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Children in Egypt inspired by the revolution

Clashes between Egypt’s Christians and conservative Muslims have lead to the deaths of 12 people in Cairo this week.

Christian protestors gathered in Tahrir square to demand better protection from the army, who detained more than 190 people. The ruling military council seems determined to clamp down on sectarian unrest, promising trials for those accused of taking part in the violence. Last month, the council spoke of its intentions to ratify the Rome Statute, allowing Egyptians to be tried by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Human Rights Watch welcomed the announcement as a clear signal Egypt wants to become a “legally-constituted state” and “follow the rule of law”.

Before the popular uprising at the start of this year, Egypt’s citizens would hardly have imagined such changes could take place. As part of a World Service programme, children in Egypt have been talking to the BBC about their experiences of the revolution and their hopes for the future. Salma is 14 years old and remembers how she felt during the protests. Salma’s father is an eye surgeon who went to treat injured protestors close to Tahrir square, where the main demonstrations took place. During the media blackout, the family couldn’t reach him on his mobile phone and there was talk of people being killed and injured. Salma told the BBC of the worry she felt at the time for her father, who eventually returned home unhurt.

Other youngsters also speak of distressing scenes they witnessed during the unrest. Ava is 14 and spent nearly three weeks in Tahrir Square with her family while they protested against the Mubarak regime. She saw lots of violent incidents and spoke of her brother being hit by glass when a car windscreen was smashed and of her cousin being struck by rubber bullets. But despite these harrowing incidents, Ava also remembers the solidarity of the protestors and the friendly atmosphere of those around her. She speaks of an occasion where her mother needed to use a bathroom because queues for toilets in the square were too long. Knocking on a nearby house, they were welcomed inside. Even though the owner was Christian and Ava and her mother are Muslims, Ava told how they “washed and prayed in his house”. Another 14-year old, Sohaib, who took part in the demonstrations, describes the celebrations in the square when President Mubarak and how he was so happy and excited that “anyone I met in the street, I just hugged”.

Inspired by their experiences, the youngsters organised their own ‘mini’ revolution. They came up with a list for how their school could be improved and presented their demands to the head teacher. After meeting with the students, the head agreed to make concessions, such as lowering the prices of food at the school canteen. When asked by the BBC what they wanted from a new Egypt, one fifteen year old at the school said “to live in freedom....jobs for the people and to have my voice heard”. Another said that before the revolution, nobody felt the country was theirs, but now people want to “try to rebuild it and make it a better place”.

Laurinda Luffman signature