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.

Mob Sex Attacks and the Everyday Reality of Street Children.

Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm - mo*star art www.mostarart.com

“Red Square”. Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm – mo*star art http://www.mostarart.com

I read the papers and online testimonials of mob attacks on women in the streets protesting and if I had not read the titles, I would have thought that the authors had suddenly taken a keen interest in the every day life of street children. I would have justifiably concluded they have become avid observers who have taken to the street to highlight the prevalence and normality of sexual violence in street culture that very little children live every night. But no, I have read the title; the words indicate this is about other girls; younger and older women, “welaad naas”, of the working and middle class (because remember street kids are the “excluded” class, second class citizens if that!). These articles are written because “citizens” have been struck, “citizens” honour has been violated; “citizens” human rights have been wronged. But street children? They aren’t citizens – they don’t even hold ID. When they come raped, shot, dead, and left in front of shelter doors, there’s not been a crime, because a citizen hasn’t been involved. So no, this flood of articles about harassment, sexual attacks and gang rape on the street, are not about the street kids.

But because this is the every day reality for those children, I have come to know the streets as what they have been recently discovered by others. So I thought that maybe by writing this, I could shed a different light, a look from a different angle on a phenomenon that many are so horrified by, so unfamiliar with.

I am arguing here that this is one of the ugly faces of the street. And, just as each human, each friend, has an ugly face, you only get to see it, know it, get scorned by it, once you have spent long enough with it. It’s reality and it’s crudeness cannot hide forever and the euphoria of the imagined utopia of solidarity that the street brings during revolutionary times, begins to crack and the street and all it’s non-citizen inhabitants become a reality that you cannot escape and one whose reality you have shared, one which has scarred you, too.

Talking of scarring, a lot of attention and horror has been expressed following the attack where a blade was used on one victim to these assaults. I wondered about the irony of the timing of this. Just last month I took one of my street girls to a generous plastic surgeon who had offered my girls free reconstructive surgery for the scars they suffered during such attacks on the street. The scarring is part of the street rape culture – any boy or girl who has been raped on the street, will be “marked”. This mark, usually a curve under the eye of the victim, will mean they are no longer virgins. Subsequent sexual attacks, and there will be many, will lead to smaller marks anywhere else on the body. One girl, none of us at the shelter forget, was lucky. She escaped the scarring on the face, but needed 16 stitches on her lower back where she was knifed as she escaped her rapists.

I am not an expert in conspiracy theories, but I am a consultant on street kids and the risks of the street. And so, when I read the musings that the NDP, the MB, the who ever else is organizing these mob sex attacks, my better judgment makes me tentative. I remember that no one paid the four men in their thirties and forties to gang rape seven-year-old Maya who had been living on the street just four days. The younger the child, the attackers think, the smaller the risk of contracting HIV.

Being on the street brings with it much risk, the longer you stay on it, the more likely you will be exposed to that risk. Does it make it ok? Of course not! But what it does, is highlight the plight of the children who do not conjure up the same attention and horror when these attacks happen to them, daily. What it does do is emphasize the terror that the streets have become because we have allowed them not to be safe. How the law and it’s enforcement is,  and always has been neglectful of the sphere, that in our country, is home to many. Does it deserve to be treated with less fury because it’s an every day reality? No, but the anger, the support, the reform that needs to come after it, has to be extended to those who are not on the official count of these attacks – because there has not just been 25 attacks on the street since the start of the year.

As street kids will tell you; gang rape is just the start for them – prostitution, trafficking and pornography come shortly afterwards. What the revolutionary class are experiencing now is only the initiation of what thousands of children on our streets, boys and girls experience. Imagine that?

The dysfunctional compass of blame is at work. Just as people point a finger of reprimand at the street kids for being on the street and not at home, ignoring all the reasons that have pushed them on it, now the same fingers point at the females getting attacked in Tahrir and elsewhere suggesting it’s their fault for not staying safe at home. Accountability. Once we learn the meaning of this word, perhaps the streets might be a little safer for all.

Flags of Loyalty: The Football Massacre

 

“Some people think that football is a matter of life and death; I think they are stupid. Football is far more serious a subject than that!” Those were the words of Bill Shankley. You will often find them in the humorous quotes section. But I found no quote more appropriate to start off this post after the recent events in Egypt where 13,000 home fans stormed the football pitch in Port Said armed with knives and machetes claiming the lives of 74 young men.

Loyalty to country and to football club! These are the two loyalties in Egypt which cross sectarian, social and class structures. The main flag and the sub flags. But it was still hard to write about football, fans, revolution and death all in one post. It wouldn’t have readily occurred to me what they all had in common. However, links between football and politics are not new – some more serious than others and some more deadly than others. Egypt is not unique in this. Keeping aside the difference in detail and circumstance, one only needs to remember the infamous Winnie Mandela’s United Football Club and their bloodthirsty rhetoric in South Africa. Winnie’s bittering relationship with the Mass Democratic Movement in the 1980’s involved the conflict centered largely by her infamous Mandela United Football Club.

