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I do not know Ahmed, but I have his written consent to post his eye-witness account of what he saw first hand when he went to investigate what was happening at the El Fat7 mosque in downtown Cairo.

By Ahmed Amin

Before I begin, I would just like to say that there are numerous perspectives to the events that have been occurring over the past few days, and these perspectives are all altered by your vantage point – or the angle at which you are witnessing the events. This was my vantage point today:

As soon as I neared the Metro exit, I could hear loud crowds and gunshots. I exited the Metro and took a minute or so to look around and try to grasp and decipher the situation to decide which direction I should head in.

It is important to say that those that surrounded the Muslim Brotherhood inside the mosque were not thugs or hired mercenaries as a lot of news sources have been reporting, but rather vendors, shop owners, and residents of the area who had their belongings destroyed by the Brotherhood. They were there seeking revenge.

I walked up to the mosque’s main entrance and noticed that it was completely void of security, and was manned by civilians. I walked around the mosque to another corner, which I could recognize as the “dead zone” that TV cameras don’t show. At this corner, there were a lot of officers and CSF soldiers standing. I thought a group on the ground was a human shield of Brotherhood members denying them entrance to the mosque. Little did I know, those people – about 50 or so sitting on the ground – were all arrested. The officers refused to escort them outside until the situation was a little cleared and calmed. The residents were crazy for revenge and seeking blood.

One officer – very high in rank and was the guy in charge – was extremely harsh and exercised police brutality at its best. He was cursing and hitting the Brotherhood members. I asked a conscript why he was so harsh and he explained to me that his little brother – who also a police officer – was shot at and killed last night. I felt bad for him, but that still didn’t justify the insane police brutality.

Another officer approached him and told him that they were ready to escort the Brotherhood members outside to the police trucks. The divided them into two groups, and I went with the first group. As soon as the exited the mosque grounds, the residents began charging them trying to beat them, but the CSF conscripts cordoned off the area. This happened twice with both groups. Nobody was technically allowed back into the mosque grounds, but I somehow walked right past the officers and conscripts into the mosque grounds. As I was taking a picture of the mosque (as you can see on my timeline) I was pushed inside by a charging group. I turned around and noticed they were MOI special forces. An officer looked at me and asked what i was doing inside. I had no answer so I just said I was a friend of “3ameed [colonel] Ahmed”. I have no idea who that is, but I heard the name being thrown outside by the conscripts. He looked at me and asked me to follow his team, and that if I took pictures he would break my phone.

The special forces team was a team of about 12 soldiers that diverged into the different sections of the mosque seeking out armed perpetrators inside. In one side room about half a floor up, we found four Brotherhood members hiding behind a large wooden shelf. They were armed with homemade pistols and sticks. They surrendered immediately and we took them outside. As soon as I came outside, the special forces went back in to continue clearing the mosque. An officer started questioning who I was and thought I was a Brotherhood member, especially since I just came inside. i was about to be detained, but a conscript and other officer who I had given my water battle to earlier recognized me and let me go. For the next 30 minutes or so, the Special Forces team would constantly open the door and throw people outside the mosque. I thought it might be best to leave the police lines just so I don’t get caught in the mix up and wrongly arrested.

This entire time, I could hear the sound of gunshots. I didn’t know who was shooting or where, but i could recognize the sound of different caliber ammunition. As I walked away from the mosque and towards the Metro station, I came across a group of military personnel carriers. They all had the intimidating “Sa3ka” badges on their uniforms. I stood around talking to a few of the officers there and that’s when I noticed the mosque’s minaret was peppered with gunfire. I asked what had happened and they explained to me that there were Brotherhood snipers inside the minaret firing at them. Because of the size of the minaret and the numerous floors and windows, it was difficult for them to shoot at them from the outside (hence the peppering). They eventually called in an army helicopter to rappel soldiers down to the roof of the mosque to take care of them. And they did.

They also spoke to me about street battles that they felt helpless in because they had not been given orders to fire, until one of their men was shot through his bulletproof vest. That’s when their commander gave them orders to shoot to kill. He continued to tell me that the armed gunmen they were dealing with were not what they were expecting. They were not amateurs and were trained and armed pretty well compared to what they’re used to.

