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Another wave of turmoil hits the Middle East like a Tsunami with an Anti Islamic movie that went viral and caused hundreds of tempers to reach boiling point.
I haven’t been able to get my hands on the full film but the clip that I did see was a pitiful attempt at movie making to say the least. The quality of the cinematography was clearly of that of a rookie and the dialogue was so baseless and lifeless that I think a bunch of Elementary students could have done a better job. As for the content of the script and portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed (May Peace Be upon Him) was sick and twisted! The clip I saw portrayed him as a disoriented fool, who could be suffering from schizophrenia or was a junky of some kind that rambled on about none sense and didn’t make sense. I can now see and understand how upset, insulted and appalled Muslims around the world were.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (aka”Sam Bacile” or Mark Basseley Youssef) the film maker who sparked the wave of rage has proven to be a man of many names and a sly con artist with a very long rap sheet from the reports that are coming out about him. I wonder if his (wrongful) depiction of the Prophet was based on his own troubled soul?
Nakoula, an Egyptian born national collaborated with a U.S. religious group called Media for Christ. In a humors twist, these so-called “Right Wing” Christians had their dubbed anti-Islamic film directed by a pornographer (thought I recognized the 80’s style from somewhere). Forgive my ignorance…but, ummmm, doesn’t pornography go against Christian beliefs? Secondly why would they dream of having a director who directs sinful media associated with their ‘Media for Christ’? Surly, Christ himself wouldn’t condone such a person to make a film on his behalf and secondly the Son of God (Prophet or Messiah depending on your belief ) who endured crucifixion for his love of humanity wouldn’t want such a ‘Blasphemous’ film being made and have his name associated with it. After all aren’t we all God’s children?
Nakoula and the other right-wing people behind the making of this poor excuse for a documentary film knew exactly what would happen the moment his film was released to the public. He may have anticipated rage, which would then heighten the popularity of his poorly made and fact less movie but I doubt he could have known to what degree the anger would have reached and that blood would be shed. I do wonder if he ever for one moment put his own people, by own people I mean the Coptic community of Egypt into consideration? Did he not think that this could backfire and that people might turn violent on them and persecute them for his stupid actions?
The reaction to the movie I can understand. The actions that people took, I DO NOT and I certainly DO NOT and cannot justify in any shape or form. In my opinion it was over reacted, only to fuel media interest and popularity in the movie. The attacking of Embassies, Ambassadors and Embassy employees was uncalled for and barbaric. Reactions like these just fuel the false impression and misconception that the world has about people from Egypt, Middle East and Muslims. When we go out with hot heads and tempers blazing they are ready and waiting to catch it on tape to stream on their networks to make us out to be the crazed ‘savages’ that they have painted us to be. Fueling ignorance and making us out to be psychotic trigger happy ignoramuses ready to declare ‘jihad’ and kill at a drop of a hat.
I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing that we are all terrorists, uneducated, uncivilized….bla bla bla bla bla!! Violent reactions like these make those avid watchers of FOX network think that what they are watching and what they are being told is true. It makes them out to be right in the eyes of the public and we keep playing into the palm of their hands. We need to STOP, THINK about our actions before we react and the best way to shatter the public’s image of us is to beat them at their own game. The best way I have found to beat bullies is to ignore them or to treat them nicely, (easier said than done, I agree. Then again nothing comes easy, but every time we resist the urge to fall into their trap and they find less to say to fuel their image would be well worth the effort. It takes a lot to bite your tongue and not want to slap someone, but it can be done. If Gandhi could do it, then by George so can we!)
WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS!!! We have thousands of years of history, culture and ancient CIVILIZATIONS that WE originate from! The world of Mathematics and Science is what it is today because of OUR ancestors. Let us not forget that and while we are at it, let’s remind them and show them who we truly are.
Let us not allow the minorities that are captured on film doing these acts be the source of people labeling us and the basis for their generalization of people from the region. They do not represent me, they do not reflect who I am and I know they do not reflect the majority.
Since the fall of the former President of Egypt, Sexual Harassment has been rampant like a forest fire throughout the country. Horror story upon horror story of attacks and incidents on women have been surfacing and making headlines. It’s getting worse and worse with each day that passes. Since Egypt’s first Democratically Elected President had been announced another serving of worry has been served up on to our plate.
The President as many are all well aware is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a lot of the élite, liberals and women quaking in their boots worried about Egypt’s future on many fronts and their place in the new Democratic Egypt. There is a vast majority on the other hand who find that our President previous association gives them the carte blanche to do as they please, when it comes to educating the public on what is right or wrong in the name of Islam. Sometimes I feel like things are looking more and more like a Mad Max movie.
Self-appointed groups and individuals feel they now have the right to tell people what to do, how to dress and how to behave. A couple of weeks ago there were two incidents in different places in Egypt that sent a ripple of fear and dread through the country. The phrase we are turning into the next Saudi Arabia or Iran was on the tip of everyone’s lips.
(If things don’t change and social order isn’t put in place, then I will have to agree)
In Suez an engineering student was badgered by 3 bearded men, who demanded to know his relationship with the woman he was walking with. When he told them to mind their own business they stabbed him. The stab wound was fatal. The woman was his fiancée.
Story has it that the men were caught and will be given the death penalty.
Another story was that a young man was playing his guitar during the call for prayer in the governorate of Ismaleya and others found this to be a sign of disrespect and took it upon themselves to teach him a lesson. The lesson rumor has it resulted in a severe beating which lead to his death. It was also reported that a group of bearded men went into a café in Cairo’s, Madinat Nasr area and told the customers that they should go and pray. Unfortunately I cannot confirm these stories to be 100% accurate, but having lived in Egypt so long, when there is a story there is always some element of truth to it.
