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Some years ago, my husband was invited to hold a guest lecture at a university in Tunisia. I urged him to accept it, and borrowed a course in Arabic from the library. I was quite keen to accompany him!

Then the invitation was withdrawn. It seems some American academic had held a lecture in Tunisia where he called for human rights and democarcy. As a precaution against further such offences against the regime, invitations to foreign speakers were withdrawn. We didn’t go to Tunisia, and I stopped doing the course after “merhaba”.

A few years down the line, a young man set fire to himself in that same country, and people took to the streets, got beaten, gassed, shot, and still took to the street. And soon, I hope, anyone will be able to speak about human rights, democracy, whatever they want in Tunisia.

I didn’t really catch on to the unrest in Tunisia, but did when it reached Egypt. Feverishly following tweets on the protests from a number of people in and out of Egypt, I felt a part of the protests, even though of course nothing much was at stake for me. Still, I felt that if I were there to witness things, I could help move things along. If I updated my timeline one more time, Mubarak would surely go!

I remember feeling like this when Israelis and Palestinians finally signed a deal back in the nineties. That, of course, turned into a terrible disappointment. But what the recent events in the Arab world has given me are some beautiful pictures:

- Muslims and Christians protecting one another and praying together, being “one hand”, “all Egyptians”
- People stoically praying against the force of a water cannon
- The entirety of Tahrir Square (usually a trafficated roundabout) filled by people praying, singing or cheering
- Protesters deciding they'd clean up the square, including rocks that had been thrown at them

The last few months have given me a newfound respect for the unsinkable North Africans, made me a friend of Islam more than any number of "look at their former greatness" exposes could have done, and taught me a fine new collections of Arabic words:

Hob (here)
Shabab (people)
Tahrir (liberation)

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tamf

December 2016

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