The world was caught by surprise on January 25th, and many hope it will never be the same. Many others fear that it never will. Our understanding of the Egyptian revolution which began so unexpectedly, following protests in Tunisia, has been in this country shaped and altered by those who speculate from a distance. Yet, for the determined, rational Angeleno, seeking only the truth, there is hope. Contacting Juliet Annerino was easy. A frequent reader of this column, a prominent Liberty activist, and the Mastermind of the 2008 “Hotties for Ron Paul” Calendar and fundraiser, she is no stranger to anyone involved in freedom politics in Los Angeles. However, as a musician, and entertainer, she has a unique perspective on Egypt. Not only does she tour there, and have fans there – she has lived there, and as someone who tends to sow seeds of Liberty and congregate with those who love it wherever she goes, she was aware of the protests before they began.
The phone rings at 11 PM. “Are you going to be at the protest tommorow?” She asks. “What protest?” is the reply. And after a little chitchat, it’s settled. The weekend will be focused on the story of the year.
Arriving at noon, the federal building in Westwood is filled with protesters already. Sadly, the local protest scene is filled with those who wish to hijack the message, and there’s no shortage of “Workers World” and other socialist publications, passed out by those who haven’t the fondest clue of either the Egyptian experience, or the working class American one, rather ironically. Yet the Egyptians are also there, and many protesters who are neither Egyptians nor leftists of any sort express adamently that “This should be about Egypt, and freedom for the Egyptian people, not any other agenda.” Thankfully, the organizers, who are primarily young Egyptian-American students, cannot help but express their joy and hope and their animated protestation shapes the demonstration as a whole. One of the most noticeable things is that the Egyptians are incredibly friendly and welcoming. Unlike many Arabic cultures, whose women are somewhat guarded, particularly at protests, the Egyptian girls are as outgoing as British girls, and as trusting as those from Kansas. To those who have never attempted to talk to them and get a story out of young Arab women, it is impossible to explain just how unique this is, that they care not that the journalist asking questions is a young American man, and show neither modesty nor fear as they lead a rather lengthy conversation, explaining why it is important to stand with their Nation in support of freedom, democracy, and the January Revolution, as they wave American flags and Egyptian ones. One group happily give away an extra Egyptian flag which they have brought from home, and ask in return only to hear this American pronounce the Arabic word “sukran”, meaning thank you. They giggle at hearing the accent. Before leaving, an older man named Hassanin, very scholarly, proud, and aware of his history, and his Daughter Mirat, also a student, protester, and articulate young woman, explain that American concerns about Islamic extremism and the Muslim Brotherhood are a joke. “This is not about Islam, it’s about egypt. We have a different Kind of Religion in Egypt, We do not judge those who do not share our beliefs. Mubarrak knows that, and that is why He pushed the religious differences, which is why this symbol of the Cross and Crescent, together, is so important. In 1917, when the Christians and Muslims united, all Egyptian, that was the end of British Rule, and that is why the government knows this, and try to divide us. We know our history, we do not want to fight over religion. ” Indeed, his Daughter Mirat explains that her name is from an ancient Egyptian word and means lovely, rather than being an Arabic name, and she is likewise insistent that, “we are Muslims, but we do not care that others are not” and her clothing betrays it, she has no veil, and aside from her accent, really does not stand out in appearance from any Angeleno in her jeans and teeshirt and shoulder length hair, standing boldly and not meekly. She is entirely Egyptian, yet indistinguishable from a westerner.
The next day, Juliet opens her home to an interview, having demonstrated beyond what words ever could, the character of the Egyptian People.
She starts off after offering a beer, aptly chosen for the topic, it’s a micro-brew called “simpler times.” She begins “I’m glad you made the Protest, I wanted you to see how uniquely friendly and welcoming Egyptians are. They are so curious, and warm, and generous, that they are almost Childlike. As you could see, they enjoy deep conversations, about philosophy, religion, politics, and life, all of the things we are told aren’t polite to discuss here, they love talking about, very intellectually and open and accepting. I lived in Egypt for three months in 2008, I worked as a lounge singer at the Intercontinental Hotel. I was last in Egypt on December 1st, 2010. One of the things to know about driving in an Arabic country is that you’re taking your life in your hands, and everyone accepts that. Traffic lights are like decorations in Egypt, and at most intersections, there is a traffic cop directing people. At others, it’s like a stop sign, and you just slow down, and take your chances, or roll on through, depending. When I first came to Egypt, I was out for a walk, and there’s this big intersection, and here I am, just trying to find out how to get across, totally clueless. Walking in traffic is deadly, you have to learn to be a defensive walker, because they aren’t slowing down their driving. So, there’s these two Egyptian girls, holding hands, wearing veils, also walking up – I don’t know if they knew I was American, because I’m very dark, being Sicilian, and have curly black hair, and there are blonde and green eyed Egyptians – but anyhow, they just smiled at me, and grabbed my hand, and the three of us ran across the street holding hands, giggling like little girls. That’s actually very common, Egyptians are very affectionate, the stereotype is that they are Helwa, or sweet. Men will walk around in 90 degree heat arm in arm, even men will hold hands, and it has none of the connotations that Americans have of same-sex affection, they are just good friends and like being close, the thought of it being homosexual behavior doesn’t cross their minds. “
She pauses and her smile fades to a calm, warm, and yet stern face, as her tone changes.
“I wanted to start with that story so you could see that the Egyptian people are nothing like their Government, that their character has nothing to do with Mubarrak, and yet, they aren’t rebels either, they are very relaxed, easygoing people, the stereotype of being sweet is true. When I was there recently, they always referred to Mubarrak as their king, not their president. He has been in power over 30 years, and the whole time, he has had a state of emergency in effect. When I was there, there was a group of young men, they were all into heavy metal music, and they would meet and listen to it and talk about music. They were no older than 19, they were just enjoying themselves, and they would meet at a graveyard, because it was a very dark thing to do, and fit with heavy metal, you know. Anyhow, they got a knock on the door in the evening, their parents were asked for them, and they were all taken to Prison. There was no trial, they were just thrown in prison for a month each, because public meetings are banned no matter what the topic or reason. Police corruption and torture are standard procedure.
One of the things that led up to the Protests in Tahrir Square, which means Liberty, was a few months ago, a young man named Kaled had videotaped the police splitting up the drugs they had seized in a raid among themselves, and taking the drugs. He posted it on youtube, and it caused national outrage. So, they took him and beat him and tortured him, and they shoved heroin and cocaine down his throat, til he choked to death. The official autopsy said he had been “hiding drugs from the police in his throat, and choked” but photographs of his tortured body were leaked to the public, and a facebook group was started: “we are all Kaled Said”. So, this helped to get people united that, something needed to be done. And then, when the protests in Tunisia happened, there was another facebook group – I don’t know the name, I can’t read Arabic, but I could tell what they were doing. So, the big discussion was whether they could do it, as Tunisia had only a quarter of their population. There was a lot of concern that they couldn’t pull it off. But, it was all facebook and twitter, young people who had grown up under Mubarrak’s rule and had enough of it. And then, when the Tahrir Square protests did start, the police would attack the protesters when they prayed. So, all of the atheist and Christian protesters would guard the Muslims at the call to prayer, and then, the Coptic Church began holding mass in the square, and all the Muslims and Christians guarded them. There was even a wedding in the middle of the square, of two young people who were protesters. I’m very proud of my friends in Egypt, and of all of the people in that facebook group. They may be sweet, but however Helwa they are, they have proven themselves to the world, and earned their freedom. I hope they retain their character, but I think they will, it’s older than any religion, and it’s how they are. “
And with that she smiled once more.