I can confirm two others stories from women that I know personally and experienced some very disturbing events that worry me and honestly have me concerned for the future wellbeing of Egyptian women.
The first story is of a woman who works at a hair and beauty salon in Alexandria. She is a single Mom of a 4-year-old girl. She said she was walking in a district of Alexandria holding her daughter when a car drove by. One of the passengers in the car sprayed her with an acid like substance that ate through her clothes. It made huge holes in her dress which caused her undergarments to show. Embarrassed, scared and shaken she got into a taxi to go home. The reason for the passenger spraying her was because part of her leg was showing in the dress that she was wearing.
The second woman I work with and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and pushed me to write this post. Yesterday she posted a warning to all her contacts on her Facebook page, so that we would all be made aware of what may happen if women decide to take a public mode of transportation. My colleague along with her brother, sister and future brother-in-law were boarding the car at Sadat Metro Station (El Tahrir) and just as the doors were closing a guy pulled her by her hair. She said she didn’t hear the full sentence of what he said but it had something to do with her not being veiled. This is NOT the first time she has experienced something like this.
Over the past 20 years since I moved here with my family, I have seen the country grow more and more conservative. It wasn’t very noticeable at first. It was rare to see veiled women, now you are most likely to see veils and niqabs than a woman with her head uncovered in Alexandria. I have no qualms with people becoming devoted in their beliefs and dressing in the way that they think is modest or more appropriate. What I DO have and issue with is other people, particularly strangers who don’t know me and demand or try to dictate to me how I should be more respectful and how I should dress.
I know that one of Morsi’s spokes people came out and condemned the actions of these individuals but I’m sorry that isn’t good enough for me. If the President himself doesn’t come out and say that he will not tolerate and accept these actions of harassment on people’s personal liberties and that people will be held accountable and punished for them, then he might as well have a pom pom in each hand cheering them on. His silence is a sign of condoning of what has happened and what will continue to happen. (That’s how I am interpreting it)
If President Morsi meant what he said in his speeches that we are free to live our lives as we have in the past, then I think he needs to not only say it repeatedly until it gets through people’s heads but to show that he sincerely means what he says. Otherwise these self-appointed groups and individuals will continue to badger, harass and attack innocent people who are minding their business and just going about their day-to-day lives and it isn’t right!
I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, where the Mutawaa’s (religious police) would patrol the streets and make sure that people were abiding by the country’s code of conduct. IF this IS the direction that our new Elected President is going to guide Egypt towards then, I fear all hope is lost for Egypt. If Egypt sccumbs to becoming a country with blinkers on and where people are no longer permitted to be themselves and live freely, then we will be pushed back decades behind the rest of the world and that in all honesty would be DREADFUL. Egypt for centuries has always been a land that made history and has been (and continues to be), studied with fascination, awe and respect. I would hate to see a country with such a rich past and HIGH potential for a bright future be shut away and put down in such a manner.
How do we counter act this? How do we push back the threat of this wave that is hovering over us? I honestly do not know. I think WE are ALL open to suggestions, if anyone has any.
Otherwise the cartoon below might be what lies ahead for Egypt and for us;
People throughout the country are hearing horror stories of people being held for ransom, school buses being attacked by thugs, gun fire exchange, armed robbery/looting among many other harrowing tales…many prefer to stay in their cocoons and ignore the stories or chose to believe they are un-true or exaggerated. I hate to be the one to burst the bubble, but 85%-97% of what we are hearing is true. Yes, the President had resigned from his post, but that wasn’t the end of the revolution, it’s only the beginning of the long road that lies ahead for Egypt and her people. Things are going to get worse before they get better. It’s going to take LOTS of time, a lot of patients and LOTS of HARD WORK. We need to be aware of what is going on around us at all times and become better individuals and take positive steps in order for the change that was demanded to take its proper course. This isn’t going to happen on it’s own… We have to make it happen.
Monday 6th of February 2011
I am so excited! I am finally going to see my family. I have been thinking of every possible way to get to them ever since my friend was evacuated. The railway lines have stopped working and the roads out of Cairo had been closed too. The airport is over crowded with people trying to leave the country and there’s a strong possibility that their aren’t any flights.
I had done most of my packing last night but there are still a few items that I need to put in the put in the bag, but I have to wait for Meeza to wake up.
I am feeling very torn. I have formed a close bond with my host, (No….that’s not right), my surrogate family and I don’t want to leave them. I have enjoyed my time here with them, gotten to know them more and feel like I’m apart of the family. I dread to think what state I would be in, if I hadn’t come to stay with them and decided to tough it out on my own. Without their company, I’m sure I would have reached some level of insanity. Becs family will always have a special place in my heart for opening their home to me.
Bec’s Mum insists that I share breakfast with her. I’m not really hungry and I have been working exceptionally hard at reaching a target weight for my sister’s wedding in April, (Operation Megan Fox). I know it’s a silly thing to be worrying about in times like these, but God willing if all goes well, her wedding will proceed as scheduled and I won’t hate myself for not looking my best and being fit for the special occasion. So, I am adamant that I am going to remain focused on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, grilled meats and drink an excessive amount of water, Revolution or not! (would this make me stubborn or very determined?)
At around 11am my father arrives, I am so glad to see him. I waste no time in embracing him at the door and kissing his cheeks. I notice that he looks tired but a wave of relief washes over his face when he sees me. My father and I don’t see eye to ey very often and with us being stubborn and control freaks, we often but heads and clash, but with that put a side, he is my Dad, I love him to pieces and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see him.
