When Hope Dies, Nothing Blooms in that Land


A generation of youth laying their friends to rest
A generation of mothers with an empty nest

A story about Egypt, and its struggle for hope
A story of millions defying the tightening rope

The struggle for Freedom, Dignity and Bread
About the punishment they got instead

Take Alaa for example who got sentenced 15 years
For being moved to revolt against torture and tears

Thousands of others also, to prison were sent
A handful of supporters protesting wherever they went

Others gave up and they carry the shame
Because the search for freedom…… was done in their name

They’ll squint and say “I’ve seen you’re face before
But they’re so many of you taken, I’ve lost the score”

Those ‘taken’ are strong now with a mission inside
They’re a window to the misconduct authorities try to hide

Slowly but surely stories behind bars are coming out
And you need to keep listening to what this is all about

Loss of physical freedom to become an independent voice
To those on the other side kept in, against their choice

The stories of torture and wrongful detention
Of people ‘too insignificant’ to grab your attention

Till its one of your own who gets dragged by the mob
Until it’s of your loved ones that you get robbed

I understand your desperate need to glorify the army
But their songs and flowers just don’t charm me

From virginity testing to death by beats
From promising not to, but running for presidency seats

From crushing Christian sisters to gassing Muslim brothers
Forcing you to take allegiance to justify violence against the other

Yes I’m talking of the barbaric handling of Rab3a and Maspero
When did the villain ever become your hero?

I’m talking of a generation that solemnly fought
That were betrayed by their protectors but kept afloat

If you’re not part of the revolution don’t be part of the betrayal
Don’t give in to the oppressors and join those who hail

Of course it’s not easy to keep fighting but that’s the cost
which we must pay for years of silence that we’ve lost

Those still fighting for tomorrow have reason to believe
And yes change will come, no, no that’s not naive

It’s a struggle for justice, one that will continue
Thousands of heroic sacrifices that can’t but win you

Of course it’s a long rough journey, yes, I understand
But when hope dies, nothing blooms on that land.

A Letter to Alaa in Prison, Where he is Free


Dear Alaa,

“To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” Gandhi. And so I will start my letter again,

My dear, honest friend, Alaa

I am writing this letter to thank you and to apologise to you.

I attended a workshop in Bristol last year. One of the professors speaking referred to you as a “problem” for new regimes that came into power in Egypt. They used you as an example of a “new type of youth”, one the repressive governments could not buy nor silence with power or promises of personal gain. I felt so proud at that moment. You were never one that trod on blood that was not given time to dry. You lived the expression of your understanding and conviction that innocent blood would not dry except with accountability, quick justice and with plans on how more blood would not be shed in the name of any flag or any religious book. It is with pride that you should know that this stand you take is not unnoticed, that it resonates in many consciousness’s as a reference point and that you have constructed in your own fight, a truth about what freedom and justice should be by taking this position. Rare are the opportunities to meet someone who is that brave, I do not take that for granted.

I am holding on to the image of you walking around in large groups during Tweet Nadwa giving the microphone to those who had gathered for a chance to have their dreams aired and heard and respected. You handed them in that microphone a tool of expression; literally and practically giving a voice to those who are often ridiculed for what others may call utopian dreams or naïve solutions to life’s complex problems. I hold that image of you because only when I saw how scared of you they were did I realise the power of what you were doing was. The value of that walking around in public spaces celebrating the agency and potential of your equals was a threat to the fragility of those who rule by terror and manipulation. It only made sense that they would try and find any way they could to put you in their cages, believing – foolishly – that those metal bars could keep in the value, the importance, the power, the affect of what you were trying to do. They thought, foolishly that they could imprison the ideas in your head that spread to us like dandelion heads every time they so much as walked past you or your cell.

Often, those who support my work, will attack me if I show discontent at a violation of the rights of someone with whom they, or indeed I, do not sympathise, as if rights were or should be reserved only for those with whom we associate. This often demoralized me and made me feel I was lucky to have an option not to be in Egypt, that I had the option to call another land “home”. But the idea that you represented, the philosophy that’s embodied in what you fight for, is part of what bought me back. The possibility of “fair”, or a collaborative “I”, that had to come together, gave me hope. I needed that the determination to work with the most vulnerable at home, my street kids. The justice and equal opportunity that I felt would come if everyone really heard, really understood, really lived what you were saying, was worth returning for. You made me feel that people at “home” understood the underlying values of equality, access to opportunity, freedom, dignity, integrity, they were free and so were asking for their freedom. It is people like you who gave people like me, with something to offer, no matter how big or small, the chance of coming back and offering it despite it not being profitable, not being progressive in a capitalist way.