That’s basically all that I saw today.

The conclusion, however, is that things are a complete mess. There is no visible distinction to sides and nobody really knows what’s going on. In the midst of all this chaos, innocent people are losing their lives, and it truly is a shame.
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Fouad Street, Alexandria, August 14th 2013

Fouad Street
August 14th 2013

Wednesday, August 14th 2013 at 7:45am my father barges into my room to inform me that security forces have taken action and are attempting to disperse the sit in at Rabaa Adaweya and El Nahda.
As the day began to unravel, the more I began wot wish, I had never woken up.

As the news spread about the security forces trying to force their way through the barricades to clear the 5-6 week long protest that had been obstructing the lives of residence and businesses of the area, Pro Morsi and MB (Muslim Brotherhood) supporters became enraged and took to the streets in several cities across the country.
Being an avid user of twitter, I read reports about the sea side (Corniche) road being blocked. I warned my father about going out, but he decided to try his luck, only to have to turn round and come back after being caught in a traffic jam caused by civilian made road blocks, they let him through and he made it home safely. Not long after his return our street in Alexandria became heavily populated with Pro-Morsi and MB supporters.

The head of the march was peaceful, the people walked down the road chanting their anti Gen Sisi slogans, calling him a murderer, calling all of the people who aren’t joining them traitors, praising the people in Rabaa Adaweya and El Nahda squares for standing their ground and chanting how Egypt is Islamic. There were no weapons (guns, swords, knives or home-made bombs), there were several people carrying sticks and one guy dragging a metal shield often found outside of embassies.

The other members of the march who followed were nowhere near as peaceful. They were fueled with anger and expressed it openly. They chanted the same slogans and called out ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great), which sent chills down my spine. Why the need to call out that?, This is not a Gehad! No one is trying to convert them or cause them to doubt their beliefs. These people carried big chunks of cement curb from near by and threw them in the middle of the road. Some tore down the metal fence of a construction site and threw it in the street along with the wooden guard boxes that are placed outside of consulates and banks and set fire to them. They also took the dumpsters and through them down and used the garbage to feed the fire. Tires, chairs, plants and many other things that they found were used to create their mini bonfires all the way down Fouad Street. There were NO security forces chasing or shooting at them. There was no one pursuing them, they did this of their own accord on a main street in a residential area, where business, foreign cultural centers, banks, restaurants and a consulate were also located.

(I have video and pictures of all this)

Residents looked out of their windows and off of their balconies in horror. They couldn’t believe that our quiet neighborhood had smoke billowing all the way down it and there was nothing that they could do about it.
This went on for an hour or so. As soon as the march had passed and had made their way further down the road, my neighbor’s sons went down in to the street to put out the fires and clear the road from obstruction.

Once that passed, my ears and eyes were glued to all forms of media, listening and watching to the reports on TV, facebook and twitter. The news from both camps was harrowing. Egyptian Muslim’s firing at each other, injuring and killing showing no mercy! Christians and churches continued to be targeted. Several churches across the country were attacked and set ablaze! Two reporters killed doing what they love and trying to shed light on the situation. It was enough to make your blood freeze.

I can not bring myself to call the events of today a massacre, for the plain and simple reason because the organizers of the sit in anticipate and knew that the chances of violence would be high. With this they armed themselves, (I am NOT saying that everyone had ammunition, but they definitely were prepared). Security forces were supposedly only supposed to only use teargas and blank or rubber bullets, (that didn’t happen). Which resulted in a two-way onslaught and loss of irreplaceable and precious life.

Scores and scores of casualties of civilians and officers with horrendous and gourish injuries from both sides. I don’t give a rat’s ass who pulled the trigger or cast the first stone! What I do care about is that Egypt lost sons and daughters at the hands of their own kin men. There is no excuse or rational reasoning for that!

I sincerely hope that we (Egyptians), find our way out of the dark tunnel that we are presently in and do detour away from the road towards civil war.