My Dad comes in to the house for no longer than twenty minutes. We can’t delay our departure due to heavy traffic caused by blocked off roads and protests. We also have to be back in Alexandria before curfew time. My Dad thanks Bec’s parents and as a small gesture of my families appreciation and gratitude for all they have done for me he gives them a bottle of Whiskey and a big box of sweet dates. I in turn hug both Bec’s parents and thank them and promise to come and see them as soon as I am back and settled again.
As soon as we are in the car we have to make a stop at my house to pay the landlord the rent and so that I can drop some unwanted items and collect more clothes (who knows how long the current situation is going to last).
As we approach my street, which is a big military area, I notice a crowd of twenty or more people near the Military Hotel, Triumph. I wonder what they are all doing sitting around staring at the Military compound’s huge metal gates. My father must have caught my gaze or read my mind and informs me that the people are waiting to see their loved ones that had been recaptured by neighborhood watch and military me as they were trying to loot the nearby areas. Upon hearing this slightly disturbing piece of information, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I had followed my instincts and made the decision to go and stay with Bec’s and his family. The thought of having the escapees that have been causing fear and havoc in the city held across the street from my building, was not in the least bit comforting.
As soon as the car came to a halt, I waste no time in going in to my building and up to my apartment to leave an un-needed bag and gather some other belongings. I am whirling around the place like the Tazmanian Devil from the famous Warner Brother’s Cartoons. I am trying to be as quick as possible so that the echos of the last night spent in the apartment don’t come back to me. The feeling of being in my flat is an odd one. It is familiar and yet alien at the same time. ‘I hope to see you again soon’ I say to it before I close the door and lock it before taking the elevator back down to rejoin my father and the hired driver to head back to Alexandria.
During the drive out of the city my father ask me questions about the safety situation in Heliopolis, the sight of the barbed wires across the street and the tanks pointing outwards to wards the road. He tells me of events and situations that have taken place in Alexandria. That with in the first two days after the prisoners escaped from prison, the people guarding our street caught fourteen ‘baltageya’ (thugs/looters). He told me that other areas of Alexandria are experiencing much worse and that I know for a fact. My friend Shamel has been calling me daily telling me about his nightly watch and the amount of firing and killing that had been going on. Although I am living it, hearing it and experiencing it, my mind still has a difficult time accepting and believing that this is happening to us here in Egypt. It just boggles my mind! How did things spiral out of control so quickly? What lies ahead for all of us? Is it going to get worse? Will things ever get better? It is hard to tell…
At the Cairo toll gate leading to the desert road armored vehicles stand guard with their guns pointed at the center of the road. By the wayside, stolen, crashed and torched cars had been confiscated ownerless as you pass by the toll gate. For the past week we have been hearing horror stories of people’s cars being run off the road, cars being hijacked, robberies, rapes and killings along the desert road. On all the occasions I have driven back and forth on this road, I have never been so alert and watchful of every movement, car and person.
To stop at a rest house to use the toilet, gas up or buy something to eat is too risky and dangerous. Some of the escaped convicts are still on the loose and nobody wants to take any chances. The busy rest stops are empty, which is a strange sight because they are usually bursting at the seams with business, but now only the gas stations have clients. My father told me that he had stopped at one of the gas stations on the way and when he entered to building the owner was sat with a machine gun and bullets across his chest, the smell of freshly baked fiteer was absent in the air and the bustling of the waiters bringing the customers no longer existed.
We finally reach Alexandria after a two and a half hour drive, the security at the toll gate is more intense that the Cairo toll gate. There are more cars and the traffic is worse. Getting to the city is difficult, there is a hold up of some kind. We find out that the congestion is caused by a bus accident and large puddles of water.
As we pass by Carrefour City Center (a big shopping complex) there dozens of confiscated stolen cars parked on the side as you pass the shopping area. There are huge tanks and armoured vehicles positioned there too.
After two weeks of wanting to be with my family and a two and a half hour drive, I am finally home. I take my bags out of the car, get in to the elevator and press the button. The ride up seems to take longer than usual. “Hurry up!! I want to hug my Mum and sister!” As I finally reach my floor, I can see my mother’s silhouette through the glass with her arms spread wide ready to embrace me as I step out. I yank out the bags and drop them at her feet and just squeeze her tightly, while breathing in her motherly scent. There is nothing as warm or comforting as a mother’s embrace.
As I walk over the threshold of the apartment, my sister comes to greet me in the foyer of the apartment and we hug. It is so good to be home and with family. They look well but tired from all the stress and constant worrying about their safety, the state of the country and me. At least now, they have one less thing to worry about. I am here, safe and sound with them.
We retire to the sitting room and talk for hours while pausing mid conversation every so often to hear the latest news up dates.
By 9pm I can no longer keep my yes open and got to bed.
I am home at last.
Saturday 5th of February 2011
As soon as my eyelids open flicker open, my second reflex is to grab my phone.
Did everything remain peaceful while I slept? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease let things have remained peaceful, please, please, pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Did the thugs attempt and succeed in ruining the peaceful ambiance?
I click on my twitter application on my phone and scroll down through the posts. All seems to well. Thugs had attempted to cause havoc but were dispersed, due to warning shots fired by the army. (YES! PHEW! Could this mean that things will start returning to normal?)
I get up have breakfast and glue myself to lap top and continue typing …
Bec’s heads to Tahrir while Meeza and I go to Makani again, this time with her friends. I take my diary with me to write key notes for the days I haven’t filled in.
One of Mezza’s friends that has joined us is quite an interesting young man, with great intellect and a wicked sense of humor. He and Meeza have me in stitches. It feels good to laugh. I haven’t laughed like this in what seems a long time.
We talk about random things, but as always the conversation returns to the crisis at hand…
As much as I admire the people in Tahrir for their determination and bravery for standing up and defying the police, the crack down and curfew that has been put in place, and as much as I want to be apart of the movement, I can see how all those people being there are slowly bringing the country to a halt.