I am incredibly humbled by your strength, by your determination and by the honour with which you live to remain true too your fundamental principles. I see how you are never compromising, never meeting an oppressor half way, never being silenced in the guise of neutrality. I admire that you are always taking sides – always – with the oppressed; no matter who that was because it was – always – the principle, not the idea, not the person, not the situation, that mattered to you. The abstract notions of justice and integrity that many construct in ways that suit them, were clearly well grounded and defined as far as you were concerned and I write now to reassure you that all those lessons are in my and many other hearts and continue to inspire us and give us hope. Hope is not a gift that is to be taken for granted in the world in which we live. It is the idea that is embodied in all those things that you do; which bought me back to my “home” country, it’s principles and potential like yours that kept me going was I worked with the street children.

Your family are incredibly lucky that they have you to support the remarkable work they have done, both in and out of prison. I was not surprised when I first found out that Ahdaf Sueif was your auntie. She had been my role model since I first picked up her book in 1992. I was only 12 at the time, and her message of merging the public and private, making the private political, has stayed with me 20 years on. I wanted to grow up and be like her. Then, one day, in a march for Michael Nabil, a lost cause in Egypt at the time, I found myself walking next to her, chanting for the freedom of someone whose ideology we both were not only unsympathetic towards, but fundamentally opposed to; both of us taking sides against the oppressor despite having nothing in common with the victim. I cannot begin to describe my euphoria in that moment. Mona and Sana are also incredible in what they do and when anyone compares my passion for street children with Mona’s work for her civilians tried in military courts, I am humbled beyond words. Your parents must be so proud of you all. It is true in your case that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.

Thank you for fighting the battle long before people had an avenue to express their opinions. Years before the squares and streets welcomed this generations protests you were out there fighting for freedom and getting punished for it. Thank you for the times you grew up without the presence of your own father because he was doing the same thing. Thank you for not being silenced, for being more than you had to be and making it like that was the only way to be. Thank you for not giving up and reminding me that abandoning the cause was an option, but one we did not have to take and one; which you refused even though you had so much to lose. Thank you for being and living the thing that you believed in.

And as I have said right at the beginning of this letter, I am also writing to apologise. I apologise, not only for not being in that cell with you since I share almost all of the ideas that you are in there for. I do not just apologise because you are missing out on so many “first times” your only son is performing without you cheering him on. I do not only apologise for every morning you are not waking up with Manal in your arms. But I am apologising because so many cathartic moments I have lived, have come as a result of all that has made you physically behind bars. My only consolation is that you are truly free, freer than the wildest birds could ever hope to be. And those things you say break inside you every time you are in prison, they are nothing more than the shell that reveals the next layer, the shiner, more refined spirit that brings about hope as soon as it is let go.

I watched a video of you saying that your greatest fear is to grow old one day and look back and see that the results of what you have done would bring sorrow and not joy. Fear not ya Alaa, because that will never be. What is happening now should not dishearten you, or me or anyone else. The truth is, the closer we get to justice, the clearer and purer the concept of justice is, and because of that, our struggle for it increases and the harder our fight becomes.

I am humbly your inspired, grateful and hopeful friend,


کودکان خیابانی در میدان تحریر :نویسنده نلی علی /ترجمه آزاده ارفع

خیلی از کودکان خیابانی دقیقاً می دانند که تو چه چیزی می خواهی از آنها بشنوی. به تو نگاه می کنند؛ سخنانی بر لب می آورند که به دلت بنشیند ؛ در یک چشم به هم زدن داستانی را برایت نقل می کنند که برای شنیدنش به آن جا آمدی . آنها خیلی زیرک هستند. این راز بقای آن هاست.

