*Those incidents took place a week ago, when I went to that protest. The fact that I didn't write about them until now is a testament to how busy I am. Apologies for that!*
"Why are you doing this?", my friend S asked me. "Why are you, of all people, going to today's protest?"
I looked at her silently for a second, as if I am not able to comprehend the question. What exactly did she mean by "you of all people"? And then I rememberd, yeah, flaming Libertarian going to a solidarity with workers' protest. Yeah, I guess that should raise some eyebrows.
I looked at her and said: "Well, because I am a capitalist, babe. Those people worked, and they deserve their getting their pay. That's all there is to it.", and she looked at me and shrugged, as if saying, "I think what you are doing is stupid!".
Yeah, You are probably right, I thought to myself. But then again, I wasn't totally honest about my answer. What I said was a truth, but not the whole truth. But I wasn't going to explain now. It was almost 9 m, and my ride was here.
It's time to embark on some civil disobedience.
We, me and M., arrive at the Parking lot right next to the AUC. That's the rendez-vous point with Gimmy , H., her boy, and whomever else was coming to this thing. M. and H. were dressed in jeans and male shirts, looking like female british factory workers. I guess if you are a capitalist chick going to a worker's protest, this is what You wear.
The news we heard so far wasn't very comforting: The Talaat Harb square is , again, a War Zone. Police Cars everywhere, plainclothed police Officers lining up the streets, and everybody is afraid to start the protest by themselves. For the life of me, I do not understand their insistence on always protesting in either Tahrir Square, Talaat Harb square or the Press Syndicate. I persoanlly don;t get it. Why not have a protest in Heliopolis? Or Dokki? Or Maadi? Why always Downtown? God knows the State security knows how to completely control the area and squash the protests with ease now. It almost feels like folly. Like we are children and we are about to play Police and Protesters. Where we playing today boys? The Talaat Harb Playground? Fantastic. Let's all go to Al Borsa Cafe after it's all over and talk about how we managed to waste the last few hours, while smoking cheap Shisha. Yeah!
I call Nora to see where she is, and she informs me that she is in the Ghad Party headquarters, an apartment in a Building in Talaat Harb sqre, and that they are having "inside the apartment Protest". The Police is standing in front of the building's door and are letting people in, but not letting them out. So, what now? We decide to go anyway, but we had to wait a couple of minutes cause a bunch of other people were coming first. In the meantime, Gimmy starts mock wailing while holding his cellphone: "Nawarah, this is not the time for this stuff". I ask him what's up, and he shows me a text message she sent to his Phone: " 'Peacefull protests are the best way to neutralize causes and trick the people' Malcom X.- I fear for every one of you, because you are doing something no one else is doing and you have no one covering your backs but GOD!"
At that moment 3 other guys passed by and shook hands with Gimmy, and stood with us, also seemingly going to the Protest. Someone pointed at one of them and told me that this was "Egyptian Leftist"- the guy who designed this greeting – and he was in the classic egyptian half sarcastic, half Jovial mode, informing us that 4 people were arrested already for this protest. I asked him which group they belonged to, and he tells me "The Ghad Party".
To which I respond, mischievously, "Good riddance", and he laughs and says : "Absolutely. If anyone is to be arrested, let them be the capitalist liberals."
At that moment I extend my hand to him and say "We haven't met before. Hi, I am the Sandmonkey!" He looks at me for a second, and then starts laughing immediacy, says"That's you? Been wanting to meet you for a while now!" and shakes my hand, without a hint of hostility.
This is gonna be fun!
The atmosphere is tense as we are heading out to Talaat Harb Square. Gimmy is very much a “usual suspect” with a very known face to the Downtown Police. We kept teasing him and asking him to walk 3 meters away from us so when the Police arrests him, they wouldn't arrest us as well, to which he runs towards us and hugs me laughingly saying, "No, not getting arrested alone". And as if the Gods wanted to test us, I get a text message from Nora that asks me to pick up Salma from the place close to Talaat Harb square. Now Salma is another very very known face, and walking with Gimmy and Salma is like wearing a sign saying" arrest me now!". Oh fuck it. What difference will it make, right? So, once we all arrive to Talaat Harb square, me and Gimmy split from the group and go get Salma, who was at a Candy store with a female friend and this tall bald dude with glasses, who looked like a walking foriegn journalist cliche. We walk with them to Talaat harb and the police, once they see them, completely ignore Salma and Gimmy and pounce on the Journalist looking guy, telling him to get out of here and pushing him away. Salma immediately starts fighting with the Policeman, trying to pry his arm off the bald dude, which in turn made more policemen gang up on them. I froze in my place, looking at the scene and not doing anything.