The situation is turning in to a double edge sword, if they leave they lose their ground and risk being persecuted and have everything go back to the way it was and all of this will be swept under the rug and make all of this disappear.
If, they don’t leave, then the people who run factories, business, the majority of the people in Egypt earns less than 2$ a day. The majority earn their money on a day-to-day basis by selling fruit and vegetables off of donkey carts, cigarettes from kiosks, news paper stands, taxi fares …etc. If these people don’t earn money and they along with their families starve, this revolution might take a 180 degree turn.
As you can see, there is a big dilemma. Do the protesters stay or do they go? It’s a tough call, a very tough call.
I look up and find that the café is looking more and more like a familiar scene of the past. It is full to busting. It has reached its full capacity but the people still keep on coming. The staff is finding it hard to keep up with the orders, there are only 2 waiters in the whole place and the staff is being over worked. The Sushi rolls are loose and not looking as put together as they should.
For a brief moment you forget about the crisis that is going on just kilometers away, the buzz of conversation and clinking of cutlery is entrancing and it makes it very easy for you to forget. A glimpse at the TV screen serves as a constant reminder and brings you back from the brief moment of déjà vu of times past.
More of Meeza’s friends join us and my friend Heba does too. Heba and I seem to be growing closer and bonding more these past couple of days than we have in the past couple of years. I enjoy her company, insight and the fact that we can agree to disagree.
I hope this friendship doesn’t die out any time soon.
I get two international calls. One from Ang calling to check up on me from Canada and asking what the situation is like here. I fill her in on all the details that I know and I give her my insight on the situation and re-assure her that I am fine. I miss her…
The Second call is from Nal in D.C, from the tone of her voice I can tell that she is not in the best of moods and that something is bothering her. She eventually tells me and I find out that she just received news that another friend of hers died this week during the protests due to injuries. I talk to her to try to change mood a little bit by making her laugh and smile. It works her voice is a little more chipper. Before we hang up she makes me promise to stay out of harms way. She has lost two friends already and doesn’t want to lose another. She says she will come and kill me herself if I go to Tahrir.
I give her my word…
It is so humbling to know that there are people who genuinely care for you and worry about your well-being. When friends from abroad take the time to call and check up on you almost daily, you can’t help but feel blessed.
The weather has turned, black clouds are now over Cairo. It begins to drizzle the bite of the window is harp and cold.
Is this a sign of what is to come?
Diary Entry 9
Friday, 4th February 2011
I wake up with my nerves on edge. I am completely and utterly nervous. So nervous that I am nauseous filled with fear and dread. If the past two days have been bloody then God only knows what lies in store for the brave protesters today.
Today we anticipate more protesters to take to the streets and head towards Tahrir, but after seeing the event unfold on TV the past two days I am fearful for the lives of those who want to go, Becs and a few friends of ours too.
‘Please God, If you can hear me, let there be no blood shed today. Blow away those who want to inflict harm, violence and chaos.’
Every time I look at the clock or my watch the hands don’t appear to have moved. I feel as though everything is going in slow motion.
I sit and continue to type my diary entries out on to my lap top. As I peck away at my keyboard, I feel as though my intuition is picking up on the anxiety of everyone around me. My heart is racing, breathing heavily and a tightness forms in my chest. I try and over come the strange sensation, by taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly. Bec now is looking at me with concern and ask if I’m alright and if he can get me anything.
“God, I just want this day to pass”
Becs’s sister asks me if I want to accompany her at Makani, a café very close to the house. I think getting out of the house might be a good idea.
My Blackberry these days seems to be an extension of my hand. I check twitter every few minutes for up dates from trusted sources in Tahrir and in other areas of the country.
Friday prayer has commenced and the TV is showing rows upon rows of people worshiping, bowing and praying together shoulder by shoulder and in unison,
while others form a human chain around the people praying to protect them. The sight of the live footage on TV is empowering and moving. I am moved so much that a lump forms in my throat and my eyes begin to burn from holding back the tears.
This is a scene I have longed to see, where hang ups and walls between Muslims and Christians do not exist. They stand together as people, as Egyptians. I can not help but feel proud. How I want to be there and stand among them and witness the barriers between religion, classes and people come crashing down along with a regime that built it. I am thinking of ways of escaping the safety of Heliopolis to go there. A phone call from my mother quickly ends that. She calls to make sure that I am safe and nowhere near Tahrir! Grrrrrrrr
‘Are these the same people who had been fighting in self-defense the past two days?’
The world as I have been told by many have been glued to their TV sets for hours every day and today they will be as shocked as I am to see a different scene, a scene of unity and solidarity. Muslims and Christians standing together, what a vision, what a sight and what an example they are being to the world.
For the pas few years I have been teach in a school where my students have tried tirelessly to find out what faith I belong to. I never tell them because it shouldn’t matter what religion I practice. What should mater is what kind of person I am. We shouldn’t teach children to identify others by their practices. It’s wrong and that is what causes BIG problems and a huge rift in our country and society. I hope my students and the administration are watching this and will be inspired and learn from it.
Heba comes and joins us at Makani. I introduce her to Meeza we talk about how things are going right now in Tahrir. Heba shares my desire for wanting to go to Tahrir. She too has given her word to her parents that she won’t go. Her father calls her every day, early in the morning to make her promise that she will not go. He doesn’t want to have to worry about her, while he is out of the country. She alone understands and shares my frustration.
