This is the second part of a first hand account of the protests in Egypt
Tuesday 1st February: Million Man March
I woke up at 9 o’clock in the morning, made a quick sandwich and got in the car with my brother and father. They drove me to my friend’s house in Heliopolis. That morning, I got a phone call from a close friend, who is married and has a 2 year old child. The American Embassy called them and informed them that their appeal for travel had been approved and that they should get to the airport as soon as possible. I teared up as I approached Heliopolis. I knew that their travel was the safest option and I sympathized completely with their situation, but I could not bear the fact that she had travelled and that I did not know for certain if I would see her anytime in the near future. I did not have time to cry, I had to focus on the situation I was in. I gathered with three friends – all girls. I am not going to lie, I was worried about the fact that there were no men accompanying us, but I could not let my fear stop me. We walked to the tube station and purchased our tickets, the man looked at us and said Rabena Maakom (God is with you) and when we boarded the tube, an old man walked on, selling Quran tapes. He looked at all the passengers and said “buy this, so that when the police kill you, God will bless with you a quick and painless death.” Everyone giggled away nervously, hoping that nothing would happen.
They had closed the Tahrir station, so we had to get off a couple of stops before and walk. When we walked out onto the street I felt a surge of grief run through my body. Egypt was in ruins, and downtown Cairo – once a renowned site for its beautiful architecture and historical value, was completely destroyed. Passers-by were saluting us and a breeze of pride swept the air. It is true what many protesters have expressed on the television, there really was a sweet smell of liberation.
Suddenly I felt myself being pulled back; a woman had grabbed my arm extremely forcefully and was screaming in my face. She stared into my eyes and shouted violently, “you are going to turn Egypt into Iraq! You are ruining the country!” She kept pulling me back, but El Hamdulillah, my friends were strong enough, they pushed her back and grabbed me and ran. A group of around 15 young men emerged; they were also heading towards Tahrir (Liberation Square), they walked with us to make sure no one else would come near us, and told us that if anybody said anything, that we should just ignore because we are peaceful protesters.
As we approached Liberation Square protesters came together, among us was a military soldier. We were told to take out our I.D cards and lift them above our heads as we walked into the Square. The group then split into two: a group of men and a group of women, who lined up and were searched. These were all precautions taken by the people for the people, to ensure that all those entering the area of demonstration had peaceful motives and were in no way armed. I mention this now, to stress upon the fact that any violence witnessed on television screens was initiated by the government’s thugs, and not by us. When the fighting broke out the next day, peaceful protesters only began fighting in an effort to defend themselves, they in no way initiated violence.
The atmosphere in Liberation Square was beautiful. Different people, with different ideologies came together as brothers and sisters. I felt so safe. I saw many different images, some were comical and others were melancholy. Firstly, on the left there was a group of twenty young men standing on a wall with a tabla, they were singing “game over! Game over! Hay!” The people around them were clapping and singing along. Opposite that group of people were the Muslim Brothers, shouting “La Illaha Illa Allah” (There is not God but Allah). As we walked through the crowds we saw six Azhar sheikhs protesting, we saw a sheikh and a priest holding hands and chanting in unity. We also saw a woman in niqab holding up a huge banner that expressed her belief that Christians and Muslims were one and that we were all Egyptian. Families were sitting on the ground eating and the odd couple of tourists were weaving through the crowds exploring the situation. Among the disheartening scenes were a group of around five men carrying their kafan (the white cloth that Muslims are dressed in when they are buried). This was a very symbolic act that reflected on the upper Egyptian tradition, the men were basically stating their intention that they were prepared to stay in protest until their death. Additionally, two men were lying on the ground as if they were dead bodies and the cloth that covered them had a statement printed on it: “This is what our government has done to us.”
In an effort to bring forth some comedy to the depressing state that the country is in, one man was holding up a banner that said, “irhal baa, ayez arawah astahama” (step down, I want to go home and take a shower), while another man was holding up a sign that said, “irhal baa, edaya wagaaetny” (step down, my arms are starting to hurt). I must say, one of the features that I love about the Egyptian people as a whole, is their extensive capability to have fun and make jokes in whatever situation they are in! Additionally, a man was carrying his young son on his shoulders; the boy was holding out his hands and on the palms of his hands was written: “Go away.” Throughout the Square people were singing different songs that ranged from the Egyptian National Anthem to songs by Abdel Halim Hafez. There was one Abdel Halim song that was chanted repeatedly, but had been remixed: “Ahlef bi samaha ou bi torabha, Mubarak howa eli kharabha!” (I swear by its sky and its earth, Mubarak is the one that ruined it!) Finally, we gathered with a large group of people, where different opposition groups were giving speeches reiterating the essentiality for all people to unite under this one common goal.
It was two o’clock in the afternoon, we had two choices, either to stay the night in Liberation Square, which would have been impossible seem as we were four girls on our own, or to rush home before the imposed curfew at three o’clock. Obviously we decided the latter, although we all wanted to stay the night, but I guess after the obscene violence that occurred the next day, it was better that we had left.
As we made our way to the underground station, we walked past the old American University campus (my university and the area where I had spent the first year of my life in Egypt). To the right, near the Ministry of Interior, burnt cars were scattered. As we walked on we passed through a residential area where men were sitting at the ahwa (coffee shop), smoking shisha and talking about the revolution. As we walked past them, one man stood up and saluted us. There was an outbreak of laughter when one man thought we were foreigners. One of the girls turned round and said “tab wallah aboya men el hara el gamboko di” (I swear to you my dad is from this area), the man looked at her in shock and then said “aiwa ba’a! Tahya Masr!” (Oh yeah! Long live Egypt!)
As we approached the station, we saw a group of about fifteen impoverished people. They were pro-Mubarak protesters. As soon as they saw us, they began swearing and shouting, “ya omala! Ya khawana!” (You are spies! You are traitors!) At this point, I cannot deny I was scared. I urged the girls to ignore and walk fast, but one girl turned around and gave it to them. She told them, “look at how poor you are, why would you protest for him? He is the reason why you are so poor. I wonder how much he paid you, look at the real traitor.” I was shaking. I was convinced that these people would run after us and beat us up. But we got away safely and looking back at it now, I am glad that she addressed them.
It was half past three when we arrived in Heliopolis; the curfew had been set for half an hour. We walked up to my friend’s apartment, not knowing whether it was safer to stay the night at her place, or to try and get home. At half past four, my brother called telling me that he was going to try to pick me up. Usually, the journey from my place to Heliopolis takes half an hour. On this occasion, however, it took my brother one whole hour.
On our way home we passed through around eight civilian checkpoints, three military checkpoints and one police checkpoint. I must say I was struck by the professionalism and politeness of the military. Although they stopped and searched every vehicle, they apologized and explained that it was necessary. I arrived home after an extremely long, stressful, yet hopeful day. That night, the president announced that he would not be running for another term in the next September elections. The Million Man March had partially succeeded and we had reached a turning point in Egyptian history.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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