یادم میاد خبرنگاری به من گفت که چگونه از حرف های یک دختر بچه خیابانی حیرت زده شده است. دختر مورد بحث به خبرنگار گفته بود به تظاهرات خیابانی ژانویه 2011 پیوسته زیرا خواهان دگرگونی های سیاسی و اجتماعی در کشور است. من دختری را که خبرنگار مزبور درباره اش صبحت می کرد می شناسم . برای او دگرگونی سیاسی معنائی ندارد به این دلیل ساده که اصولا» درکی از معنای دگرگونی سیاسی ندارد.من ماه هاست که این دخترها را می شناسم. آشنائی ام نه یک آشنائی کوتاه نیم ساعته برای انجام مصاحبه بلکه آشنائی طولانی است. هنگامی که می رقصند برایشان کف می زنم، هنگامی که در گروه درمانی صحبت می کنند با علاقه به حرف هایشان گوش می دهم، با آن ها مشترکا» به داستان ها و اتفاقات خیابان می خندیم و هنگامی که به خود شان آسیب می رسانند، زخم هایشان را پاک می کنم. من با آن ها به طور واقعی زندگی کرده ام و به همین علت احساس کردم می توانم از «تکرید» یکی از دختران خیابان به پرسم که آن ها واقعا» برای چه به میدان ها می روند.

دو نفری در لاک مصاحبه کننده و مصاحبه شونده رفتیم: «تکرید» با خوشحالی دستگاه ضبط mp3 را در دست گرفت، آن را روشن کرد، و از این که می تواند کمی بعد افکار خود را دوباره بشنود سرشوق آمد. از من خواست برایش یک دستگاه ضبط مشابه بخرم تا خاطرات روزانه خود را در آن ضبط کند زیرا نه خواندن بلد است و نه نوشتن. پس از آن، من در موقعیت مصاحبه قرار گرفته و دختر چهار ماهه او را در آغوش گرفتم ؛ نوزادی که تنها چیزی که یادگرفته لبخند زدن است.

هر کس داستان های دختربچه های خیابانی را از من شنیده بلافاصله گفته من لابد باید خیلی قوی باشم که توانسته ام زندگی با آن ها را تجربه کنم و به داستان هایشان گوش بدم. هر بار که من این داستان ها را می شنوم از لبخند های این نوزادان آه از نهادم بر می آید. آری، هیچ چیز به اندازه این لبخندها قلب مرا به درد نمی آورد. تاب بستن لبخند برگرد لب های این نوزادان ، بزرگترین تجلی نابرابری میان ما می باشد، نشان از آن دارد که در آغاز این لبخند ها به طور دردناکی شبیه هم هستند، اما در ادامه برخی از این لبخندها ارزش بی همتائی پیدا می کنند زیرا زندگی با همه قدرت در صدد درهم شکستن آن ها بر می آید و لذا از آن ها جز یک لبخند، هیچ چیز دیگری باقی نمی ماند.

«تکرید» شروع به صحبت کرد ودر باره انقلاب گفت ؛ درباره این که چگونه کودکانی که در میدان «رامسس» (Ramses) می خوابیدند به میدان تحریر نقل مکان کردند. او این نقل و انتقال را به عنوان یک مهاجرت توصیف کرد. تو گوئی تکه زمین سبزی- که سبز هم نیست ولی قاعدتا» باید سبز باشد- که بر روی آن گذران می کنند شهری است که به آن ها تعلق دارد؛ شهری با شهروندان کودک، کودکانی فاقد شناسنامه، فاقد سرپناه، فاقد خانواده بیولوژیک ومحروم از حمایت.

«تکرید» می گوید روزی یکی از کودکان دوان دوان به نزد آن ها در میدان «رامسس» آمد و خبر داد که میلیون ها نفر در میدان تحریر جمع شده اند. دو نفر از کودکان خیابانی که با هم ازدواج کرده بودند( ازدواج و تشکیل خانواده در میان کودکان خیابانی از سن چهارده سالگی شروع می شود و با آنچه که ما با آن آشناییم تفاوت دارد) تصمیم می گیرند که این فرصت بزرگ برای دزدیدن تلفن های موبایل را از دست ندهند.او هنگامی که به این جا رسید خنده اش گرفت و گفت باید دید که عکس العمل خبرنگاران درباره دلائل واقعی رفتن بخشی از کودکان خیابانی به میدان(تحریر) چه خواهد بود.

