Sunday, August 21, 2011

28th Day: #FLAGMAN and the Resurrection of Karama

 Around 3:00 AM, again on Twitter, there was a mysterious new Hashtag: #FLAGMAN.

the AMAZING FLAGMAN- by Carlos Latuff
For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, hashtags are "keywords" one inserts within the available 140 characters allowed to express oneself. They are preceded by the pound (#) sign. Twitter explains that this is an easy way to find similar posts (tweets) to follow, or posts of common interest. It is pretty addictive actually. I think I personally had started few Hashtags that never "trended" on twitter.

It did not take me a long time to find out that FLAGMAN was a mysterious Egyptian guy who climbed, ropeless, 14 stories yielding to the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, to replace the Israeli Flag with an Egyptian one.

The guy became an instant hero.

I was following the tweets of his arrest as he climbed down then his immediate release upon the demands of thousands of cheering demonstrators. The guy became a national hero within seconds.

His Hashtag trended on twitter becoming the top tweet within minutes. In less than half an hour, a new Facebook Page was created for him dedicated to an Anonymous Hero who "climbed and took down the Flag" referring to the Israeli flag which was soon in ashes. Within seconds of it's creation, it already boasted 1000 members (please click on the highlighted link to see the current count).

First tweets about his identity came from strangers claiming his name was Mustafa Kamel, which coincided with the name of an Egyptian nationalist from the late 19th century. I joked about the name of #FLAGMAN claiming his mother had planned for this coincidence to happen from the day he was born.

But soon the real name was out. Not as impressive as the first it was Ahmad as-Shahat BUT it was a perfectly Egyptian-sounding name: The Egyptian "Average Joe". It was baffling to watch the video later on during the day, to see what the thousands upon thousands of chants were all about. The best tweet, retweeted by someone I follow on twitter came from @LadyBlueeeeeee who wrote "Egyptian Beans give you wings!" in Arabic. Egyptians were proud, and made everyone else proud. They certainly boasted my ego as a Palestinian.

It was clear that Egyptian do not want Israel on their soil. The Camp David peace treaty with Israel is worthless to them, and one Egyptian with wings can take down the lie about peace that was forcibly shoved down their throats for decades.

Egyptians are clearly some of the most stubborn, yet good-humoured people I am coming to find out about. Within an hour of the incident a new online game with a theme song was created for #FLAGMAN and the infamous caricature artist Carlos Latuff created an iconic picture of #FLAGMAN depicting a Spiderman-like character holding a burning Israeli flag.

The peace treaty with Israel, I come to learn, is part of the past that Egyptians now want to be completely done with. Their former dictator Hosni Mubarak has suffocated their freedoms in the name of Israeli safety and an alleged national security that they never felt. It was a big lie, everyone knew it, and now they don't want to live it anymore.

#FLAGMAN ignited a new hope for Egyptians who after months of ecstatically celebrating their winning revolution were yet to truly experience a complete change, and were tired of feeling Israel was placed before their own interests as Egypt's priority. "The People Want" was not just a slogan they perpetually repeated for 18 bloody days, they want their demands to be met. Israel's safety is not on their list of priorities. They toppled an entire system, a dictator who ruled them with corruption and an iron fist, and secret agents that counted their every breath. It was not hard for them to at least decide who stays and who leaves Egypt after they have won, to decide who they consider a friend and who they do not welcome. Very simple yet profound logic.

With the Israeli flag down and people calling against the acts of normalization with Israel, I anticipate that the Egyptian-Israeli relationship will no longer stay the way they used to be under Mubarak. The Egyptian people want, and their wants are not to be ostracized by their own people in favor of what they consider enemies/ outsiders, and their natural resources given away practically for free to a foreign obnoxious and unwelcomed power.

Egyptians demonstrating in front of the Israeli Embassy
in Cario- used with permission from
Ghazala Irshad
#FLAGMAN gave back to the Arab World a feeling they almost thought they lost. al-Karama. Karama is a word that should enter the Merriam Webster dictionary with a simple explanation: Origin: Arabic First use in English: 2011. It should explain how the sense of pride, the demand for respect, dignity and self-worth, were combined together on that day. Arabs felt they regained their own Karama. Israel, they know, was part of the oppression they experienced through their dictators and tyrants. The feeling of regaining one's Karama is the same one felt when Tunisia was Free from it's Dictator, when Mubarak was overthrown by the people, and when the next dictator is stomped over by people long-suffering people who deserved much better all along.

#FLAGMAN will be a decisive day in the Arab History, which will directly affect the Palestinian history. Egyptians will now play their strategic role but with Karama and not merely answer to a higher authority, represented by the US and other foreign powers, and certainly not by Israel.

The Palestinian Authority, long passively submitting to all foreign powers against the people's wants, will soon have to look for alternative ways to appease a very likely public outcry and discontent. The PA is not different than the rest of the Arab Dictators, except with the privilage (and curse) of ruling under an occupying foreign power, and allowing for a bantustanized situation to formulate in Palestine (Israel). The PA now is fully aware that it has lost it's back-up support after Mubarak. They cannot wait for September 20th to arrive to see what they will do next.

During the Tahrir Square celebrations following the overthrowing of the Mubarak regime, there was seen a young man standing above a thin and high street-light pole, he was relaxed and waving an Egyptian flag as if he was standing on the most solid ground. It took us months to find out his identity. It was the same #FLAGMAN, and with him comes a new hope for all of us fearing a complete fracture in our already stained history of surrender and bad-leadership. We know that if we give up, our closest neighbour to the West [the Egyptian people] won't allow it. They're already challenging Israel's bid on building a wall separating Israel's Negev from Sinai Desert saying: "you can build all the walls in the world, we have 80 million flagmen."

And I say, "climb it, like an Egyptian".

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