Coincidentally, the Port Said disaster took place on the first anniversary of the camel battle of Mubarak’s loyalists into Tahrir Square. It made the seventy-four deaths personal to those holding not only the football team flag but also the flag seen at the top; the flag held over and above. The ultras had used their experience confronting police at matches to play a significant role in defending Cairo’s Tahrir Square – the heart of the Egyptian uprising – against Mubarak’s security forces. Many on the streets saw the deaths of the Ahly Ultras as punishment for their role in the revolution and not an unfortunate accident.

Tahrir Square once again became the home of the angry, the bereaved and the helpless. Rivals Ahly and Zamalek put hostilities aside and fans stood side by side once again at the frontlines. They marched from outside their respective clubs to Tahrir and, faithfully, Egypt demonstrated its solidarity. Again the square made its calling and again it claimed more lives – at least four more people were killed on Friday and the Ministry of Health announced around 1500 injured between Wednesday and Friday.

[“Facing the Tear Gas” Moment perfectly captured by @lilianwagdy flic.kr/p/bo7zHx]

The lack of security has been at the centre of public debate since the overthrow of Mubarak. It has been the reason the silent majority has remained silent; in hope that quietening the revolution would have it returned. But, subsequent disorder, from attacks on Coptic churches to the abductions, robberies and muggings, has been seen as characteristic of deeply uncertain times. Whether or not the Port Said massacre was deliberately coordinated should not be the focus. The truth of why this happened may always remain unknown, but how it happened is clear: in a city where the head of security was changed four days before the match, in an audience that did not include any officials, 6000 men, without tickets, were allowed into stadiums with weapons, doors were closed on an unarmed crowd, and as a result 74 young men were stabbed and crushed to death.

Whether the conspiracy theorists have, or haven’t got it right, responsibility for the Port Said events should lay with those who claim responsibility for the countries safety and security. Failure to acknowledge this, on the part of the government or the people, poses further threat to the future of Egypt’s stability. The police know, from past events, that they will not have to answer for the fatalities. The massacre and the lack of responsibility raise grave issues of competence, accountability and trust. Political crime or football riot, the consequences will have a big part to play in the fast paced shifting of Egypt’s political landscape.

The Blind and the Blindfolded: Why I wont be Celebrating Jan 25th

Blood is often not given time to dry in Egypt before the betrayal of authority and the silence of the majority begins. It’s because both have not been close enough to smell that blood, to have it splattered on them while they help those braver than they are, to have pleaded for it to stop the death of a friend, to stare at it dried on the clothes they were wearing when attempting to be more influential than the laws of the universe. They betray that which has not hurt them, and that which has not been directly relevant. They forget the closeness of those who have.

There is much that revolution steals from the country it comes to free. 2011 is proof.

The very first day of the year the Two Saints Church saw a bombing that cost the Coptic community around 40 of its congregation celebrating the New Year. The Muslims came out in their thousands condemning the act, that the betrayal was not in their name. Then, 7th January, the Orthodox Christmas saw churches in Egypt surrounded by Muslims holding hands making sure the Christians felt safe inside the churches if not their country. Some say that how this catastrophe was dealt with is worthy of celebration. That this is how the Egyptian come together in distress and show the best of solidarity.

These shows of solidarity are always moving, always necessary and always temporary.

The events of this year moved at a pace too fast for anyone to stop at any one disaster; too fast for those who needed sympathy over the loss of a loved one to receive it before they found they had to be offering it to someone else with a more recent loss. There was a revolution in the winds that blew over Egypt. There was a freedom that would be taxed. The angel of death this year was the tax collector, demanding the debt on a freedom over due to be paid, by the young. And all year Egypt’s bravest were paying the price for generations that had lived and died on the land without ever questioning why it was embedded so deeply in their conscience that they did not deserve the rights so many had lost lives struggling for in other parts of the world.

I go through a continuum between rage and cringing when I hear people speaking of their plans for “celebrating” the coming 25th January. My immediate response is: celebrating what? Celebrating the death of hundreds of Egyptians killed at the hands of those who were meant to be protecting them? Celebrating the humiliation of those arrested/kidnapped by the forever present men of Mubarak’s regime? Or are you celebrating the good aim of the officers who blinded your youth? Perhaps you are celebrating the beatings of elderly women? No? That’s not what you’re celebrating?

