May 30, 2005

May 25, 2005: My Testimony

What I have seen and went through on Wednesday May 25th, 2005 is not something I can get off my back and move on. It is a turning point in my involvement in Egyptian politics. What is really ironic is that on this very same date, three years ago, was the beautiful memory of receiving my Masters degree from Berkeley. Now, it is a memory that I see every night in my dreams.

The front page headlines made it clear that no demonstrations from any party or group will be allowed or tolerated. Disturbing the voting process will be dealt with firmly. I drove to Zamalek and met up with a group of friends for morning coffee. I received a text message that the location of the demonstration has been moved to the Saad Zaghloul Memorial. In previous demonstrations by the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya), location was normally announced in opposition newspapers and/or on its website. The five of us took the subway to Saad Zaghloul Memorial. Once we got there, we met up with another group of four. We saw the writer Mohamed Abdel Kodous being pushed and attacked by a group of at least seven security personnel dressed in civil. Despite Kefaya’s effort to mislead the regime by changing the location in the last hour, the security forces were already surrounding a group of three or four Kefaya demonstrators. We moved around the block in order to avoid being attacked by security forces. I remember very clearly that I was breathing heavily and walking fast while looking around. We reached the location of the demonstration from the other end of the street. We saw security forces dragging several key demonstrators. I can not describe how humiliating the scene was. At least seven security personnel were beating each demonstrator while dragging him in the street. I heard one of the arrested demonstrators shouting: “yaskot Hosni Mubarak” (Down Hosni Mubarak). He was beaten, dragged like an animal to the slaughter house; still nothing could shut his voice down (Photo 1: Conducting Arrests). This is when I realized that it is going to be a violent day. Police forces were also attacking journalists to prevent them from reporting and witnessing the arrest scenes. One of the foreign reporters was shouting in sound Arabic: “You can not do this! We have a permit!” We managed to reach the few demonstrators surrounded by hundreds of riot soldiers. One of Kefaya key figures addressed the press about the arrests. There was some friction between some of us and the soldiers. The writer and novelist Sona’ Allah Ibrahim shouted in words that I remember very clearly: “I’ m Egyptian. I have the right to stand where I would like to. You can not prevent me! You can not prevent me!”
The turning point was when all of a sudden public buses and private microbuses loaded with National Democratic Party (NDP) “supporters”: A bunch of unemployed teens and youngsters supported by a handful number of goons carrying signs supporting Mubarak. The ongoing rate to show up in a demonstration is 20 Egyptian Pounds (about 3.5 US$). I remembered the headlines that I read in the morning about no demonstrations will be tolerated! It seems that NDP demonstrations are not only an exception but also they are allowed to use public buses that carry huge signs (Photo 2: Use of Public Buses) and to use the whole width of the street. On the other hand, the helpless Kefaya demonstrators were surrounded by hundreds of soldiers and confined to the sidewalk! See how the regime is unbiased! Normally, police forces would stand as a buffer between Kefaya protestors and NDP supporters to prevent violence. However, this did not happen. There were continuous attempts from the NDP gangs to get us into a fight. A middle aged and veiled woman was leading the cheering from Kefaya side got grabbed by one of the NDP goons. Like any strong Egyptian woman, she hits the guy back right on the face. I looked to her and silently said “I am proud of you!” We sang the national anthem using the Kefaya words. There was a private car parked along the sidewalk acting as a barrier that protected us from the NDP gang. Yet, they were so aggressive in their provocative attempts that some of them stood on the roof and threw stuff on us (Photo 3: Abusing Private Property). The decision has been made to change location to the Journalists Syndicate. We used cabs and once we got there we met with the leaders of the movement. We did a quick check to see how is here and who is not. We realized we are missing one important person and one of my best friends. We called her and she told us that she and few others were trapped in a pharmacy surrounded by the NDP goons. We asked one of the leaders of Kefaya to send some help. He ran some phone calls and assured us that there was already someone there for help. Few moments later we went out of the building. George Ishaak, Kefaya spokesperson, announced the harsh facts of arrests and women sexual harassments to the international press. We were still surrounded by hundreds of riot soldiers and tens of high ranking officers. The same scene that happened at Saad Zaghloul Memorial was repeated again. Gangs of teenagers and goons showed up on the scene walking in the middle of the street with no intervention by the police. They come closer to the syndicate building. They started climbing the outside stairs of the building with no single state police person moving the tiniest finger. Clashes took