The café is filling up with more customers; the limited menu doesn’t turn them away. The change of scenery and being out of the house seems to be a common change that everyone is in need of. Being here sitting in a café makes me feel guilty. I feel as though I am not contributing or supporting. I am a firm believer in the freedom of speech, liberty and justice and for years I have been trying to break free from the chains that the country and society have tried to shackle me with and here I am sitting at a café!!!! What a hypocrite! ARGH!!!
I take my phone and check the tweets!
Reporters are having a tough time down on the ground. Military officials are confiscating cameras and detaining them. The safest place for them ironically is in Tahrir, where the protesters grant them refuge.
The square is turning in to a huge big out-door concert or festival with live music and dancing!
I should be there!
Diary Entry 7
Thursday 3rd of February 2011
I wake up early and stare up at the ceiling in bed for a while before I get up. I try to leave the room as quietly as I can so that I don’t wake Meeza. I grab my phone and my diary and sit in the sitting room crossed legged on the couch in my PJs writing in my diary as well as typing another entry to post up on my blog on my lap top, while I follow tweets on twitter on my phone. (Multi tasking at it’s best!)
Over the course of the past few days I feel as though the country and its people have awakened from a long sleep. The Spirit and the pride of our Great Ancestors that seemed to have died after the 6 day war has been reborn and re-ignited in not just Egyptians in Egypt, but around the world. It’s as though the shades of 30 years have been lifted and everyone is seeing how deprived they have been of their basic human rights and the possibilities and potential that could be theirs if they call out and march for it.
In such a short time, the seed of rift and segregation that had been growing over decades had been ripped out of the ground. Muslim’s and Christians, Rich, Educated and Poor have been standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side day in and day out as one force, united for the first time in a long time.
The Muslim vs Christian paranoia almost seems to have evaporated as they stand side by side protecting themselves and each other from the attacks and blows that the Mubarak supporter are landing on protesters.
Bec’s wakes up and find me sitting deeply engrossed in my typing. He invites me to move to his room to continue working. I pick up my belonging and move to his room, claiming a place on the floor near an electric outlet. I get comfortable and resume typing while Bec’s busies himself with editing his photos taken at Tahrir. (I will ask him if I may post the link to his photos)
Bec’s father bursts in to the room urging Bec’s not to go to Tahrir today, he’d just seen and heard on BBC Arabic that the area in Tahrir was now occupied by the Muslim Brotherhood and that the President of Iran spoke and supported Egypt’s revolution.
My heart sank in to the pit of my stomach. Is this how it ends? Will this country of passion, history and potential fall and follow in the foot steps of Iran?
I call my mother and my friend Heba and tell them what had been relayed to me.
My mother exhales deeply and says,’ If that is what is going to happen then we have no choice but to leave. We can’t stay if it turns in to a state like an Iran’ She closes with me and goes to watch the news.
I tell Heba the same info and her response is ‘Oh boy…”
I left my laptop to go and listen to the news myself with my phone in hand (it goes everywhere with me) and yes…that is what the media was saying. For the first time since all this has happened all I want is to stuff face with comfort food, the craving for chocolate is at an all time peak! I resist … for now.
My mother calls back and says she’s been flipping through the channels and none of the English news stations have been reporting that… could this be a propaganda move?, an attempt to cause chaos and panic perhaps? The only thing we can do is watch and wait.
After hours of watching the news, typing and editing we both need a break. We decided to take yet another walk in to Korba. The scene is a little different today, it’s business as usual (some what). The hairdressers is open and taking clients up-until 2pm, cafes are open but not working in full capacity, but that doesn’t matter people are still willing to stand in line to sit in a café for a few hours rather than in front of a T.V waiting for the inevitable.
While we are there, Heba calls to say that she’s in the area. We meet up outside a very locked up Vodafone. Heba and I go in to Cilantro Cafe, while we wait for Becs to come back from the bicycle repair shop to exchange the tube we had bought yesterday for his busted tire. We sit and talk about how things are going politically and what direction we think it’s going in. Becs comes back and joins us and as do a few other friends of ours. We huddle around a small table as, Heba a relative of one of the leading oppositions leaders and a big supporters of his. She tells us about her experience on Friday when she accompanied her relative on the 28th for Friday prayer, he wasn’t allowed in to the Mosque and prayed outside in the street along with many others. Heba and her relative’s wife stand back and the riot police inch forward encircling them almost boxing them in. They push them down hard off of the pavement in the back. As soon as Friday prayer is over, tear gas is fired in to the crowd for them to disperse. Her relative is ambushed and they have no idea where he was or where he had been taken until much later. He had been held in the mosque along with the Middle East’s newest heart-throb, Al Jazeera’s news correspondent, Ayman Mohydin.
Reports of reporters being detained or arrested under the emergency law are flooding twitter along with many other protesters! OUTRAGE!!!
My friend in Alexandria calls me to ask how the night was in Cairo last night. I tell him that it was quiet. He informs me that his night was far from quiet. He had a full scale shoot out right outside his building from 3am to 7am. He sounded exhausted and his moral was low. He told me that thugs (looters or theives) were armed with machine guns. The neighborhood were no match for them but luckily the army took action and returned fire. 4 of the intruders were killed, a couple captured and the rest retreated.
A very tall, handsome and strapping UN judge came and joined us, he brought an interesting new insight on to what could happen if the President was to step down and leave the country. When he spoke he reminded me of a University professor commanding his student’s attention.
Closing time came too soon, we bid everyone farewell and stay safe before we went on our way. Before we continue on our way home, we stop and by two more boxes of cake mix. (I think I have turned Becs in to a Betty Crocker backing monster!)
He was so inspiring that when we got home Becs told his parent’s that he was going to go to Tahrir tomorrow and that was that! I really want to accompany him, but I know if I go and if the battles between the protesters and the pro Mubarak mob continue and something happens to me, I would never be able to forgive myself.
Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow is ‘Departure Friday’
Monday, 31st of January 2011
The poem Dolce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria More, is echoing in the back of my mind and playing on repeat. I feel as though I am living a fraction of the soldier’s exhaustion that Owen describes in the poem. (http://www.potw.org/archive/potw3.html)
I am only getting a taste of what soldiers go through being in the trenches days, weeks and months at a time. I have always respected their courage, but now I can sympathies with their physical and mental exhaustion. I know that my one night of a show down and days without rest or sleep is nothing in comparison to what they experience, but it’s the only comparison that I can relate the experience to.
After 2 hours of very light sleep I was awakened by a call from my best friend. She called to tell me that a colleague of hers from work had gone to the airport and was still there. He had told her that none of the airport employees had shown up for work and not to go to the airport.
I relayed the message to my friend who has been staying with me for the past few days.
She made the decision to go to her house and pack her bag and try her luck at the airport.
She didn’t want to risk not getting on the plane.
For the next two hours we rushed around my apartment washing up dishes, putting things away, sorting out perishable food to give to the porter of the building and his family, throwing out trash, shutting off the gas and water and unplugging electrical equipment. During that time we waited for my friend to pass by, woke the porter up to unlock the enormous padlock and remove the chains that he had locked the front door to the building with, while my friend got more information about the flight out and a number for a direct line to someone in Ottawa.
When my friend Becs, passed by to pick us up, we went to my friends flat, so she could pack her bag and go about closing her flat and finalizing travel arrangements.
As we waited and I sat in the car with Becs, I could feel the strain of the past few days affecting not only my train of though but my body. My joints and muscles were beginning to ache. I felt as though I was going to crash like a plane out of control if I didn’t get some rest soon.
Once my friend had packed up her bag, we headed to Becs house to decide what to do from there. As soon as we got out of the call she gets a call from Ottawa, telling her what time the flight leaves Cairo, takes her name and some details and then the line got cut. The person in Ottawa calls back but the line gets cut again.
The phone lines are terrible right now, it’s hard to get a clear line.
We go up to Becs’s place to call the person in Ottawa back but the inbox is full.
At this point we don’t know if she’s got a place on the flight or not?
Does she go to the airport and risk getting stuck there over night or stay and attempt to fly out tomorrow?
We have a small window to make a decision, because if we don’t make one soon, the curfew will decide for us.
My friend decides to take the risk and go to the airport. True to my word, I take her there along with Becs, to ensure her safety right until she walks through the airport doors.
I insist that she takes some food with her, incase she has to stay the night and for when she reaches Frankfurt if she is on the flight due to leave.
On the way to the airport we see sandy colored tanks dotted every where and on both sides of the road. They aren’t as modern as the ones I saw in Dhahran, during the invasion of Kuwait. They remind me of the ones in the World War II museum in Al Alamaein, antique looking but still intimidating.
The airport was very busy and the lines of cars dropping off passengers were three lanes wide and long. We find a place to stop to let my friend out and get her bag out of the car. Saying good-bye was a mix of emotions. I was sad to see my friend who has now become more like a sister to me leave and relieved that she would be away from the chaos and be safe. I know her parents were worried to death about her. I’m just glad that they called after the show down we had last night and not during.
She gives me the key to her apartment, so if she is unable to return, I can go and pack her things up and send them to her in Canada.
As I watch her walk towards the door, I can’t help but wonder… ‘Will this be the last time I see her?”, “Will it be safe for her to return to Cairo in the near future?”
On the ride back from the airport I am quiet, mainly because I am too tired to think, talk and I am in need of sleep.
We don’t go straight back to Becs’s house, we go to see how my best friend and her grandmother are doing. I have been worried about her too, because she doesn’t deal with tough situations like this really well.
We call ahead to tell her that we are going to pass by, so that she won’t be alarmed when we ring the door bell.
When we arrive we find her in good spirits and her grandmother is sitting knitting. I listen to Teta Diana talk and I wish I looked as well rested as she does. My best friend fusses over us and offers to make us food and get us something to drink. I have no appetite for food or thirst. We don’t stay long and as we approach the car we bump in to another friend and we talk to her for a bit. She like Becs are very eager to go back to Tahrir to take part in the protests.
Since Friday, I have felt as though I have been in a tug of war match with myself. Part of me wants to be in the square speaking out for the freedoms that I believe in and live by. I want my country men and women to have the same liberties that my foreign nationality allows me to have. I want(ed) to be apart of the movement for change, to witness history in the making and be able to say in years to come ‘I was there and I was apart of that’; but I had my friend to think about and her safety was of the utmost priority to me in addition to that I had also given my parents my word that I would not put myself in any danger. To hold back the Irish/Saeedy blood that thirsts after ‘action’ and danger was not an easy impulse to tame.
Becs and I finally return to his house and his mom (God Bless her always) leads me to a room. I put my phone on silent, take off my shoes and get under the covers and close my eyes. It takes me at least two hours to convince my mind that the danger has passed and that I can let down my guard and relax. In those two hours I receive calls from friends from different parts of the world who have been trying to get in touch with me to ensure that I am safe. Their voices are so filled with concern that I can not help but be moved. It’s at times like these you learn and feel the meaning of philanthropy.
I feel myself drifting off to sleep, I don’t fight it, I welcome it and I sleep.
I awake a few hours later at dusk and I am stunned by how quiet it is around me, there’s no shouting, traffic or gun shots ringing in the distance. I could continue to sleep until the following morning, but I decide to join Becs and his family.
As I walk in to the sitting room, they greet me with smiles and ‘you have colour in your face again, you’re looking much better. You were so pale, you had us worried’. Bec’s Mum comes in to the sitting room and kisses my forehead and offers to make me something to eat, but I still have no appetite.