The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

If you missed my last blog post I have just returned from my summer vacation. The first two weeks of my trip was spent in Central America, in the country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras and shares its borders with Guatemala and Mexico.

A colleague of mine was an archeologist and used to work on a site there before a career change and joining the league of International Teachers. My colleague’s friend has been running an archeological like camp, (AFAR), for highly selected High School Students in Belize for several summers and extended the invitation to our staff and students. I have always been fascinated with the ancient civilizations and I thought this would be a great opportunity to travel to a new country, experience a new culture and learn about the Maya.

The morning of the 21st of June, I waited nervously at the airport for my colleague and the two students to arrive to begin the adventure. Once the gang was assembled and we had become acquainted with one another, the long journey across land, sea and ocean began. The afternoon of the 22nd of June exhausted and hungry, we landed safely in beautiful Belize and met up with and were introduced to the rest of the student body and staff whom we would be working alongside for the next two weeks.

The following day we were taken on a tour of Cahal Pech (Place of Ticks), with Mr. Saunders, Dr. Marc Zender and Mr.& Mrs. Pritchard, they talked to us about the site and the Maya way of life as we walked around and through Plaza’s A and B. Cahal Pech was the site where we were to help excavate. My first impression of the site was how quiet, secluded, nicely shaded and small it was. In my mind I had imagined a much larger complex and a huge temple like the one in Luxor, never the less it was still spectacular in its own right. As we walked around the site there were several excavation projects being carried out by BVAR (Belize Valley Archeological Reconnaissance Project), in my little mind I assumed that we would be helping them. When our tour of the site came to an end, a physically fit man who looked like he might be in his late fifties, with graying black curls, glasses and a big smile came striding across the floor of plaza B towards our group, this man turned out to be the renowned Dr. Jamie Awe an archeologist and expert in the Maya, (he would be the equivalent to the Zahi Hawas of Egypt). He greeted us warmly and explained what it was that his team was doing and what he would like us to do.

He pointed towards one of the large structures in plaza B, that had stairs and an a rectangular archway and said that, that structure had been excavated many decades ago and parts of it had been reconstructed and conserved, he also asked us to follow the wall to see where it abruptly ends or disappears beneath a huge mound of dirt that had numerous tall trees deeply rooted and growing out of it. He explained that when the Maya abandoned the city, the place was left to ruin and with time the hurricanes caused a lot of structural damage to fall and deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. Seeds that had been carried by the wind or deposited (pooped), by animals fell and took root, which caused more damage to the city. He then turned to this fairly big hill and said and pointed at it and said, that he would like for us to uncover the remains of the wall.

As I stood there taking in the length and height of the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder how, he or anyone else for that matter expected us to uncover a wall with just brushes? Surely that would take forever. He then added that it would take probably the first week for us to find structure… (Yeah, right! I thought to myself). For the remainder of the afternoon, students learned how to measure out units using measuring tape, thread, compass and a construction plumbob, (A plum what? (was my first reaction when I heard it too), the definition from Weikipedia; A plumb-bob or a plummet is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line). The boys got busy carving wooden stakes to put into the ground to tie string around to divide the units up. Others picked up rakes and started raking away small rocks and fallen leaves to clear the ground.

The following morning the students and staff were divided and assigned to the units that we would be working on for the next two weeks. I chose to be with unit one, “The Silverbacks”. There were a couple of logical reasons as to why I chose that particular unit; One of which was because they came highly recommended (most of them had a lot of experience excavating and had been coming for the past couple of summers), the unit was the closest to the already excavated wall and I was certain that we would find a lot of stuff.