Freedom maybe? Celebrating the 12,000 men, women, children on military trials? Thinking that freedom exists on the side of prison bars in which they sleep. As long as freedom fighters spend the night on the cold asphalt the other side of the bars we’re on, then we are not free. If we think we are, then we have not only deceived ourselves, but have betrayed those inside, whose only hope is that we remember them and don’t let go of the fight still waiting to be fought.

At any celebratory event in this age, we usually see a display of photographic shots that capture the essence of the journey towards that moment of triumph we’re celebrating. Which of these pictures will fill the square?

The one of the soldiers dragging the dead into the rubbish piles?

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The one of the Blue Bra Girl

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The one of the two old women beaten by the army while they crouch unarmed on the floor?

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The one of the soldiers urinating on the protestors?

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But even if these aren’t the pictures you’ll be using, even if you use the ones where the people are giving the army roses in February, then you are putting on display pictures that capture betrayal of the confidence obviously misplaced.

I’ll be first to wrap my hips and dance in celebration of this revolution when I don’t hear of hundreds unable to find gas for their homes, when they don’t stand hours for their share of bread when my fellow citizens are not more concerned why I was protesting than what I was protesting for. I will ululate when the execution of the law is predictable and reliable. When there is social justice and I am respected for my humanity then I will draw the posters of celebration myself.

The Egyptian flags that will be raised in triumph “celebrating” this revolution will not be big enough or bright enough to cover the blood and shame of killing the unarmed innocent, not big enough to cover up the lack of reason for locking away the brave who risk and give up much to say “NO!” to injustice. Those who lost their lives fighting for this revolution died for something we still haven’t had a taste of; were blinded and blind folded to give it life and hope. What they exchanged their lives, limbs, eyes and freedom for has still not been delivered, the deal has not yet been sealed. Only one side has paid and so as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing yet to celebrate.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Voting in Egypt’s Elections: Celebrating Democracy, or Dancing on the Grave of Martyrs?

I didn’t know whether voting was the right thing to do or not. I didn’t know whether voting was a betrayal to the blood and tears that were spilt in Tahrir or not. There was no one to ask because it seemed that if there were, say, a 100 people I trusted, half thought it was in honour of the martyred and the other half believed, just as strongly, it was a slap on the face of those who gave their all. What would give one half credibility over the other when by mere location I changed my mind! When I was in Tahrir, I knew – not just thought but knew – that voting would be betrayal. As soon as I was a mile outside the square, I knew I was being rational in deciding not to boycott.

That too was how the 100 I trusted were split. The first 50 were the voice of stability and progression. They were the voice of reason. That we had to celebrate the achievements we had gained so far, choose what would make us “administratively credible” and follow the well-thought strategies that would match up to the political world building itself around us while the most courageous of us died and were blinded at the front lines. This half wanted to taste the cookie of freedom even before it had finished baking. They wanted their share and they had many arguments for it. All reasonable. All credible.

The 50 that spat at those who were building up pride for their ink stained fingers, were the ones with their friends blood still wet on their hands. The ones who had lost the light of their eyes so that their vision of what it would take for this country to be truly free became clearer. They were the ones whose tents got burned but stood there and warmed their resolve to continue the fight in the warmth of those flames; fueled by the injustice of being betrayed by their own. What legitimacy could be afforded to elections that were being run, protected and praised by the very people who killed their family and friends only hours ago? They wanted their share of justice, their right to life before their right to vote. All reasonable. All credible.

Up until till the moment I sent the SMS to get details of where I’d be voting, I didn’t know if I’d go to the ballots. Standing in the queue of no less that 5000 women, I still didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. Answering questions from old, poor, illiterate women about who to vote for because they were in this queue because they couldn’t afford the fine, I still didn’t know whether I was pushing along a new born democracy or hiding behind a mask in a farce festival of freedoms.

But I ended up standing in this queue for 5 hours and 45 minutes. I ended up voting for a party I knew not much about and a candidate to represent me only because he had gone through as many ideological changes in his political life as I have religions. In total there were three ticks. I walked out knowing I had ticked for a party, a member of parliament and a representative of the workers. In my dreams that night I had a tick beside betrayal, a tick beside allowing the villains to get away and a tick beside handing over part of the revolution to the enemy.

I am writing this post as a sort of confession. I write it to let the 50 I trust know that I took their word for it and gave my voice to a process that was full of violations from the start and with results that none of them voted for. I write it because I forgot to ask, more than I should have asked the 100, I should have asked: Who did the 12,000 Egyptians on military trials and several hundred killed by our government vote for?

I write it to the martyrs to tell them how sorry I am if they are watching me in disappointment. Either way, I write it because I do not know if by voting I was celebrating democracy or dancing on the graves of those whose blood and tears fell on the ground nourishing freedom on the land on which they fell.