And she has spent nights in the morgue to help the family of a slain protester obtain their loved one’s body without signing papers that called the death accidental.
Many Egyptians, eager for stability, treat Azb and the others disrupting traffic as a bother. She dismisses those people as members of the “party of the couch” — those who never act but reap the benefits of others’ sacrifices.
“My brother is like most Egyptians. He wants to work, eat, sleep and raise his children,” she said while driving away from home in her beat-up Fiat, the side mirror dangling, the fender smashed and the interior filled with protest fliers and posters. “He thinks freedom will come to his door. He doesn’t know that people are dying for that freedom.”
‘A long journey’
Rasha Azb is among those who have risked everything.
During parliamentary elections in 2005, she tried to enter a polling station to monitor suspected fraud. When state security forces refused her admission and confiscated her ID card, she swore at them and threw stones — unthinkable defiance at the time. Security agents followed her, but neighborhood residents who were impressed by her bravery at the polling station protected her.
“By herself she had a mini-uprising,” said her friend Diana al-Assi, recalling the episode. “She acts completely from her soul, because her mind is scared and her heart hurts.”
Azb was first moved to activism in 1998, when she distributed leaflets that criticized a four-day U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq.