This is the first part of a first hand account from Cairo’s al-Rehab suburb on the fallout from the protests there.
Friday 28th January 2011
As the world counted down and prepared to set off fireworks in celebration of a new year, the Middle East was engaging in its own count down and Tunisia sparked off the first colorful explosion. On Friday 7th January, after a struggling period, the Tunisian people ousted their authoritarian dictator, Ben Ali. It seemed that the Arab peoples had made some serious resolutions for the New Year, and unlike most people, they actually intended to abide by them. All over Facebook and Twitter, people were voicing their support for the people of Tunisia and for the first time in a long time, people all over the Middle East were calling for change.
“Khaleek mashy gamb el het” (walk by the wall) and “El hetan leeha wedan” (The walls have ears) are sayings that most Egyptians grew up to. In short, from a young age, the Egyptian people have been brainwashed, taught to stay quiet, keep their heads down and be grateful for what they have been given. Having said this, if the authoritarian, military government thought that the people would stick to those rules forever, they had another thing coming. Historically, the Egyptian people have been intellectual pioneers, but with Western colonization and later, military dictation, the people were subjected to severe oppression, poverty and the denial of basic human rights. Let us not neglect that the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay were very often threatened to be sent to Egypt as punishment, meaning that the torture in Egypt is far worse than what was exercised at such an internationally condemned prison. When the main concern of the average man on the street is how he can afford to buy a loaf of stale bread to feed his family, then you know that there is something terribly wrong with the state’s system. It is the extreme poverty that many Egyptians face, that explains why the people have been so politically inactive for such a long time. But gone are those days, the people have had enough, they are fed up and will no longer stand such obscene oppression.
I am writing this article while I am sitting at home anxiously in front of the television, trying to find live coverage of the mass protests occurring. The telephone lines have been cut off, I cannot get through to anyone and the internet has been completely blocked. The fact that the government has monopolized every aspect of Egyptian life in such a way disgusts me and quite honestly, makes me feel endangered in my own home. According to BBC, the Egyptian government has issued a statement claiming that they would consider the demands of the Egyptian people so long as the demands are voiced legitimately. In a country where a state of emergency has been implemented since 1981, a country that does not allow for freedom of expression, choice and opinion, and a country where protests are illegal, HOW ON EARTH ARE THE EGYPTIAN PEOPLE MEANT TO MAKE DEMANDS LEGITIMATELY? Our heroes: the protesters, are being sprayed with water, shot at, and exposed to tear gas. As of now, all I can say is that I hope that the blood of the victims of police brutality does not trickle away in vain. I truly hope that these protests achieve positive change. I know that in ten years time, we will look back on these events with pride and gratefulness.
Saturday 29th January
The phone lines were back. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon my brother called the house telling us that some thugs were trying to enter Al Rehab City, our compound of residence. A wave of panic echoed throughout our house as my mother started screaming and crying, her eyes looked so lost. My father jumped to his feet and shouted at us, telling us to get dressed while he packed a small bag and rummaged through the drawer to get our passports, his own passport being absent, he had forgotten it in our Alexandria apartment. What shocked me the most was that I was completely calm, my heart did not beat one second faster. A moment of confusion proceeded, as I began to shout to them, telling them that I was not prepared to leave my country at such a critical time, at a time when it needed me most. I grabbed my mother’s shoulders and stared into her lost eyes and told her to calm down and assured her that all would be well and that we simply could not leave our country. By the time I had managed to calm her down, gun shots were sounded and the sheikhs in the mosques began announcing through the microphones that there were several criminals trying to enter Al Rehab City and that the security men were too small in number and not well equipped to handle the situation, they called on all men to rush to the gates of the compound and bring with them any weapons they possessed. Men ran to the streets with kitchen knives, guns, nun chucks and all. Meanwhile my mother and I began calling all contacts we had with the media, urging them to announce on television that we were in danger and that we needed the military to be dispatched in our area to aid us. Within an hour, Al Rehab was probably the safest area in Cairo, not a single criminal managed to enter our compound, all our men were on the streets armed with whatever weapons they had. That night, both my father and brother did not sleep, they were standing in the streets with the men all night, my dad holding a huge knife and my brother carrying a shoma (something resembling a baseball bat covered in leather). It was a cold night and the atmosphere was eerie. My mother and I lay in bed, trying to sleep. My mother holding a huge metal bar and myself holding a spray can of insecticide, ready to spray in the eyes of any intruder. It was a difficult night and I was grateful we managed to get through it safely.
Monday 31st January
That morning, my mother and I woke up determined to do something, we could not stay in the house and watch while our protesters were in Liberation Square and my father and brother were out in the streets protecting us. My mother called up her student, a doctor who had set up an emergency room in a mosque nearby Liberation Square, with some colleagues. He called back and told us that if we could round up a significant number of blood donors, Qasr Al Ainy Hospital would send us a team to collect blood. We left the house and began passing by all the people in the street, asking them if they were willing to donate blood. On our way, we passed by two young men, probably around my age (22), who were standing by with weapons, trying to ensure the safety of the compound’s residents. One of the men told us that if we went to the main gate of the compound, where most men were standing, that we would be able to inform as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. He got in the car with us and took us to the main gate, where I saw the most beautiful sight, a large group of young men standing in the middle of desert, encircling the entire compound, closing off all the gates. They had set up checkpoints where they were stopping each and every car and checking the vehicle and the passengers thoroughly. I felt so safe and so proud. I think if what happened in Egypt had happened in the United Kingdom, it would, on the most part, be every man for himself. But here, all the men were protecting the whole compound, they were protecting every woman, every child, and they were even protecting each other. On our way back home, we passed by the Ahmed Afify Mosque and found a huge bus that was sent by the country’s blood bank, people were already donating blood. As I stood in line with my I.D card, my mother rushed to the souk to buy juice and sweets for the blood donors. It was such a beautiful communal gathering, where everyone was standing in line waiting to donate blood for the people that needed it. Everyone was cursing Mubarak and the police. I must say though, the men were much more organized than the women! They brought plastic chairs and sat in a long line, whereas the women were standing EVERYWHERE and as usual were gossiping, although this time, they were gossiping about the government!
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
Latest posts by CME (see all)
- “Terrorist, plain and simple”? The misleading strategy behind the “terrorist” tag. – October 6, 2015
- Letter Smuggled out of Egyptian Prisons: Esraa El Taweel Speak – July 14, 2015
- We must not forget Abu-Salim – July 7, 2015