place. The NDP goons would drag one of Kefaya supporters, beat him up, and threw him back (Photo 4: Beating). The scene was getting tense by the minute. The syndicate security would not let anyone in anymore. Something I totally understand. They did not know who is who. We found ourselves trapped between the syndicate building, the police riots soldiers, and the goons of the NDP. There was no way out except going through either the soldiers or the goons. The attacks continued on us and we kept on retreating (Photo 5: Kicking). The guys surrounded the girls to prevent any further sexual attacks. We did a quasi circle waiting for an exit somewhere. A couple of veiled girls came out of the NDP crowd shouting and crying: ”Leave me alone! Do not touch me!” We managed to get them within our circle. Someone shouted that they will let us in again in the building. We ran holding each others hands as if we found a rescue boat in the middle of a raging sea. Unfortunately, it was a false alarm. We returned to our circle formation. Someone else came and said the police will protect us and let us out. We followed the lead. We are helped by a police officer to go down a ramp (Photo 6: The Way Out). I breathe out with content. The police are going to protect us! After going down the ramp, we were kept in a 4m by 5m garage entrance. Once we got there and left the scene for the NDP gang, they started to shout: “Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!” as if we were a foreign occupying army and they managed to kick us out of the country! I discovered that we are still surrounded: walls from behind us and police riots soldiers in front of us. Some of people from behind me started to shout angry words at police officers. They thought that the police had gathered us to arrest us. I began to prepare myself for being arrested. Friction started to arise again. A police officer shouted at us to calm down and he promised that we were here so that he would get us out. He said that he was doing that bearing the full responsibility. I looked to him in the eyes and asked: “Will you get us out?” and he said “Yes, I will. I am just waiting for things to calm down.” I trusted him and asked others to be patient and calm. The officer then declared that he will start by getting the girls first. Few girls went out through the police barriers. Others shouted: “No! We will remain with the guys!” One of my female friends held my arm closely. She had more experience with the Egyptian police than me. She understood that they are getting the girls out so that they can either beat up the guys or arrest them. We remained trapped and our only hope were the promises of the police officer. All of a sudden, we saw an organized movement in the soldiers’ position. They were retreating and removing some metal barriers that stood between us and the NDP gang. I looked around for the officer with promises. I find him away from us and his promises. The NDP goons approached us under the supervision and blessings of the state police. I hold my friend’s hand and tell her: “We are not going to be arrested! We are going to be beaten!” One of the NDP goons gave us a patronizing look and asked with sarcasm: “Since you are all that cowards, why do you come to demonstrations?!” A man trapped with us used his cell phone and calls someone shouting: “We are trapped! We are trapped! They are going to beat us!” His shouts were the pretext they used to start beating us (Photo 7: Beating us).We retreated trying to go through the police forces. As if our instinct was driving us to what is normally the protector of citizens in a society. Alas, we were wrong! I saw a high ranking officer shouting to the riot soldiers: “Nobody moves! Do not let them out!” (Photo 8: The High Ranking Officer). I recall precisely my feelings of disappointment and deceive in the state police. I did not hesitate and I pushed my friend through the soldiers who, for some reason, felt sorry for us and created a small gap from which we managed to escape. We were only three that found this gap. Others remained behind. I told my friend: “Run! Run!” We start running. Someone come close to us and grabed her and the third person and started beating them while shouting: “You sons of bitches! You do not like Hosni Mubarak!” I returned and pulled my friend out and we started running again towards the streets of downtown Cairo. We reached a commercial area. I called the people who remained behind and there was no answer. I kept on trying till I got the answer with a sad tone: “We got out!” We separated. Each of us took a cab. We met again in Zamalek. All the sad faces gathered around a table. We shared few words. We tried to crack some jokes. I tried to connect to the web using my laptop to see if news agency managed to report the events. I could not. We ran some phone calls to make sure everyone is safe. I started my drive back to Heliopolis. On the 6th of October bridge, I saw an officer stopping some cars. I felt the fear inside me. It was just a traffic officer organizing the flow on the crowded bridge. I returned home. I took a 45 minutes shower. While showering, I heard my sister shouting over a movie on TV. I panicked. Then, I realized that fear has taken over me. I breathed and breathed to get the fear out. I tried to sleep but I could not. I went out to meet friends. While driving, I looked into people's faces, everything was still the same. It was me who had changed.