In all honesty the mound that we were expected to get through intimidated me (GREATLY)! I seriously began to question why I was there and what had possessed me to want to do this in the first place when I could be doing something that would not require me to tap into my inner badger. After a little mental pep talk, I got myself ready for the challenge ahead. I am somewhat stubborn by nature, but I hoped that I had the resilience, stamina and persistence to keep up with five teenage boys and that I would be able to make a difference. I walked over to them and introduced myself to them one by one and that is when I was presented with a pick axe. I looked at the manly tool with puzzlement, (where were the brushes? I thought to myself). I jokingly asked if these were to break knee caps, (I hoped to hide my ignorance and break the ice. I’m not sure how I did). The team leader, a graduated high school senior very politely and patiently explained what we needed to do first and how the tools were used to excavate the area. First we needed to clear the surface of the rocks and make a pile because some of the rocks will be used to reconstruct some of the structures at the site. Once that was done we take our pick axes and start picking away at the layers of dirt. The dirt would then be scooped up into buckets which would then be taken by one of the team members to the big hanging sifts, to make sure that pieces of pottery (clay) or chert were not accidentally thrown away. If pieces of clay or chert were found, they would be placed in artifact bags. At the end of the day an artifact card would be filled out in black pen to explain what the contents were and how many bags of each had been collected. Sounded simple enough, but I tell you…it sounded a lot easier than it actually was. This job is not for lazy bones, wimps or girls worried about ruining their manicure. The students and staff took it seriously and expect those who come to take part to work hard. Some of the rocks were the size of my torso or just as heavy as the bucket full of dirt that had to be carried over to the sift. The shade of the canopy and the light breeze could cause you to forget that you were hot and in need of keeping hydrated. In the first half of the day, I found pieces of clay and beautiful pieces of quartz. These little finds gave me the incentive to keep on going. At lunch time (noon), I was hot, sweaty, hungry, thirst and exhausted! I couldn’t believe that we had been working for almost four straight hours and were expected to continue till four o’clock.

After a much-needed lunch break, soft drink and a bit of socializing, our hour was up and it was back to the grind. I found it very difficult to get back into the rhythm that I had been working to before. My heart was beating rapidly for some unexplainable reason and I was sweating more than I had been earlier, (I might have been having a mild panic attack, my mind and body might have been putting up a little protest to the manual labor, but being a stubborn person I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me). I tried talking to the team but being the newbie no one was really talking, so I chewed on a stick of gum, took out my iPod and listened to music as I worked away until the end of the work day. When quitting time came about, I was out of fuel and all I wanted was to stand under a shower and wash the dirt and sweat away, drink a gallon of icy cold water, EAT and recharge!

I woke up feeling not as sore as I had thought I would, which I took to be a good sign, (maybe I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought and perhaps I can do this with gusto? I didn’t want to jump for joy yet, it was ONLY the second day). The day played out very much like the first, except this time I felt like I knew what was expected of me and what I needed to do. After lunch time the guys started to open up and talk me, which helped pass the time and a bond between my team mates had begun to form.

As the week went on, the site of Plaza B changed drastically. It no longer looked like a well-kept garden, it looked like a bunch of gold diggers had set up camp and had torn up the lawn. There were piles of discarded rocks and dirt dotted around the plaza which I think took away from the beauty of the ruins. Tourists who came to visit the site would come and stop and watch us work and would often ask members of the group questions as to what we were doing and what we were looking for. (The little devil who lurks deep within my cranium, though we should have roped them into doing some of the labor, so that they could also witness archeology first hand and like us appreciate the time and man power that goes into excavating… mwaaahaahaahaa!)

By the end of the first week, my relationship with my 5 team mates had been sealed. I was one of the guys and a fully fledged ‘Silverback’. We had succeeded in finding the ancient floor of the plaza and were well on our way to finding structure. The mound that had looked so intimidating to me when we first began excavating looked unrecognizable, huge chunks of it had been dug out and when I stood back to look at our progress as a whole, I couldn’t help but marvel at all our combined efforts. It was then when I realized that the thing that really stands between us and doing the things that we want to do, is usually our own insecurities, self doubts and fears. The students on the project reminded me of the young teen I used to be and how I rarely ever let anything (except my parents), stand between me and the goals I wanted to achieve. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it.

For our first weekend in Central America, we crossed the border into Guatemala and stayed on the eloquent and colorful island of Flores. Where we toured the ancient Maya city of Tikal and it was there when my tendonitis came back with a vengeance. Luckily I had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had brought the medication I would need to reduce the inflammation. Having experienced the strain and pain of this before, I knew that when we got back to Belize and the site, that I would not be able to work as hard as I had been the previous week. It was a big blow to me. I didn’t want to have to give up or sit on the side lines and not be able to help my unit complete the task that had been given to us. I was determined to find away to continue to work at some capacity, so that I could see the project through, not let the guys down and prove to myself that I can still do anything.

