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Protests Awaken Egyptians To What's Possible

: bank employees holding sit-ins to protest the bank director's corruption; a university deciding to elect its own deans, rather than allow the government to appoint them.

Ahdaf Soueif has witnessed the protests and written about them. We called her to get her take on the experience.

: You know, you've been out among the protesters yourself. When it first coalesced into a real festival, a sort of community, you wrote: I sneeze and someone passes me a tissue. Then when the violence happened, you described pro-Mubarak thugs with sticks and stones, swords and chains, dogs and trucks.

The mood has changed several times back and forth. What kind of affect do you think this has had on the Egyptian psyche?

AHDAF SOUEIF: I think it's been incredibly positive. Not I think, I know. I see people saying that it was like they were under a spell and they've been woken up. And they have re-found themselves and re-found the things that they value in themselves and in being Egyptian. And I don't think there is ever going to be a going back.

Because it's as if you've been sort of like cramped, squashed in a tiny little box and you've broken out of it and stood up. And there is just no way that you're going to go back into that box.

: You know, I've also heard that poetry is playing a role in how people are expressing themselves in the square - that some protesters have been chanting slogans in the form of poetry. Have you heard that?

SOUEIF: Yeah, that's happening all the time. Because, remember now, you've got some people marching and chanting; you've got some people standing and singing; you've got some people sitting around, discussing; people drawing; people sort of making all sorts of bits of art. And the slogans are of course rhythmic and poetic.

: Are there any lines that you remember and could just translate for us, to give us a feel for what is being posted and chanted?

SOUEIF: Well, you know, I can't give you the poetry but I can give you some of the actual sort of chants that are going around - which are, for example, (Foreign language spoken). So: Hey, Suzanne - that's a reference to Mr. Mubarak's wife, Suzanne Mubarak - Hey, Suzanne, fear for him and take him away even though you have to drag him.

They don't translate very well. But in Arabic they're great.


: Yet you mentioned making art. And I have read that some of the trash that's accumulated in the square, people were using it to make art.

SOUEIF: Yeah. A wonderful thing that's happening is that you have teams of young volunteers who are collecting the trash. And then they pile and then somebody put up a great, big placard saying: Headquarters of the National Democratic Party, which is of course the regime's party.

And so people are using, for example, there's one man who's used hundreds of those used plastic cups to draw the outline of an airplane on the ground. And he makes everybody walk around it, not step on it, because that's the plane that's ready to whisk Mr. Mubarak away from Egypt.

The wonderful thing is how all this creative expression of personality is coming through. You know, I mean a couple had a wedding in the square on Sunday. Because the bride said she felt that she'd been among her people for a week, and this was where she wanted to get married.

: So the uprising that you are caught up in could be itself a great historical novel. And your most recent book, "The Map of Love," follows three women across about a hundred years of Egypt's history. What are the characters and stories you're now seeing in the events that are unfolding right there in front of you?

SOUEIF: Ah, it's too soon. It's too soon. I'm really caught up in this as a citizen - as a citizen of Egypt and a citizen of the world. Now, I'm sure that stories will come out of this.

I mean I'll tell you something. The novel that I have been trying to work on for years now, was really supposed to be a prelude to something like this happening. And so now, you know, what's happened has caught up with it. And I at some point will have to sit and think whether it's possible to sort of incorporate what has happened into what I've been doing, or whether everything that I've done is now obsolete.

: Thank you very much for joining us.

SOUEIF: Thank you, Renee. It's a pleasure talking to you.

: Ahdaf Soueif is an Egyptian writer and political commentator. Her last novel is "The Map of Love."

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.