در ادامه اضافه کرد: البته همه بچه ها برای دزدی به آن جا نرفتند. این را برای خنده گفتم! مدت ها مردم به ما می گفتند که خیابان بد است و ما باید خیابان ها را ترک کنیم. اما به یکباره همه به خیابان ها ریختند، به میدان تحریر ریختند بنابراین ما هم از میدان «رامسس» به میدان تحریر نقل مکان کردیم.مردمی که آنجا بودند با ما صحبت می کردند، به ما غذا می دادند، با ما شوخی می کردند و برخی نیز تلاش داشتند به ما خواندن و نوشتن یاد دهند. ما حتی در آن جا در کنار کسانی که بوی خوب از بدن شان به مشام می رسید، خوابیدیم. ما هم به آن ها کمک کردیم. وقتی که غذا تمام می شد ما به آنها می گفتیم که از کجا می توانند ارزان ترین غداها را تهیه کنند. ما به آنها بهترین راه فرار از پلیس را نشان می دادیم. برای این که بازی آتاری (Atari) بازی مورد علاقه ما می باشد.از قیافه من متوجه شد که این جا را درست نفهمیده ام و توضیح داد : ما به ماشین پلیس آتاری می گوئیم و تمام روز در حال دویدن و مخفی شدن از آن ها هستیم .ولی برای همه ما روشن شد که پلیس میدان تحریر با پلیسی که ما می شناختیم متفاوت است ؛ آن ها وقت شان را با دودیدن به دنبال ما تلف نمی کنند؛ آن ها راستی راستی شلیک می کنند.

داستان ها و تحلیل های او در باره آن چه که کودکان خیابانی را به میدان تحریر کشید مغرضانه نبود.همه دلایل ، حتی دزدی تلفن های موبایل برای من قابل فهم بود و من همه این ها را با این واقعیت ارتباط می دادم که تازه شرو ع کرده بودم به شناختن کودکان خیابانی.

با این وصف، پس از سپری شدن دو سال، پاسخ کودکان خیابانی در باره این که چرا در انقلاب شرکت کردند، مرا شوکه کرد. کودکان درحال صحبت با همکار من عادل بودند؛ کسی که در هجده سال گذشته زندگی خود را وقف کار با کودکان خیابانی کرده بود. او به پائین نگاه کرد و به من گفت که نحوه صحبت این ها(کودکان) تغییر کرده و او نمی داند که چه کسی با بچه ها صحبت کرده است ولی قطعاً کسی بوده که با او تفاوت دارد. بچه ها در حالی که شیشه های کوکتل مولوتف در دستشان بود از کنار عادل دویده و از او می پرسیدند» زندگی من چه ارزشی داره؟ من می خوام مثل یک شهید بمیرم ، بطوری که خدا تمام اعمالی بدی را که در این دنیا انجام دادم بر من ببخشه. من می خوام بمیرم برای اینکه معنایی به زندگی ام بدم چرا که زندگی من هیچ معنایی نداره. من می خوام بمیرم تا تمام مردمی که در میدان تحریر هستند در باره من صحبت کنن و در مراسم تشیع جنازه من شرکت کنن. من می خوام بمیرم تا کسانی به یاد من باشند و قیافه مرا بر روی دیوارها نقاشی کنند. بابا من دیگر از مرگ نمی ترسم.»

رابطه کودکان خیابان با انقلاب در دو سال گذشته تغییر کرده است. با این وصف اگر فکر کنیم که بچه ها با آگاهی در خط مقدم جبهه قرار گرفته اند دچار نوعی رمانتیسیسم شده ایم .نمی توان برای افکاری که کودکان را به خط مقدم می کشاند آن ها را مقصر دانست.

در باره عمر پسر 13 ساله ای که کشته شد چه باید گفت. عمر با شلیک گلوله به قلبش توسط سربازان ارتش، که در پی حفظ خط فاصل سربازان با مخالفین بودند، کشته شد. آیا او برای دزدیدن تلفن موبایل به آنجا رفته بود؟ نه .آیا او به آنجا رفته بود برای آن که می خواست صورت کوچکش در تصویر های گرافیتی میدان های اطراف تحریر کشیده شود؟ نه. به عمر شلیک شد به خاطر آن که اون جا بود. به عمر شلیک شد برای آن که می خواست از خیابان ها خارج شود و زندگی شرافتمندانه ای داشته باشد. می خواست از خیابان هایی که اکنون محل زندگی بسیا ری از طبقات، مذاهب ، سنین و ایدئولوژی ها شده خارج بشه. عمر مورد اصابت گلوله قرار گرفت برای آن که در حال پیمودن این راه بود. ولی بیش از هر علتی عمر برای آن مورد اصابت گلوله قرار گرفت که برای کشتن او هیچ کس مورد بازخواست قرار نمی گیرد. قلب کوچک عمر هدف گلوله قرار گرفت به خاطر آن که بسیاری آن قدر زبون و ضعیف هستند که حاضر نیستند مسئولین را مورد بازخواست قرار دهند. این مقاله برای همه عمرهائی است که دستگیر و یا به گلوله بسته شده اند صرفاً به خاطر آن که در آن جا بودند، صرفاً به خاطر آن که جای امن دیگری سراغ نداشتند.