We sit and watch the news, the protestors are still standing strong and the looters and escapees are still causing havoc. I haven’t missed much.
All the news watching reminds me of 9/11 when I stayed glued to T.V for days and weeks on end trying absorb what had happened.
Someone flips the channel and we watch a movie, I am not really following it, but it is a nice distraction from what is going on.
By 10:30 I can barely keep my eyes open any more. Becs’s sister shows me to her room that I will be sharing with her for the next few days. She is kind enough to empty a shelf in her closet for me to put my clothes in. I change in to my PJs, brush my teeth and get in to bed. For the first time in days I am able to sleep.
Sunday, 30th of January 2011 (Day 5 since the Jan 25th March in Tahrir Square)
I finally gave in to exhaustion at 3am and decided to go lie down and try to get some rest. A word that I am quickly forgetting the meaning off.
8:30 am I spoke to my mum and she said that thug/looter/thief was caught near our house and was beaten really badly by the neighborhood watch. She also went on to say that she couldn’t believe how fast and dramatically things had changed in the past few days. She said that when she saw my father and sister preparing the shot guns she didn’t think anything of it, but when she had come out of her room later and saw the guns lined up against the wall with boxes of bullets next to them she said her mind had a difficult time of registering and accepting the sight. I told my mother the events of last night while I was standing watch and how thankful I was that my friend had slept through the whole thing. I didn’t want her to have to worry more than she already was.
9:00 am The traffic stops all of a sudden and the street is in dead silence. I leap over to the window in time to see a long convoy of black SUVs driving from Salah Salem to Khalifa El Ma’amoun. At the back of the SUV the trunks were open and armed military men had their guns pointed out the back ready to shoot anyone who tries to attack. As more and more people woke up, the more calls came through of reports of how bad lootings were last night. Mohendiseen and Maadi had been hit pretty badly.
10am My friend and I leave the house in search of working ATM machines. for the first time in my life, I leave my house armed. I take a sharp kitchen knife with me and place it in my jacket pocket. If thugs can attack during the night, what’s to stop them in the day time. My friend has a concerned look on her face and asks; ‘Are you prepared to use it?’ and with out any hesitation, I answer ‘Yes’. The sureness of my voice even shocks me.
The first few ATMs we came across were broken, empty or simply not working. After half an hour and several attempts I finally come across one that was working and was spitting out money. Many obviously didn’t know that it was working because the queue for the machine wasn’t long, but word got out quite quickly. I was able to withdraw all my Egyptian currency, which was a huge relief to me because; I would not have any other means if anything was to happen. While I was standing in line, my friend made a dash to her apartment to check on things there and to collect a few more things.
While I waited I made my daily pilgrimage to Metro, the supermarket and it was even more crowded than the day before. I looked as though people were actually awakening from their sleep of denial and were beginning to realize the seriousness of the situation. Well, for the most part any way, some were going about it as though it was a typical shopping day. One woman wouldn’t buy dried bread, because it wasn’t the ‘fresh’ kind or brown. That’s when I had to say something. I just said ‘I would buy the dried bread if I were you, because you don’t know when any other kind of bread would be available again and dry bread lasts longer.’ I would also stock up on canned food, like beans, vegetable and fruit because, fresh fruit goes bad quickly.’ They didn’t take much heed of me, but I kept on talking until I saw a light bulb go off. ‘I was in Saudi Arabia during the invasion and I know what I’m talking about, our embassy gave us a list of items that we should stock up on, so please take my advice.
The queue for the check out/cashier was very long and it took me almost and hour, if not longer before I was able to pay for my supplies. Which consisted of lots of canned food and aerosol spray cleaners for cleaning and other self-defense purposes, (just in case)
2:00pm I was still exhausted and wound up from not having slept well, or for a better word sleep deprived and I told my friend that I was going to go and take a nap, while things were quiet and before I had night watch duty in a few hours time. It was no use, I couldn’t relax, I could shut my mind long enough to get some sleep. My eye lids would fly open at any sound that resembled a gun shot or explosion.
3:00pm My friend whose father is the warden for the Canadian Embassy had told me earlier that he was going to the airport to check the ticket situation, but it turns out that he and his family had hopped on a plane to Boston to stay with family. I can’t blame him really, he being an only son and having to stand guard at night is not a risk any parent would want to take. Some friends thought it was a rushed decision, but if I had the choice I would get my family out too. Not long after hearing about my friends departure does my best friend of over 20 years call me to tell me that she is going to get on a plane tomorrow morning to go to London and that things are not what they appear to be and I should get my family out of here as soon as possible. Having not slept and being really edgy made me really nervous and panic slightly. I tried calling my cousin in Liverpool several time to try to convince my parents to pack up and leave, but the line wouldn’t connect. I called my future brother-in-law in London to ask him if there was anything on the news at his end that we were not hearing or seeing here. He told me that there was nothing that reported immediate danger; he tried to assure me that everything is fine and not to panic. (I found that amusing because I’m the one who usually keeps everyone else calm, and is level-headed) I called my good friend in D.C but she thought that my call was her alarm so she kept hanging up on me, so I called my other friend in D.C and asked her to follow the news. I also gave her my facebook password and a message to post for family and friends, to tell them that we were all fine and well. She too said that everything on the news seemed fairly calm and there was nothing that hinted danger. (My gut was telling me otherwise) I surrendered any attempts to try to sleep, it was a battle that I wouldn’t win, and so, I might as well just stay awake.
