By Matthew Rothschild on May 09, 2011

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Sharif Abdel Kouddous: Well, I grew up in Cairo until I was eighteen years old, and then I moved to college in the United States.

Q: Where did you go?

Kouddous: I went to Duke University. I thought I wanted to be a banker, and so I studied economics and philosophy. And I did become a banker for two years after college.

Q: Really?

Kouddous: Yeah, I went to New York, and I was an investment banker with Bank of America Securities in its leveraged buyout division.

Q: What was that like?

Kouddous: I hated it.

Q:: Why?

Kouddous: I hated the culture, I hated the work. I very quickly realized that this wasn't what I wanted to do. So, after two years, I took some writing courses -- I always loved to write -- and I figured the only way I was going to get paid to write was in journalism. I really wasn't very involved politically with anything up until that point. Then I started reading about the second Palestinian Intifada, and I spoke to friends in activist and journalism circles. Then, somehow by complete luck, I ended up at Democracy Now.

Q: Take us to Egypt. How did you decide to pick up everything and go over there?

Kouddous: Well, I was actually in Park City, Utah, covering the Sundance Film Festival. I had heard that there was a protest planned for January 25, which is National Police Day. For many years, a small number of people were willing to risk going to such a protest. They would be quickly surrounded by ten times the number of security forces. They would be frequently shoved into police vans, and sometimes they'd be beaten. Then they would be taken out to the edge of Cairo and left in the desert to find their way back.

So I expected that's what would happen again on Tuesday, January 25. I was very wrong. People were inspired by the uprising in Tunisia a few weeks earlier that led to the ouster of President Ben Ali, and thousands of people for the first time in Hosni Mubarak's regime hit the streets. People that I would never have imagined, including friends of mine, cousins of mine, who were completely depoliticized, but were fed up after so many years of this regime. They were tear-gassed, and the state really tried to force them back. I watched all of this on TV from Park City very closely, calling people and finding out what was going on. Then, on Thursday, I heard there was a huge protest planned for Friday. This was what they called the Day of Rage. It's the day Muslims go to pray communally, at noon. It's a very good organizing tool because everyone's in the streets at a coordinated time. My cousin Hamad called me -- I'll never forget it -- and he said, "Cousin, tomorrow, we're overthrowing the government." And it sent a shiver down my spine.

Q: I read your dispatch from your first day. You said that you landed in a country completely different from the country you knew.

Kouddous: I was three years old when Hosni Mubarak came into power. I've lived under Hosni Mubarak nearly all my entire life. Even before he stepped down, I knew this wasn't Hosni Mubarak's Egypt anymore, and regardless of what happened, it never would be again. A fear barrier had been broken. And once that barrier was broken, it would never be built again. People knew that they had this power, that they would not be pushed around again. There was just this fearlessness and determination.

Q: Where do you see things going from here?

Kouddous: Well, Mubarak was the glue that held this very leaderless and organic and very pluralistic mix of people together. Now that he's gone, there's a lot more debate and division about what happens next, which is healthy. We're essentially still under military dictatorship right now. The military rules the country. It can issue laws by decree.

Q: That's ironic: You have a revolution, and then essentially it's handed over to the military.

Kouddous: Right, I tend not to call it a revolution yet. I call it an uprising. We'll see if the revolution succeeds.

This is but a small excerpt from the interview with Kouddous that appears in the May issue of The Progressive. To read the whole interview, and the entire May issue, simply subscribe to The Progressive for $14.97 -- that 75% off the newsstand price for your year's subscription. It's easy: Just click here.

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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
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Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
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Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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