18 فوریه 2013

«نلی علی» کارشناس جغرافیای انسانی است که دکترای خود را در کالج بیربک(Birkbeck) در دانشگاه لندن می گذراند. او با دختران و مادران جوان خیابانی در قاهره کار می کند.

Omar was shot through the heart? Street kids have hearts like us?!

So many of the kids on the streets know exactly what you want to hear from them. They eye you up, suss you out and in minutes they conjure up the story you are there to hear. They have to be this clever. Their survival depends on it.

I remember speaking with one journalist who told me she was in awe at a child who told her she had joined the protests in January 2011 because she cared about the country and wanted to bring political and social change. I knew the girl she was speaking about well. She didn’t give a crap about political change, simply because she didn’t understand what the word meant.

I got to know the girls over many months — not formal 30-minute visits or interviews, but I’d really got to know them, by clapping while they danced, sympathizing when they spoke in group therapy, by laughing at stories of the street, by cleaning wounds after self-harm. It was because I lived those stories I felt I could ask Taghreed, one of the girls on the street, why the kids were really there in the squares.

So we took our interview roles: Taghreed happily holding the mp3 recorder in one hand turning it over and amazed that in a bit she would be able to hear her own thoughts (she had asked me to buy her an mp3 recorder so she could speak to herself in it because she wanted to keep a diary but couldn’t read or write), and I took my interview position, holding her cheerful four-month baby who knew nothing but to smile all the time.

Many people to whom I tell the stories of the street girls comment that I must be strong to live and hear these stories. Every time I hear this I recall the ache in my heart at the smiles of the little babies — nothing pains me as much as the smiles. These little curves on the lips, the greatest manifestation of how equal we are, how painfully similar our starts are, how incredibly precious some smiles are to others because life is set out to break them, to give them nothing more to smile about.

And I hear Taghreed tell me about the revolution and the move the children who slept in Ramses Square made to Tahrir Square. She speaks of it as a migration, as if those little green, or what should be green, patches of land represent a city in their own right; a city with its children citizens, those kids without IDs, without shelter, without biological families and without protection.

Taghreed tells me that one child had come running to them in the great city of Ramses Square telling them that millions of people where in Tahrir. Two of her “married” friends (these are children who are 14, marriage and family makeup to street children are different to how we know them) decided it was best to join so they didn’t miss the greatest opportunity to steal mobile phones. She tells me this and laughs for ages saying she wonders what the reaction of journalists would be to the real reason why some children were there.

But she goes on to say “not all the children were there to steal though! It was just so fun! For so long people were telling us that the street was bad, that we had to get off the street, but suddenly everyone was on it, everyone in the country was in Tahrir, so we moved there from Ramses. People there spoke to us, fed us, joked with us, some even tried to teach us to read and write. We even slept next to all these people with their good smells. And we helped them too. When food ran out we told them where the cheapest places to get food were. We taught them the best ways to run away from the police. That is because our favorite game is Atari.”

When she saw a look of confusion on my face she explained: Police cars, we call them Atari, and we play all day running and hiding from them. But we all realized that the police in Tahrir were different, they didn’t waste time running after you, they just shot you instead.”

Her stories and analysis of what led the children to the place where all the action was weren’t sinister. All the reasons, even stealing mobile phones, were understandable and I could relate to having started to know the kids. However, two years later, the children’s answers to why they were taking part started the chills down my spine. The kids were speaking to my colleague Adel who had dedicated the last 18 years of his life working with the children. He looks down and tells me there’s been a change of tone, that he doesn’t know who’s been speaking to some of these children, but someone different has. The kids running around with Molotov bottles are asking him, “What worth does my life have? I want to die a martyr so that God could forgive me for all the bad things that I have done in this world. I want my death to mean something because my life didn’t mean anything. I want to die and have all those people in Tahrir talk about me, walk in my funeral. I want to die and have someone remember me, draw my face on the wall like all the others, so no, ‘baba’, I’m not afraid to die.”