4pm I walk out of my bedroom to a ringing phone, my friend answers and hands it to me saying it’s for me. I answer and there is a familiar voice on the other end, but I’m so tired I can’t identify who it is. I am holding a conversation but I still don’t know whom it is I’m conversing with. In the end I just had to bluntly ask who it was. Turns out it was one of my cousins calling from Liverpool. She had been trying to get through to us for days on our cell phones but lines were down or jammed. I must have sounded exhausted because she just kept saying ‘you sound exhausted luvvy, you poor thing.’ I retold her some of the events of the past few days and information and accounts I had gotten from eyewitnesses and she just couldn’t believe what was going on. As if right on queue an F-16, fighter jet flies right over my house and at a low altitude. It sounded like Zeus’s lightening bolt had been released and exploded right in side my flat and had shaken (That makes it harder to convince family that you are fine and well)
No one really knows why the jets were told to take off and fly at a low altitude. Some say it was to show Israel that Egypt was still in control, (I highly doubt that), I personally think it was to scare the protesters in to leaving the square and go home for 4 o’clock curfew. The sound of the jets flying over head should have sounded normal to me, considering I lived next to an airport and an airbase in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia for 10 years, but today it just made me more jumpy than normal.
After I closed with my cousin, I called my family and more or less begged them to evacuate. I spoke with my father and pleaded with him, but he wouldn’t hear it, I told him about the jets and the looters carrying weapons, the prisoners that had broken out of jail. I tried to lay a guilt trip on him about me being away from them and in Cairo, but he said if you’re scared I’ll send a car for you to come to Alexandria. I told him that there was no way for me to get to the station and that there were no cars. My pleas fell on deaf ears.
I can’t leave without my family. So, if they stay. I stay and that is that.
5:30pm An old colleague and friend that I used to work with in Alexandria called from London after seeing my friends post on my facebook status that I had asked her to do on my behalf. She said that the whole world is watching and praying for a positive outcome She said that they are also impressed with how Egyptians have taken the law in to their own hands and have made many citizen arrests. 8:00 pm My best friend just called me and it was very hard to understand what she was saying. She was hyperventilating and trying to talk at the same time. She was going in to shock; she had just witnessed an exchange of fire between thugs and a tank. The last time I had heard her that scared was she had been in Naama Bay, when the car bombs had gone off and she had just walked out of Buddah Bar after the explosion. I was doing my best to reassure her that she was safe and that she was fine. I wanted to calm her down so that she wouldn’t frighten her grandmother that was staying with her. We did a few breathing techniques and we talked about the situation and after about 20 minutes or so of talking to her she was in a much calmer state. Not long after hanging up with my best friend, I get another call from a friend in Alexandria. He called to say that he had just had a rough hour. He had come of his patrol shift to rest only to have to go down again because a group of thugs had come in to his neighborhood. Unfortunately very drastic measures had to be taken and the thugs weren’t captured, they were killed.
9:00 pm My Mom called to check up on us and in the midst of the conversation the alarm was sounded. Intruders were in the neighborhood. I went to the window and saw that the men on duty tonight exceeded those that had stood guard the night before and this time they were in the street like a swarm of mad bees. They were stopping every car that passed by and checking the vehicles. Moments after the alarm was sounded a small convoy of black SUVs drove by at a hell of a speed, but this time the military men at the back of the SUV were firing continuously as they sped by. I hung up with my mom and grabbed my camera, and was able to get some footage. Like a motion picture summer block buster movie, the military guys from the National Guard, came running out of the base in front of my house and hit the deck, lay flat on the ground and took aim and were firing. Some of the guys were camouflaged on the grass; you could only see the spark come out at the tip of the barrel of the gun. Shouts from the military guys rang across the street as they warned the residence to take cover and to go back in side ‘Kul ye khush gowa’. I wasted no time in getting my friend down on the ground and away from the windows, because the chance of a stray bullet flying through one of them was very probably with the number of rounds that were being fired below. It was a continuous chorus of bullets being shot, along with riffles, hand guns and tanks being fired. It sounded similar to fireworks cracking and exploding in the sky on New Years Eve or on the 4th of July. I could hear mothers and wives screaming for their sons and husband to come to safety. Children were crying.
As we lay on the ground, my friend was coughing non stop, so I crawled like a marine and got her a blanket from the sofa to lie on so that she wouldn’t catch a cold and to retrieve my phone. There was so much happening at once and it was very hard absorb and to process. In the midst of madness that was taking place and whilst I was lying down on the floor two things came to mind. 1- I really need to vacuum the floor tomorrow morning. 2- Most of the people we spoke to earlier today had said that they felt things had calmed down and they felt safer…..ummm….they obviously don’t know what the hell they are talking about. (It’s amazing what goes through a person’s mind in a time of a crisis!)
Once the excitement had passed we pealed ourselves off the cold tiled floor and went back to the couch and finished watching the film “Julie and Julia” as one does after a big shoot out right outside your apartment building. When the movie was over we decided to go to bed and try to get some sleep. Only to get a call a couple of hours later telling us that Canadians are sending planes to evacuate them to Europe. Upon hearing that news there was no chance of getting any sleep. My friend went about packing her stuff.
As much as I wanted my friend to leave and be out of harms way, I didn’t want her to leave either. We had a strong bond before, but now I think it’s a bond for life. After the events of the night, I knew my parents wouldn’t want me staying alone and frankly, I didn’t want to be alone for hours on end day after day. So, I woke a friend of mine up in the dead of night and told him what had happened and he insisted that I come and stay with him and his family. He said he would pass by and pick me up later that morning.
By this time I can honestly tell you that I am drunk with exhausted. I haven’t slept well since the build up to Jan 25th began, my sleep then was 4 hours or less and it was interrupted and the past few nights I have barely slept a wink. I took a warm shower to try to relax. It did help me feel better, but it took me ages to get some sleep. Which was less than 2 hours.