Darb 1718

February 20, 2011

It was now almost 7 pm. Mahi and I just spent the last hour and a half trying to get from  Tahrir to Darb 1718. We spent an hour and 15 minutes trying to get through Opera street. It was Friday February 18th, the revolution’s one week anniversary.


The line led into an open space, a yard of some sort, the backdrop of some anonymous building. The neighborhood too seemed anonymous. Shanty-like, though less congested. Silence reigned, porous and ponderous. And a less dead City of The Dead feel pervaded.

Mahi and I met with Ahmed and Khaled and the four of us stood impatiently, Mahi and I squabbling over whose idea it was to buy the (it turned out) lame Revolution shirts from Kasr El Nile. (they didn’t say 25th of Janurary Revolution or Proud to Be Egyptian or تحيا مصر or any of the good stuff).

Khaled led the way. I grabbed his waist, and let him lead me in through the swarms, Tahrir-style. Ahmed should have grabbed me, and Mahi Ahmed, but somehow our trail got broken. There were no chairs so Khaled and I sat on the grass while Mahi and Ahmed stood near by in a corner. Once inside, the anticipatory silence dissipated into a furor of agreeable cacophony.

Darb 1718 is in many ways quite different from Tahrir. But it was also curiously similar. Both were confined outdoor spaces where masses assembled to express a thought. In Tahrir, it was freedom. In Darb 1718, it was artistic creativity. But just as in Tahrir, there was an outburst of creative work manifested in songs, poems, music, art, exquisite puns and satirical cartoons. In Darb 1718, creative work was suffused with politics and revolutionary motifs that day.

A distinct miasma impregnated the air. Sweet fragrant perfume in Darb, honest good ol’ fashioned sweat in Tahrir. Heads clunked in Tahrir and bracelets clinked in Darb. Projectile empty water bottles shimmered in mid air, making their way to the front stage to be refilled. Gold and diamond jewels and trinkets twinkled on her neck and his wrist.

Both were crowded, but the crowds differed in intensity and constituency. Tahrir crowd was in the millions, Darb – a few hundreds. Tahrir crowd was more diverse, social background -wise, Darb 1718 was a more exclusive, more affluent segment of society. But both were similar in their common identity as Egyptians and their common enthusiasm to express belonging to a country that was, before the Revolution, never really theirs.

At Darb 1718, an Egypt that I never knew existed, existed. I was blown away with the artistic innovation that, for the second time in the span of a mere couple of weeks, I realized can be found in dear beloved Egypt. First time was at Tahrir, during the revolution. And now, at this open-mic event, everything from Arabic hip-hop to improvised ballet, Nintendo sound bites, stand-up comedy, poetry, pun satire, English funk jazz bands and Arabic oriental music performers was there. There was even the one man, an artist, who shared a dream he had before the revolution in a slide show. Each slide was a scene, from his dream, that he sketched. It was about Japanese mafia and microwave salesman and somehow he managed to relate it to the revolution. As awkward as that was, it was brilliant that he had the nuts to go up there (there was no stage so ‘up’ is merely figurative) and share his thoughts, and the imagination to share it in a unique and wonderfully odd way.

I found myself bobbing my head and clapping and shaking to the rhythm and even singing in public. Spontaneously too and very comfortably. For those who know me, this is very unusual to me. I am a very awkward and self-conscious person and it’s very hard for me to put my guard down in public. And yet I felt at home. In Tahrir,  I remember the very first day I went, Tuesday February 1st (آول مليونية). For the first 15 minutes or so of chanting, although I was incredibly exhilarated on the inside, I was very mousy and relatively reserved in expressing my exhilaration. Once they put on وطني حبيبي الوطن الاكبر though, I sang as a loud and as emphatically as I knew how, overcoming all inhibitions. And it was such a liberating experience. The revolution liberated, not just Egypt, but me. It liberated me. In a very personal way.

Going to this event for the first time after the revolution further glamorized the new old portrait of Egypt that the Revolution drew, with the new old ideals that the Revolution proved we Egyptians still had. I was studying in Chicago when the revolution broke out and flew back home after Friday 28th. Before the revolution, when I felt nostalgic, I missed Maadi (where I’m from), I missed the metro, I missed Ibn Tulun, I missed the stuffy weather, I missed my parents, my friends, my cousins and my house. After the revolution, all these autonomous threads came together under one caption. Now I miss Egypt. I always loved Egypt but to me Egypt was mainly Maadi. And the type of love I carried was one one would harness for an item, an object. Not a father, lover or a friend.

I have recently been told by a friend, Cole, that he always thought of me as being patriotic and I was mystified as to how I managed to relate that feeling to another when I myself could only muster a vague sense of the word. Now, I believe for the very first time, the country become truly and honestly my country. Our country.


Before the revolution, Tahririsque and Darbisque gatherings would have seemed to me divorced and desultory in their existence, from each other and from a vague notion of a nation. I would have never felt like I belonged, neither to the Tahrir crowd nor to the Darb 1718 one.

Now both are parts of the One.

And I belong to both.

تحيا مصر فعلا


2 Responses to “Darb 1718”

  1. Mahi said

    I absolutely love the writing!!!!! I won’t fool my self, there are several words I had to look up, although the meaning is clear, but they’re interesting words that worth looking up.

    Being with you that day through all the events makes me more attached to the writing and feeling of that particular thought!


  2. Cole said

    Way to go Dina! Great post. The next step will be getting “up” on stage yourself.

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