The relation of the street children with the revolution has changed in the course of two years. However, it would still be a kind of romanticism to argue that children were at the front lines because they understood the meaning of revolt as a means to an end. The children, because they are children, are not to blame for the state of mind they are in when they take to the front lines.

What about 13-year-old Omar’s death? Omar, the little boy shot through the heart by the army that was meant to protect his borders against the enemy. Was he there to steal phones? No. Was he there because he wanted his little face etched in graffiti on the squares surrounding walls? No. Omar was shot because he was there. Omar was shot trying to earn an honest living off the streets that have become home to so many classes, religions, ages and ideologies. Omar was shot because he was in the way. But more than any other reason, Omar was shot because no one would be held accountable. Omar’s little heart took the bullet because some are too cowardly to hold those responsible accountable. This article is for all the Omars arrested and shot, just for being there because there was nowhere else safer for them to be.

Egypt: The Thugs That Nursed Me

“Please mind the Gap”. I haven’t heard that in months. I’ve been away from London long enough to have forgotten what is perhaps one of the city’s most famous phrases. My mind holds on to those words for a few minutes thinking about the safety London Underground are trying to afford me. I smile as a silly thought comes to my mind: if it had been the English tear gassing us during a protest, they would probably have prepared megaphones “please mind the tear gas canisters” repeated over and over again.

It feels quite surreal being here. Egypt and my experience there seems a life time away. The people I met and the circumstances we met in feel like some one else’s life. Here I meet people at coffee shops, libraries, Universities, conferences. In Egypt I was making the closest friends outside military prosecutors, dodging rubber and live bullets, carrying the injured, dying and dead, sharing sparse water during sit ins and sometimes in coffee shops having met off twitter. I made friends in Egypt from Cairo to Sohag. I lived a million life times during those few months and I took away with me so much experience and memories, so many laughs and tears, enough to last me this life time and more.

On New Year’s eve, I introduced my dear friend Ghali to a friend from London “meet Ghali, the first time we met was outside the Military Prosecutors.” I wanted to say more but I couldn’t remember which one of the civilians being tried by the military we were standing in solidarity with. This wasn’t the most bizarre introduction. Previously there had been “the first time I met Nelly, I was holding her head as she was vomiting after her first taste of tear gas in June” and there’s also Asmaa who I always introduce as the girl who threw herself in front of me as a tear gas canister was coming my way, the same girl I literally lifted out of Mohammed Mahmoud St when the shooting began. This is how you’re introduced to a different type of friend in Egypt. And I wasn’t even one of the brave ones. I sit on the platform in Euston Square now and I wonder how people like Alaa, Amr, Islam and hundreds of others introduce their 2011 friends.

The most significant of these friends and those who I dedicate this post to, are the thugs that nursed me. I remember the first day I went to Tahrir during a confrontation between the central security forces and the protestors; the night of June 28th. I sat at home watching the news of protestors being gassed by the CSF and that thugs were on motorbikes hurting people and stealing from them. I went on twitter and my timeline was filled with calls for revolutionaries to make their way to Tahrir. This call was to protect each other through our numbers. I saw that Lilian Wagdy was calling for people in Nasr City to meet at the Holiday Inn at 2am and we’d leave together. I called Asmaa ElHadary, who I’d met only once before at the Maspero sit in earlier this month and told her I’m going and to meet me there with Lilian.