Someone besides me asks me "We are not gonna do something?".
Without turning around, I hear myself saying "I don't plan on getting arrested today, do you? No? Then keep still. We don't want to give them any excuse for them to use violence against us."
The Police wasn't arresting the three though. The Police simply was pushing them away from Talaat Harb. The Talaat Harb protest wasn't gonna happen. They were pushing the people away from the square. I look at Gimmy and ask him: "The Press syndicate?"
He sighs, shakes his shoulders and says: "Yeah, guess so!".
And we head out there.
The Scene at the Press Syndicate is the same as every protest: A hundred people standing on the stairs, the Police has barricades surrounding them, and are letting people in but not letting them out. The usual Kefaya players are also there: Oh Look, there is George Ishac, and here is Kammal Khalil. The Kefaya Theathre group doing an encore of their favorite show. As I walk in I realize how many of the old players are not there: Alaa and Manal are in Italy, Sharqawy, Malek, Droubi and the Brothers Gharbeia were nowhere to be found (they probably had better things to do), Hossam is in California, Elijah is somewhere between Bangkok and Hanoi, and Issandr is god knows where. Even the foreign journalists have changed, and all the old crew is gone and replaced by newbies. Egypt is no longer news worthy, and our cause is now almost forgotten.
The Protest goes on, and gets bigger and with every moment I miss my favorite Marxist Trotskite revolutionary more, so I decide to call him in Cali and keep him updated. There was news after all: A Lebanese journalist named Jano Charbel got arrested, which I found out later was Hossam's friend and neighbor. There were also rumors that some guy in Mahalla got shot and killed by the Police, but no one could confirm it. I was more distracted by the presence and arrival of 2 ambulance cars and a firefighting truck. I started harboring hopes we might get hosed. Now that should be interesting, I think to myself as I am sitting on the stairs and resting my back on the wall of the syndicate. And for a second there, you get the appeal of the place. This is our Freedom Zone. This is the place we get to scream and shout and exercise our rights of free speech. I decide to get into the spirit of things and start chanting and clapping with the rest of the protesters.
No wonder they need to confine us to this place, freedom of speech is infectious.
Gimmy came over accompanied by a dutch journalist and introduced her to me. We shake hands, and she asks if she can ask me a few questions, and I agree. This is how it went:
Z: So, you shut down the blog for a long time because the Police was after you, right?
Me: Well, that was a reason for why I shut it down, that's true.
Z: Yet you opened it again last month. What happened? They stopped harassing you?
Me: Well, things were quiet for the first few month, and I decided to move on and get involved in a couple of other projects. But around the last week of august I got a phone call from my father, asking me why a man in a suit came over and asked our doorman questions about me. Questions regarding if they see me here often, where I work now, stuff like that. The guy told the doorman that he is asking those questions because I was being "considered for a very prestigious position" and they wanted to do background checks on me. This, of course, is bullshit. They were snooping around me , again, when I didn't do anything and completely "behaved" myself for the past few months. So I figured, I am damned either way, so fuck it, I will blog again.
Z: Ok, so what brings you to this protest? This is not usually your scene.
(Why does everyone keep asking me that?)
Me: Well, part of it is because I believe the workers are right. They are owed money and they didn't get paid for over a year, so they have every right to protest the way they are. But that's not the full reason. The reality is, I haven't gone to a single protest ever since the constitutional amendments one, and you know how horrible that one was. And it has gotten worse ever since that day. Ayman Nour is still in Prison, the brothers Sadat are all out of the Parliament, Saad el Deen Ibrahim is all but virtually exiled out of the country, with the Egyptian government sending him a message using the american ambassador Riccardione to tell him that Egypt isn't safe for him anymore, and now we have 4 editors in chief of independent anti-Mubarak newspapers who are facing trial and jail sentences. And NOBODY CARES. We are pretty much heading towards a very dark period, so I came today to see if there is a glimmer of hope left, and be a part of it. Cause, what else is there to do?
Two hours had passed, it was around mindnight, and the Protest had grown in numbers, partially because more people were coming in to join, and partly because the Police wasn't letting anybody out. We started joking that we will spend the night on the stairs, and have our Sohour here. I started taking a poll, asking people if they feel like ordering Food Delivery. We figured we will call Gad for Falafel sandwiches, since it's Ramadan and all. I even went to the guards and asked them if they would allow the passage of food to us, since it seems we are gonna be here till tomorrow and we might need to have a sohour cause it's Ramadan and all. The Police soldiers laughed and said they would let the food pass, no problem. Sweet.