When we returned to the site on Monday morning, I had difficulty getting back into the routine and finding a way to work comfortably without putting too much strain on my heels. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I had to make a choice, to push through the pain and possibly ruin the remainder of my vacation touring the East Coast of the U.S or to take a sick day. I eventually gave in and took the sick day to elevate my legs, do some stretches and ice my heels. Although I was bored out of my mind and felt sorry for myself, I knew I had made the right choice. The following day, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from my unit, I can’t tell you how happy I was to be holding a pick axe and being back in the pit. I wasn’t able to work as well as I had the week before, but I kept on going, stopping and taking necessary breaks when I needed to, so that I could make it to the end of the two weeks. Which I am proud to say I did!

By the time Thursday had come around, we had found more worms and ant hills than I care to remember. We had seen interesting looking spiders, fever worms, a small snake and beautiful butterflies flutter through our unit as we pushed forward. We had filled hundreds of buckets and wheel barrels full of dirt, as well as numerous artifact bags with clay and chert. Like a colony of worker ants, we had uncovered several layers of white plastered well-preserved Maya floor, the outer remains of a long-buried and forgotten wall, revealed a looters trench and parts of a damaged staircase in just two weeks. Many of the participants were disappointed with our finding, but I couldn’t have been prouder of what we had accomplished together as a whole group and as individual teams! Our discoveries might not have been as exciting or as grand as another excavation team at the site that uncovered a tomb, with skeleton and well-preserved antiquities, but I was impressed in what we had achieved together.

People working together is powerful as well as unstoppable… but most of all inspiring!

In all honesty, I have never had to work that hard in my life! The physical labor that goes into excavating must be right up there with training for the Olympics! I might have suffered from tennis elbow, tendonitis, sore muscles and many mosquito bites, but the experience was by far one of the best I had ever had and one of the most memorable and fun summers too. If there was a chance of me being able to go back next summer or sometime in the future, I would most probably do it all over again.

http://www.bvar.org/

http://www.nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/archaeology-of-cahal-pech.html

Tahrir Bodyguards

Tahrir Bodyguards

As some of you may or may not know, some civilians have taken it upon themselves and formed a group, composed of men and women to fight off sexual harassment in Tahrir. They are known as ‘Tahrir Bodyguards’. The team of individual’s aim is to help women feel safe when going to Tahrir to protest. Before any protest they tweet out contact numbers of team members who will be in the square, they encourage people to save the numbers on their phones before they head down to march. The numbers are for people to call in and report sightings of sexual harassment and give the location of where it is happening so that they can dispatch members of the team to aid the person being wrongfully attacked.

Early last week they tweeted that they would be sponsoring a self-defence class and for those interested to sign up. I might not be a Tahrir goer, but I am one scores of women who experiences sexual harassment of one form or another on a regular if not daily basis. Frankly, I’m tired of it! I do not want to be the victim anymore, I wont to have the knowledge and skills that I need to be able to fend off an attacker and make them give up, or over power them enough to hurt them, so that I may get away. I took one on one lessons last year with a mixed Martial Arts expert and I learned a lot from him. So, why take this course? In my opinion, you can never know enough. I think the more you know the better and if I find myself in a situation a few of the techniques of the many I had learned will come to me when I most need them.

Thursday, 6th of February, almost 2 years since Lara Logan’s (CBS correspondent), assault took place in Tahrir after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. When Logan’s story came to light, it sent shock waves through the world and gave Egypt a BIG wake up call!
Harassment has ALWAYS been here, but since the down fall it is more rampant than before and frankly, I would rather not go out and stay home than have to put up with it. However, staying home is a form of defeat and I have as much right to be out living and my life than hiding in the sanctuary I call home. Not going out and staying home is making myself a sub-conscience victim. It also means that those individuals who go around inappropriately groping women win. Why should they have the upper hand? Why should I not be out enjoying and experiencing life?

