“Once and for all
the idea of glorious victories
won by the glorious army
must be wiped out
Neither side is glorious
On either side they’re just frightened men messing their pants
and they all want the same thing
Not to lie under the earth
but to walk upon it
(Roux, act 1, scene 19) Peter Weiss, The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat
8: 39 Pm Feb 1st
Was at a friend’s house, right after we had dinner where we contemplated the notion that the next day was the one year anniversary of the Camel Incident. One our friends receives a phone-call about thirty-something dead Ahly fans in the PortSaid stadium. We turn on the TV and we were greeted with horror. The Updates keep rolling in, the amount of dead, the number of injured, the parents who are calling TV shows and crying over their children that they cannot reach. Within 3 hours, the numbers death toll was released: 70-something dead, and hundreds injured. In a football match. The replayed footage showed the players getting endangered repeatedly before the attack, and the referee doing nothing. Then showed the storming of the stadium by the “Masry Fans”, with the police doing nothing to stop or block them. And then the camera goes dark.
Your brain doesn’t comprehend what happened immediately; all the while a split-screen shows Cairo Stadium with a huge fire behind it. You are informed that the Zamalek Ultras burned their banners in protest to what happened to their natural enemies & competitors, the Ahly Ultras. Natural enemies, Nemeses, in solidarity over the lives lost. Prayers and tears fill your timeline on every social network. Nobody has names, only numbers of victims. Categories. Statistics. Someone informs you that this is the second biggest disaster in football history, and the first of its kind when it comes to clashes inside the stadium. Your Brain can’t process this information, and doesn’t want to. Too many people have turned into numbers and statistics this year, and nobody has done anything about it. All you know is this: the numbers of the dead, they just keep piling up.
1: 30 am Feb 2nd
I am stuck in a meeting with 40 different political parties & “Powers” that was called for at the Wafd HQ in order to take swift action to this disaster. The Muslim Brotherhood’s party, The FJP, is notably missing. Lots of talking and arguing over what to do, but a general direction started emerging of calling the SCAF into question in Parliament, remove trust in them, create a temporary National Salvation government that has full executive powers and start the presidential election process immediately. Everybody seemed to agree on those points, given that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After all, during the tenure of the SCAF, over 2000 protesters were killed, over 7000 were injured (hundreds maimed permanently), and 16000 were thrown in military prisons for year-long sentences without due process or adequate representation, and they were entrusted with “providing security” and “guiding the transition of Egypt to a democracy that respects civil rights”. Needless to say, their management of the country has been quite terrible, and it was time for them to be removed from Power.
And then, out of the blue, Hazem Salah Abu Ismael, the salafi presidential candidate, graces us with his presence, and has a suggestion of his own to resolve the issue: Lets remove the requirement of having 30 MP’s endorse the Presidential bid of anyone who wants to run, and thus we can jumpstart the Presidential election process in order to facilitate a speedy transfer of executive Power, claiming that anything else wouldn’t be supported. Useless discussion ensued, his suggestion rejected, and the process of writing the agreed upon points in a press release commences around 2:30 am. Suddenly, the words “hold the SCAF accountable by questioning them in parliament” is exchanged with the “more powerful” –according to them- words of “Trying whomever is responsible”, and “moving the executive powers from SCAF to a National Salvation government” got changed into “the creation of a National Unity government”, because, you see, with a National Unity government you can apparently change the Minister of Defense, who is the head of SCAF, so it’s a way of doing so clandestinely, apparently (although why you would do such a thing is beyond my comprehension). Protests over the final statement were drowned by the sound of the political leaders escaping the room to read the statement in front of the TV cameras. I took the backdoor out fuming, watching the historical moment & opportunity slip away.
(Next day, during an emergency parliamentary session, the Speaker of the Parliament Saad elKatatny, of the FJP, wanted to not have a televised session, curtailed efforts to question Tantawi or the Minister of Interior, and created a fact-finding committee to investigate the incident further, and ended the session early. The Political solution was lost, possibly forever.)