Being the organised person I am, I packed my backpack with a phone charger, blanket, vinegar bottles and as much tissue as I could fit in. I got into what I thought was suitable clothes and left my flat to a very quite and empty street. No taxi’s were in sight. I hadn’t thought of this and I still didn’t know my way around Cairo well enough to know alternatives or if it was safe enough to walk to the Holiday Inn (funny isn’t it that I’m thinking of safety when I am going to a site of violent confrontation, but you do). I saw a taxi on the other side of the road quite far from where I was, I quickly put my fingers on my rolled tongue and whistled so loud I actually surprised myself! I remembered all the hours spent in the balcony with my guy cousins teaching me to whistle and being told off that I needed to be more feminine. I was glad today I never gave into that. The taxi driver waved out of the window in acknowledgement and drove round. I jumped in and he asked where I was going. I told him. He drove me to the Holiday Inn and wouldn’t let me out till the others got there so I don’t stand on my own and wouldn’t take a penny in solidarity. I found this incredible. I had missed this spirit in January/February and felt privileged I was being given a chance now. Lilian, her mother and Asmaa turned up and we got into another cab. We bought a box of bottled water and made our way to Tahrir. The streets were eery quiet today. Tahrir seemed like another country with another culture and law unto its own. As soon as we got close we could smell the tear gas, the remains of the smoke from earlier attacks was lingering around; a grey witness of aggression. Mixed in the smokey air, you could smell the sweat of bravery also.

We got out and the water bottles were devoured within a minute buy men whose eyes were watery, rimmed red. There was a police car that was circling the square. An officer was speaking through the megaphone saying: “You want the press to see what we’re doing? We’ll fuck you here first you sons of a bitch before they come”. We caught this on video.

I instantly felt afraid. When the people who are meant to protect you speak with such vengence against you, what hope of safety do you have? What hope of justice can you disillude yourself with? But I quickly realised that this call for solidarity was the best thing. As our numbers grew, the megaphone profanity stopped. Things seemed calm and everyone decided to stay in the square to protect those who weren’t leaving. We spent a few hours sitting around, people getting to know each other, exchange stories of violations witnessed. During the calm a few songs were sung, “Yahabebty Yamasr” (Egypt My Love) and a few patriotic poems. It was like we were being charged with patriotism for what was to come. Alaa was here (always at the front lines), he was telling us that this was a revolution, that he was hopeful, that what was happening today convinced him that we had to be optimistic, that we would win. The only thing that broke the calm were a few rumours every so often that thugs with swords were storming down and everyone would scream out “Selmiya Selmiya” (peaceful, peaceful).

What struck us all were the “thugs”. These men on motorbikes worked throughout the night and early hours of the morning. Two men on each machine going right to the front lines of the confrontation at Mohammed Mahmoud to pick up the casualties that the ambulances would not dare go in to get, place the casualty between them, take them out to the ambulances that were parked in their tens by the metro station exist and back again. They had nothing to drink, to eat and no time to rest. They faced the tear gas, the bullets the canisters and there was nothing else that provided any of us with any comfort other than that these “thugs” would have our back if anything would happen to us.

My first taste of tear gas came as one of the canisters landed just cm’s away from my foot. It was chocking. You cannot understand the contraction of the throat and the panic unless that evil white smoke raked its way up your nostrils, in your eyes, blasting itself unwelcomed through your mouth right to the back and down till it rests in the pit of your stomach. I gagged. I stood at the corner and vomited like I’ve never done and one of the “thugs” came to me and held my head hard (one of the old myths I think that if someone holds you this way they’ll stop you getting a headache, or something). He encouraged me to keep going, threw water on my face and as soon as I was done, he cursed that there was no vinegar.

Having remembered my bottles of vinegar I took them out and was quickly positioned a little before the ambulances so as to act as a filtering for the cases and help those who came out suffering the choking effects of the tear gas. It’s amazing how people organise themselves in such sophisticated ways during these situations. It was fascinating how you didn’t really notice yourself thinking about any of it, you just “do” as does everyone else to complete a task. I suddenly had tens more pieces of cloth to spill the vinegar on, someone else next to me with water and a full, functional working relationship to ease pressure off the ambulances.


There was a young guy who couldn’t make it towards us after having just come away from the front lines and collapsed on the ground. I decided to run to him to drag him to the side so that when the next tear gas bomb was thrown and everyone ran back he wouldn’t be crushed. But I went in too late. The next canister was thrown and just missing us, it hit another guy; right through the mouth and out the other side. There was chaos. He died.

That was the closest I have ever been to death, mine or someone else’s. I’m not sure if the tears flowing were tears of fear and anger or if they were just a reaction to the tear gas. Hysteria was the enemy now and I could feel it creeping up. It can make you piss yourself in terror or it could kill all fear. It did the latter and you somehow find the people that hysteria has had the same effect on. We decided to go forward and call the guys back. We didn’t know what we were fighting for and the throws were getting closer and the bullets had started. We went in in our hundreds chanting “Erga3, Erga3” (Come back, Come back). We weren’t allowed anywhere near the front. The guys there who had also been labelled “thugs”, pushed us back desperately, labelling us “the Facebook lot” they wanted to protect us saying we were the only hope of saying the truth and what we saw and not allow the state media to fabricate stories of what had happened here that night. We were literally pushed back.