Note: I did not take any of the photos associated with this testimony. They were take by people who witnessed the same events and were courageous enough to carry a camera and shoot. I salute them.

Photo 1: Conducting Arrests

This is how the state police arrests someone whose only crime is that he wants to speak out and say no. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 2: Use of Public Buses

The government provided the NDP gang with public buses while it prevented Kefaya demonstrators from stepping outside the sidewalk. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 3: Abusing Private Property

President Mubarak always warned that demonstrators who abuse private or public property will be arrested. I guess he forgot to say that the goons of his party are an exception. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 4: Beating

One supporter being beaten while another supporter trying to save him. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 5: Kicking

The poor guy! All he wanted was the freedom of speech. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 6: The Way Out

Sliding our way out with the help of a policer officer; the same officer who promised to get us out. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 7: Beating Us

The trap: the garage entrance. Return to My Testimony Posted by Hello

Photo 8: High Ranking Officer

The protector of civil rights and citizens shouted to his soldiers: "Do not move!" Return to My TestimonyPosted by Hello

May 29, 2005


While flying out of Cairo, I recalled words from discussions that I had during my visit.

“el balad ma’bash lihha saheib” A judge. The closest translation is that things are getting loose.

“In a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration, 400 can be arrested out of thousands. In a liberals or leftists demonstration 400 can show up.” A demonstrator.

“No 90 octane gasoline!” A gas station attendant.

“If free elections were to take place, the Muslim Brotherhood will gain 30% of the parliament seats”. A political analyst.

“Diplomats represent Egypt not the Egyptian government.” A diplomat.

“The Egyptian political opposition is still in its infancy, yet it is moving. The stagnant water is starting to shake.” A political science professor.

“None of the parties have the environment on their agenda!” Director of an environmental rights advocacy NGO.

“The king of spade will now lose!” A friend during a cards game.

“Mrs. Aisha has been relocated to another office far away from where she lives because her boss did not like her.” A government employee in the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“You need to make reservations before you come!” Manager of a car repair shop.

“We have wireless internet in our café.” A waiter.

“Why do you want to vote? He is going to win anyway!” An employee in the voters’ registration office.

"I let her pass because she is a foreigner. You have to go the other way." A traffic soldier in Tahrir Square.
“She is homesick to a place that does not exist anymore!” A friend of mine commenting on the main character of Ahadaf Soueif’ Map of Love.

“They touched me all over!!” A female friend telling me about her experience in the May 25th, 2005 demonstrations.

"I 'm physically ok." Me when asked how am I doing on May 25 evening.
“The summer is starting early!” My mother.

I pause my reflections for a second to listen to the air hostess talking about her stay in Egypt to the passenger sitting next to me:
“We have been asked to remain in our hotel rooms for security reasons”
I think more deeply about my home visit. The only words that kept on oscillating in my mind were: humiliation, despair, sadness, and anger.

I returned to my apartment in Montreal. I felt safer in Durocher Street than in Hussein El Marsafi Street. This is when I felt that I am loosing home. I check my email and I find the words of the poet Kamel El Shinawi in a friend’s message:
“I do not complain.
Complaining is bowing,
And the pulse of my veins is pride”
انا لا أشكو، ففى الشكوى إنحناء
و أنا نبض عروقى كبرياء
This is when I felt that I have to fight to get it back.

Egypt, here is my pledge to you:
This is not the end, this is just the beginning.