4 am Feb 2nd
The Ramsis train station, where I found myself alongside with thousands of Ahly fans and family members of those who went to Portsaid. I entered the station just as the train arrived. The moment the Ahly fans stepped off the train, they were greeted with applause, but there was no celebration. They were walking out crying, with looks of shock and sadness on their faces, and then you started seeing the injured as they were being gurney-ed away. You step away from the platform and you start seeing the family members, many screaming their sons’ names, many others crying as they realize that their children did not come back. I stood there and spoke with friends who were there, and they all confirmed the story as follows: The Police was not checking the Masry fans for weapons; the moment the second half started, suddenly they suddenly found the fans storming the playground holding weapons and knives without being stopped by the Police at all; Some were stabbed, others escaped to the top of the stadium where they had to jump from it to avoid the stabbing, and the rest who tried to escape the stadium through the passageway to the exit doors found the exit door locked, and people escaping those thugs with their lives ended up causing a stampede and pushing people to be suffocated in the small hallway. 79.. dead, many of them teens who just wanted to support their team in an important game.
I decided to head home, and on my way to the car, an old man just passed by me, talking to me, talking to anybody around him, crying that his son “Abdelrahman” had called him & said he was in Portsaid with his friends. He now can’t find him, and is wondering where he went. “He called me”, he kept repeating while crying. “He called me, and now his phone is off!”
7 PM Feb 2nd.
At Mohamed Mahmoud, again, with scores of young Ahly Ultras and fans, who were headed towards the Ministry of Interior to protest the death of their friends and colleagues. Earlier that day, the news kept rolling in: The National football league was suspended, Mohamed “the Saint” Abu Treika had announced his retirement from football, alongside with fellow soccer superstars Barakat and Meteb, and lead a demonstration where he chanted against military rule and for bringing justice to the dead fans, one of which died in his own arms, and people were marching to Tahrir. So far it was only people chanting, and then suddenly the teargas started. Two Canisters were fired, one at the frontlines, and the other landed next to my feet, forcing me to jump away and fall on the floor. The escaping crowds from the front started running to the back, and I almost got stampeded by the panicking crowd if it wasn’t for a stranger that pulled me up and saved my life. I cough back to the corner of Mohamed Mahmoud and Falaky street, when I hear the growl of the first motorcycle that drove through the crowd to get whomever was injured on the frontline. Suddenly we are back in time 3 months, and we are at the Battle of Mohamed Mahmoud again, and everyone knew their role: Young People upfront hurling rocks, Police shooting expired teargas on them, and first-aid motorcycles storming in and out of the pandemonium to carry the bodies of the injured. Déjà vu. The madness, all over again. And there is nothing any one can do to stop it.
5 pm Feb 3rd (last night)
At the Falaky street Field Hospital, located in a tiny alleyway right on the corner of Falaky and Mohamed Mahmoud, where tens of victims were being aided by an exhausted young medical staff until the ambulances or a first-aid motorcycles arrive. I had woken up and practiced that horrible tradition that we all do now: Check twitter on previous night’s events, and find out how many more people got killed while I was sleeping. That morning I had taken the decision that I no longer wanted to cover the battle taking place, nor was I interested in hurling rocks at the Police; I wanted to help save those kids, because I don’t want any more to die. I was sick of all the unnecessary deaths, of all the young people who lost their lives so a bunch of 70 year olds in shiny uniforms could continue to retain their powers. The situation had escalated dramatically over night, with the Police forces shooting the protesters with shotgun shells, and birdshot victims were arriving in the dozens. I would carry the wounded into the field hospital or to the ambulances, many of which are young boys who could not be older than 18, shot and bleeding in my arms, while teargas was relentlessly being sprayed at us. In the moments when things were calm, I would check what the field hospital there and on Tahrir street would need and tweet it, and people I’ve never met in my life would show up and bring the supplies. They too were sick of all the deaths, and wanted to do whatever was in their power to help stop it or at least contain the damage. Similar protests were taking place in Suez, where four protesters were shot to death that day and many others were injured.
5 hours I spent doing this, and I walked away with two images stuck on my mind: the first was the 16 year old, with birdshots in the chest and staring vacantly in space, whom I carried bleeding to a motorcycle across the barrier.
The second was of a man standing in the middle of the street crying and screaming to no one in particular: “Now what? Where is the solution? Where is the solution?”, and received no answer.
