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Revolution defines a generation
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 01 - 2012

A year after the uprising, Nashwa Abdel-Tawwab highlights a socio-psychological impact on the children of Egypt where photos with elephants and giraffes have been substituted for pictures of tanks, flags and martyrs
"Oh! Allah! Why did you shorten my father's life? I didn't get enough of him," cries eight-year-old Mohamed, the eldest son of Azhar Sheikh Emad Effat who was shot 40 days ago in front of the Cabinet building. For almost a month Mohamed could not come to terms with his father's death. Seeing his father's photo and hearing his name during demonstrations and celebrations was so much for Mohamed that he started acting violently, shouting and screaming. Finally, when in his mother's arms, he would cry and again ask why his father had abruptly left him so early in life. After that Mohamed became calmer and much better thanks in part to his mother, family, father's friends, teachers and friends at school.
This early tear sheds light on a new cognitive world in the minds and hearts of children who were brought up in the throes of a revolution.
"Is this officer, mummy, the good guy or the bad guy who kills people?" asks four-year-old Mohamed whose uncle was killed in the revolution. Mohamed is talking about the army and police officers, and in a child's innocence and lack of pertinent information and background, can sometimes tell better than adults who is good and who is less so.
Five-year-old Karima went to Tahrir for the first time on 29 January last year. She was afraid at first but then started to join the masses as they chanted against the army. And when she met a member of the Eskendrella band one Friday last year and wanted to introduce herself to her, she said in a low voice, "my name is Karima but here in Tahrir my name is Sawsan." The change in identity might show a hidden fear despite Karima's spontaneous, serious remarks -- "we need a strong president; elections are very important; I will take out an identity card and come with you to vote; the military council has to leave because we want a beautiful country." And when Karima tried to comfort the son of a slain peaceful demonstrator she said, "your father is a hero, and he is in Gannah [heaven] now."
Another attitude towards the revolution belonged to nine-year-old Nadine when she told her family: "We will go out on 24 January: have lunch outdoors, play, go to the mall, buy lots of things, go shopping and have fun." Nadine's mother was astonished when she knew that her daughter wanted to do all these things before the anniversary of the revolution because "we might not go out again for some time". Her mother blamed herself for making Nadine overly fear the revolt. "She was about to fall several times while she was crossing the street quickly to take the school bus in the morning because she was afraid of thugs."
Another 10-year-old, Hamza, left his mother's hand in a demonstration at Maadi just to kiss Ahmed Harara's hand and tell him "thank you". Harara was blinded in both eyes in two separate incidents of violence against protesters. Hamza's eight-year-old sister Aisha decided to join her mum at last Friday's Martyr's Dream in Tahrir saying, "I want to share in bringing back Uncle Emad's rights."
All these examples illustrate that the revolution is defining a new generation. No more photos with elephants or giraffes, now replaced by tanks and flags. No more cartoons, but news and analytical TV shows. And at family gatherings, there are no more funny light-hearted conversations as much as political debates. It's amazing that when children speak up and are not afraid, they say treasures. Such young attitudes can actually make big changes for the future.
The goal of the revolution was and remains freedom, but the path to freedom was and still is traumatic for adults. What about children? And how far is its impact on their mental health? How can they live a normal life if they lack safety and stability?
A child's basic need is safety. When that is placed in jeopardy, there is a large potential for trauma. One's sense of security was threatened during the revolution when families acted as guardians, patrolling their neighbourhood nightly for fear of thugs.
In the revolution, children cannot attend classes with regularity as they once did due to their parents' fear. They don't go out with their friends as usual. Financially underprivileged children find life with family one of undo hardship and strain in the absence, for example, of gas cylinders for cooking.
A human is the product of his culture, not just a biological being who eats, drinks and sleeps. He is insightful, rational and emotional. This is taken from society. If he lacks stability and security, how will he develop into an individual of well-being?
"Being a child in this revolutionary time in Egypt means that you belong to one of these following three categories," said Ali Suleiman, a veteran socio-psychologist professor at Cairo University. "A relative or a neighbour of a martyr or an injured person from attack, a child of a supporter of the revolution, or a child in an anti-revolution family. In all cases stability is needed for the natural growth of healthy kids and so adults should make an effort to handle the situation.
"A certain amount of stress is healthy but exposure to extraordinary stress and trauma could lead to post traumatic stress disorder. Children closer to traumatic events are more susceptible to its consequences and second-hand exposure to events -- such as watching events unfold from one's balcony or one's television -- can also be traumatic," said Suleiman. "But awareness is the first step in recovery."
"No one can defy death or injury. This is fate but to help children understand trauma should it strike any family member, you have to try to make them feel it is akin to surrendering but with acceptance not with helplessness. Then they can come out of this bad experience with a stronger faith and satisfaction rather than rejection, violence and isolation. They belong to principles rather than establishments."
According to Suleiman, it all depends on the community they live in. Society can help children come out of any trauma as winners, not losers. In this case, it could be achieved by a belief in the revolution and its principles.
Practical school tasks should be minimised to lower stress. Violent role-play should be discouraged. A set timetable, in which children are aware and secure regarding any particular day, can restore a sense of normalcy. Hyperactivity or isolation need to be treated with patience. Time, proper handling and awareness can repair any damage caused by stress. Children who live inside a problem day and night, go to Tahrir Square, demonstrate, meet heroes, see Egyptians with all their flaws and greater qualities, and genuinely live the moment are better than those who stay at home and who live in another world of rejection and fear.
The revolutions sweeping the Middle East mean exactly what every revolution has ever meant. It means change for the better. So we should be optimistic. The revolution has so many pros that all its cons are a blessing in disguise.
When we talk about the injured or the martyred, we talk about applied principles, about bravery in the face of tyranny, about a case of a nation, not of a household, about victory, not defeat, about a hero and a mentor who made his greatness, not a made for TV star. The revolution gave us real heroes, charismatic characters, a national identity, patriotism and belongingness. So when we see children holding a sign up in Tahrir Square saying: "We are your children, Egypt," it is a sign of hope, one which points to the future of an emotionally healthy generation who shared in making their identity.


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