"Actions undertaken to help others, despite the possibility that they may result in the helper's death or injury." So American psychologists Becker and Eagly defined the word "heroism" – and the protesters of last year's Mohamed Mahmoud clashes lived it.
"To me, the events of Mohamed Mahmoud were not a 'massacre' – it was, rather, an epic of heroism," Noha El-Ostaz, a Mohamed Mahmoud demonstrator, said.
The Mohamed Mahmoud clashes took place on 19 November of last year, when Egyptian security forces used excessive violence to disperse a sit-in held by people injured and the relatives of those killed during the revolution. Mohamed Mahmoud protestors battled with police for four days, often acting as human barricades to protect protesters in nearby Tahrir Square.
In their battles with protestors, Egyptian security forces used rubber bullets, tear gas, toxic gas and live ammunition. According to the Nadim Centre, a Cairo-based human rights organisation, Egyptian security forces targeted demonstrators' faces – in hopes of causing permanent disabilities – and stormed field hospitals.
On the one-year anniversary of the clashes, protestors who had been on the frontlines reminisced about their experiences, reflecting on the spirit of heroism seen during the four days of street fighting.
According to Mohamed Assi, a physician who manned a field hospital during the clashes, the Mohamed Mahmoud "hero" is marked by different characteristics, the first being "persistence."
"The injuries protesters were sustaining every minute only caused people to persist, something Egyptian security forces have yet to understand," Assi said. "When you use violence, you only give people another reason to fight fiercer."
Assi explained that some 70 per cent of the cases treated at his field hospital had been repeat visitors. "The same protestors came to the field hospital several times with different injuries," he said.
Assi remembered one protestor who lost a leg during the 18-day Tahrir Square uprising, yet came to fight on Mohamed Mahmoud on his crutches. "I remember seeing him at the field hospital; he had been shot with a rubber bullet," the doctor recalled.
Heroes of Mohamed Mahmoud heroes were also committed to protecting their colleagues in Tahrir Square. "Their devotion to this cause came first; their lives were an afterthought," Assi said.
Ahmed Aggour, another survivor of the clashes, said there had been "no room for fear" among protestors; all of them knew they could lose their lives at any minute.
"We're all going to die; it doesn't matter when," Aggour posited. "Is there anything better than dying for a cause you believe in?"
Another characteristic of the Mohamed Mahmoud heroes was the selflessness with which they supported one another.
"Even though we didn't know one another, we nevertheless felt responsible for each other," Osama El-Wardani, who was on the frontlines of the clashes, said. "I knew that, in case I was injured, I wouldn't be left behind; a fellow protestor would pick me up – which actually happened when I was shot in the eye."
On the subject of selflessness, Aggour spoke of his personal Mohamed Mahmoud "hero."
"This man, whose name I didn't know, stopped me from approaching the frontlines so I wouldn't get hurt," he recalled, visibly moved. "Then he himself was shot and killed. I still have his scarf."
'Organisation' was another trademark of the Mohamed Mahmoud protests.
"Protestors didn't know each other, but they nevertheless managed to work as a team in a highly organised way to protect the various entrances to Tahrir Square," El-Ostaz said.
Assi, for his part, recalled how protestors had worked together to launch counter-attacks on police, set up field hospitals to treat the injured and distribute badly-needed medical supplies.
Assi also witnessed several personal examples of heroism. The first were the motorcycle riders, who volunteered to transport the injured. "All they had were their motorcycles, but they were willing to risk these – along with their lives – to save others."
Heroism on the part of women was also in evidence.
"There was no difference between men and women. Everyone did their part," Assi said, explaining that female activists had provided most of the medical assistance during the clashes. "Women also often spent the night at field hospitals, while others manned the frontlines alongside the men."
Rania Fouad, a physician who had volunteered at a field hospital and who later died from excessive teargas inhalation, is a particularly vivid example of such heroism, Assi pointed out.
Protestors agree that the heroism witnessed on Mohamed Mahmoud Street last year was kindled by the killing of scores of protesters the month before in Cairo's Maspero district, along with other examples of police heavy-handedness.
"Feelings of anger and revenge certainly played a role in galvanising the Mohamed Mahmoud protestors, but there was also something divine in the people’s persistence; in how they risked death for a better Egypt," said El-Ostaz.
Forty-seven people were killed in last year's clashes, yet, Assi believes, the spirit of Mohamed Mahmoud heroism has not died. "Another Mohamed Mahmoud could happen at any time, because Egypt’s problems are still the same," he said.