Then the stomping started. I didn’t understand it. I had never been to anything like this and I didn’t understand what everyone was doing. The sound of hundreds of people holding rocks and stomping against lamp stands and metal fences is harrowing. My heart was thumping inside my chest and I was sure it would escape my terrified body and jump out. A guy gave me a rock and said “hit the fence!!! Hit it hard!!!” I did. With all my might. There was no time for questioning. I trusted everyone here and they told me to stomp, then that’s exactly what I was going to do. I later understood there were three reasons for the stomping. The first was so the CSF would realise our numbers, so that we called for help from those around the area and for adrenaline. The chants did the same, the thundering sound of “Elsha3b Yoreed Eskaat Elmosheer” (the people want the fall of the Field Marshal) were not to be forgotten. The chants engraved an echo inside you. Sounds that would ring in my ears for weeks to come. For today, the chants were met by more tear gas.

In Mohammed Mahmoud St itself, a boy of about 8 years old was seen flying across from pavement to pavement having been kicked by one of the CSF. The guy who kicked him was cornered by the revolutionaries into a store, beaten and his shields taken off him. It was the biggest humiliation for him and it was cool water to scorched dignity. It wasn’t the right thing to do in hindsight. At the moment, it was the only thing to do. The state TV later bought images of the CSF personnel getting beaten but no commentary of why or what he had done was seen.

We saw a group of men and women in white coats. The doctors had come out in solidarity. This bought much comfort to us in the square. June was still a time that saw the doctors protected. We were so organised that we took rounds. When things calmed a little some of us left the square to get something to drink (I was introduced to a drink I later became addicted to, Enaab. The ice and the sugar were soothing in the heat that was beginning to scorch us – a taste I associated with comfort after trials for many months after). We went to charge our phones, went to get some perspective, lose some perspective and then go back again. I met Ahmed Fouda who’s alarm went off at 5am, he laughed sarcastically saying that he was meant to be getting up to study for his exam that started in a few hours. He’d been with us all night. We got word from the pharmacies that they were selling medicines we needed in Tahrir for half price in solidarity. On our way in and out of the square we were subjected to much abuse by passers by. Some spat at us, some swore. They were blaming us for the lack of work and lack of stability in the country. This threw me. People in the square were fighting for them, for their dignity, for their safety. It was a slap in the face but one that wasn’t going to hold us back now, but definitely one that would need much discussion later. The night had passed and the day light broke and hundreds of Egypt’s bravest men were injured and today one died. All night on twitter people were following and a new group of people were coming to replace us in the morning. They did. One of the guys, Olva Tito, arrived around 11am, he got shot with a rubber bullet in the neck within minutes of arriving. June was still a time your eyes were safe.


Everyone knew there was no going home today . This was definitely going to turn into a sit in and a long one. As we tried to find some shade from the sun that was now betraying us, I heard one man say to Asmaa “I’ve lived a chicken all my life, I want to die a man, if not a martyr, at least I die a man!”. The next Friday was a big one. It was a tribute to the “thugs”… People had painted on their arms and faces and wore stickers that read “I’m a thug and proud”. Little babies had stickers on their clothes saying “Thug in the making”.

It hurt to see, during the past months, the classism that had become so unashamed. The poor whose appearance betrayed their social class as working were bizarrely labeled thug and automatically a cause for concern and somehow their appearance and social class allowed the police and military to pick them up and try them as criminals. Months later Belal Fadl was on a TV show and said: “go to Tahir and ask people there what they want, they’ll spend at least 15 minutes speaking to you about politics. Have you ever met a thug who has political demands? The real thugs seemed in sync with SCAF, let out during the protests and sit ins and bought back in during the elections later in the year. SCAFs continued underestimation of the people’s intelligence was cringeworthy.

Having come back to London and having time to reflect, here’s to the thugs that nursed us in Tahrir that day, those who protected the entrances on other days and who were at the front lines every time. The world would be a much better place if it were full of people like you.