Before entering the session I was approached by a CNN correspondent (Veronica), and asked if I would mind being interviewed. She asked me why I was taking part in this class. I can’t remember my exact words to her, but I was brutally honest. I said something along the lines of, Since the revolution, Egypt has become a lawless society and I no longer feel safe. There was a time when if I was being assaulted, people would run to my rescue, but now no one will, because people are more likely to think, that I deserved it. So, if no one is going to help defend me, then I have to learn to defend myself.
(This is MY opinion, based on situations I have been in, witnessed first hand and things that have happened to my friends. I’m sorry if it offends anyone but that’s just the way I see it)

In the class we were introduced to our trainer, Master Ramy Latchinian, former Tae Kwon Do U.S.A National Team Coach, and his student and former TEAM USA Patricia Stein. The Duo spoke to the class about the importance of being aware of what is going on around you in order to avoid putting oneself in an unnecessary situation. ‘If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of it, move away” Master Ramy advised. “If you see a group of guys ahead of you on the path and they make you uncomfortable, cross to the other side of the road, you don’t need to keep walking towards them.”

“The important thing when you are facing an attacker is to remain calm and have the upper hand by having the element of surprise. The attacker isn’t going to think that you are going to strike back. The best way to do this is to talk to the attacker and ask them to ‘Please’ leave you alone and while doing that grab their hand and pull a finger straight back or by placing your hand on the back of theirs and twisiting their arm in a way that gives you the power to control them.” Master Ramy explained and demonstrated.

As the course continued in the presence of photo journalists and news correspondents, a room of twenty or more women practiced the moves on one another. The grabbing and pulling back of a single figure can inflict a tremendous amount of pain and even break or dislocate it. The squeezing of the wind pipe with fingers and thumbs with a thrust upward is extremely painful. This particular move is not only painful but if too much pressure is applied you could sever the pipe and kill someone. Hooking your fingers and grabbing the perpetrator from behind the ears and pulling them downwards and giving them a swift kick with your knee is another swift and easy technique that anyone with little to no fighting experience can use to take back control of the situation.

As the session came to an end Master Ramy, sat us down and talked to us about the importance of chosing our battles wisely. If we are in a position where weapons are being used, the best thing to do is to give the attacker the valuables that they want, the confrontation in these circumstances are risky. If you’re attacked and told to get in a car and drive, do not go anywhere with the person, the best thing to do is throw your keys far away and sit on the ground. It is most likely that the car jacker will not want to spend the time searching for the keys. Another piece of advice is do not carry a knife or a gun if you DO NOT know how to use them, if you feel the need to have something get pepper spray or a taser. If you are unable to obtain them then use your keys, carry them between your fingers with the key poking out and you can use it as a weapon and you can use your handbag to bludgeon someone too.

Ayman Mohy El Din, NBC (former Al Jazeera English) correspondent based in Egypt, asked the women present ‘I’m sorry to ask, but how Many of you have experienced some level of Sexual harassment?” approximately 80% of the women in the room raised their hands. A sickening and staggering percentage, which just proves more now than ever that this has gone on for far too long and needs to be brought to an end.

The two-hour session was informative, enlightening and empowering. I can honestly say that I left the center having learned something new to add to my growing repertoire of self-defence moves. On another note, it was encouraging to see a room full of women of all ages and nationalities taking part. It gave me hope that if we as women can stand united in the fight to eradicate Sexual Harassment, by sending a clear message to the attackers that we will no longer cower or be silenced and that we are going to take a stand. I think the road to change maybe underway.

Patricia Stein ended the evening by adding advice of her own, “When you walk in the street don’t look down at the ground or have your shoulders hunched forward, that is a physical sign of weakness and makes you and easy target. Walk with you head held up and your shoulders back, it gives off the message that you are strong.”

A BIG Thank you to Tahrir Bodyguards for organizing the class!

If you would like to join the Self Defence course then contact @TahrirBodyguards on twitter or email them at tahrir.bodyguard@gmail.com or you can call the International TaeKwonDo Center in Maadi to find out about courses offered there 01096979766.