Just as we are actually preparing to take the order, we noticed that the Police was starting to let some people out, but the majority of which were carrying kids. I had seen some of them coming in with children and I didn't get it at first, and now I did. They bring the children with them, so that they can use them as an excuse to get out. Unfuckinbelievable. Anyway, more people were alerted that they were allowing some people to exit, so they started moving towards the exit as well, and the entire situation became intensely crowded, with the people pushing and shoving each other, and the Police letting like 3 people out every 5 minutes, enjoying how much we are pushing and shoving each other every time in adjustment.
I was leading the way, and when the door finally opened to let some people out, a woman cried that she is suffocating. So getting her out became a priority, so I also screamed that we have girls and pushed M and H to the front, so they all got out and the door closed again for another 5 minutes. Ignoring the guy who was elbowing me and the 3 trying to push me against the barricade, I could see M and H talking to the police Officer and pointing at us. Then the door opened again, and they pointed at me and told me to get out. So I pushed my away out, knowing that Gimmy is right behind me, to find them closing the opening in his face. The Police Officer pointed at him and said: "Anybody but him. He kicked me in an earlier protest. Don't let him out".
I went and spoke to the ranking Police Officer ( a different one), imploring him to open the gate to let the rest of our group out. He told me that I can point at them and let only 3 out. I agreed. As I was about to chose the rest of my group, including Gimmy, the police Officer said "On one condition. Not that one" pointing at him. Looking at him, I muttered "I am sorry", and started pointing my friends out. Suddenly everybody knew my name and started shouting at me to choose them to get out as well, so I started pulling everybody that I could out, bringing out 8 people instead of 3 until the Police removed me and shut the gate again. The Officer looked at me and said : "I said only 3", to which I responded "yeah, but they are all my friends and its Ramadan. Happy Ramadan to you", so he shooed me away, and told me to start moving or else we will all get arrested for real. So we started walking towards the side street we came from, grouping together the original group with the extras I pulled out. The three of them knew Gimmy. We started debating what we should do, so I decided to call him and found him answering: "Yes, they let me out. I am coming right now!". So we told him where we were, and when I started seeing his sillouhette coming towards us I started running towards him, except that he wasn't answering my calls. Instead he was starting to move faster, almost running, and pointed towards me with his hand to stay away.
And then he suddenly broke into sprint and went into a side street…
…and then I noticed 4 other big men that were behind him, who suddenly started sprinting and ran behind Gimmy as well.
Gimmy was being chased!
I ran towards the group, telling them to start moving. They asked me "What's wrong? Where did Gimmy Go?"
"He ran this way. He is being chased by 4 plainclothed police officers", I respond.
"But why? They let him out!" M. said.
"So that they can beat him up later away from the media." One of the three joining us said. He then looked at his two buddies and said, "Let's go after them, to make sure he is ok!" and they started running towards that side street, and then stopped suddenly, when they saw a gorup of girls they knew, and started chatting with them. Probably telling them heroic stories about the protest they just got out of. The rescue Gimmy Calvary got shut down by a 3 protester groupies. The Kid was on his own.
"Let's run and get the car", I said to M. as I started pulling her away with me.
"What the fuck are they doing? Is this the time to pick up chicks? Weren't they gonna.."
"Well, they saw a chance to score Punanni and they took it over helping their friend M. Ok? We are gonna have to get him. So LET'S RUN."
She looked at me for one second and then she started sprinting, and I am with her and the rest of the group behind us. I call Gimmy, and ask him for his location. We agree to rendez-vous at Talaat Harb square again, because its crowded and they wouldn't be able to secretly beat him up there. Not to mention, numbers in strength. In 3 minutes we bumped into him and I look for the 4 guys and I don't see them. He lost them. Relief washes over me, but we are not out of the woods yet, so we immediately head to the cars to go home. On the way there, Gimmy gets a phone call from the 3 guys who were supposed to come to his rescue, asking him how he is doing and if he was ok. They then asked him if he wanted to join them at the Borsa Cafe, cause everybody who was in the protest is there.
God I hate Downtown activists!
Two days later, the Mahalla strike was over. The workers were victorious. A settlement with the state-owned company was reached, and they were going to get paid their rightfully acquired salaries and profit shares. The moment the news broke out that the Mahalla workers got their rights, 2 other workers Protests broke out in Domyat and Tanta. The workers saw that this government , for the first time ever, responds to pressure, and they are taking full advantage of the opportunity. Good for them.
Yeah, we are heading towards some seriously dark days, but glimmers of hope still exist!