Eleven died in the clashes since Thursday. Six in Suez and Five in Cairo. 2532 injured over the killing of 79. All were people, and now they are numbers.
Many calls were made to stop the violence, to keep those youths from protesting, but all were ignored and unanswered, naturally, and more people than ever turned against the military rule. This was it, the turning point, and no one can blame them. A year ago the whole country was filled with dreams and hopes for the future, and within the year all of these hopes and dreams were burnt to cinders. They have seen their loved ones military tried, their friends maimed and their children killed. Their sense of security has all but vanished, the fact that no change or any kind of real reform took place has left them disillusioned and bitter. And then their one source of entertainment and distraction, Football, was taken away from them as well. They are plagued with news of bank robberies, tourist kidnappings, refugees getting their organs harvested, children being kidnapped and held for ransom and now they can’t even send their children to stadiums without them getting killed. The People are fed up, and all the excuses and conspiracy talk no longer holds the test of reality. The SCAF have finally earned the wrath of the Egyptian public, which means that their days are numbered and they know it. The Joker’s Country, no more.
But have no delusions here, there is no panacea or an easy way out. This is not the original 18 days, with its romantic and inspirational happy ending; this is the sequel, with gritty realism and seas of spilled blood. News of Death has become so commonplace, that people have accepted it as reality and the price they are willing to pay for their freedom, but they still refuse to be anything but peaceful, still refuse to carry arms, and only throw rocks on the police when they attack them first. The day before yesterday an officer abandoned a Central Security truck in the middle of Talaat Harb square near Tahrir, which had about 40 CS soldiers, and fled, probably thinking (or hoping) that the protesters would torch it and kill the soldiers in them. The Protesters protected the truck, and helped the soldiers escape the scene in ambulances. Hell, a whole year without any kind of police and people were shocked, shocked I tell you, that a Bank was robbed. Those are beautiful people, and they don’t deserve the nightmare that has been thrust on them by a bunch of old generals still clinging to Power. The SCAF will be overthrown, and they will fight to their bitter end by killing as many people as possible, and more people will turn into numbers in their quest for freedom; To be treated like human beings, to not get killed by their own government (whether by negligence or design) and see neither accountability nor Justice. It never had to be this way, but the unnecessary trail of blood and dead bodies they left behind them in their merciless attempts to abort this revolution has sealed their fate. It’s only a matter of time now.
Meanwhile, the revolutionaries are walking PTSD cases. We have endured more pain, injustice and deaths in the past year than we have ever expected or bargained for. We have seen our reputation maligned, our dream destroyed and our friends and loved ones kidnapped, tortured, jailed, and killed, sometimes in front of our own eyes. All we wanted was to live in a country that had a future, where we are treated like human beings, and even that was too much for us to ask. Our existential war for dignity and freedom became a real one, and many of us were driven to the edges of insanity with all the mayhem that our lives have turned into, careers lost, ties severed, relationships destroyed, and marriages turning into divorces. An entire generation traumatized, damaged, lost, psychologically scarred and filled with guilt over the horror that got unleashed on them for demanding not to live like animals. The only thing that’s not broken is their spirit. They waver, they backtrack and suffer long episodes of self doubt, but their will remains the same. They know they will most likely not walk away unharmed, but they have resigned themselves to the price they were destined to pay. Not because they are heroes, but because they are humans, and they fully understand what that word means. It may seem to you like it’s blood for blood, but they are the first ones to tell you that it has to stop one day, and they hope that day comes sooner than later. But until that day comes, they have resigned their fate to this battle, and they will not take the easy way out and leave like many others already did. This country, and its future, is their responsibility now, and they will do whatever it takes, even it destroys them inside and out. That’s their tragedy: that they get that the numbers used to be people one day, and they will not allow them to have died in vain.
But the true tragedy of this revolution was that we were willing to forgo and forgive anything the SCAF had done in the Mubarak years, had they kept their word, started us on the road of accountability and reform, and given up power back in September as they originally stated. They didn’t, and one year later, here we are. The inevitable conclusion. They could’ve been our heroes and they chose to be Bastards, and now they will pay.