WRITERS IN THE REVOLUTION: Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid’s first week synopsis

Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, Thursday 24 Feb 2011

Novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid reflects on the first week of the Egyptian revolution

One would need a whole book to record their thoughts on this honourable revolution, but I will keep it short due to the limited time and space, and talk a little about what I saw the first week, until the time comes to tell everything.

On 25 January, the Tuesday, I was in my favourite spot downtown: the famous Café Riche or the nearby Zahret El-Bostan ahwa. When the demonstrations broke, the police didn’t interfere until 3 o’clock when a statement was announced on Egyptian TV that some members of the Muslim Brotherhood had sneaked into the demonstrations. However, it was in fact the secret police that had sneaked in and started throwing stones at the police who then would have to respond! It was apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood was going to be used to scare the West in order to let them do what they like with the demonstrators. But the plot failed and demonstrators kept pouring into Tahrir Square.

After midnight, the police started a major attack through which it was able to disperse the biggest demonstration in Tahrir and randomly arrested hundreds of demonstrators and passers-by, sending them to camps outside Cairo.

On the Friday of Anger, I reached downtown as usual around 11am to find thousands of security police surround the square from every side. I was sitting in Zahret El-Bostan when Friday prayers were finished, and suddenly those praying started moving, disregarding police in disguise, and screaming anti-Mubarak chants to the extent where the disguised informants had to split away and leave the angry crowd alone. However, the police wouldn’t allow people inside the square; the piling demonstrators, whom I now joined, filled every surrounding small or large street while the police attempted to disperse the angry crowd by throwing enormous amounts of tear gas bombs to the extent that the sky above the street turned white.

Bottles of vinegar, cola and cut onions appeared among the crowd to release the effect of tear gas; having been warned the days before on Facebook that these are the best treatment for the gas, coming from the Tunisian experience. I was affected the same way as everyone, but my age and health couldn’t bear it long, and just before I fainted I was able to reach Café Riche which had opened its door only slightly to let me in before it closed again. My wife, Hala El-Badry, the writer Ghada El-Halawani were there and finally Said El-Kafrawy joined. Hundreds of writers, men and women, were still out there demonstrating. We tried to alleviate the effects of the gas inside the café where I fell. I regained myself moments later and went out to follow what was happening, retreating away from the centre of downtown into Maarouf Street where I also found police, led by thugs and criminals, chasing protesters. In an instant, I ran with my wife into an apartment building and the bawab closed the door behind us. However, the forces of the thugs outside carrying arms, were able to break the door. We had to run up to the third floor and were only saved when young people resident in the building started throwing everything they found on the thugs and a woman opened the door for us to hide inside. I was amazed how could they follow me and my wife when we’re this old and don’t seem like we’re dangerous fighters. It was 4:30 in the afternoon approximately, and I followed the television for minutes at the unknown lady’s house, to discover that all Egyptian TV channels were broadcasting about the violence and vandalizing that the demonstrators were doing, and so realized that the regime is using its traditional method, followed earlier by president Sadat during the 1977 demonstrations when they sent their known criminals to destroy shops in the Haram district in order to claim that it’s the fault of the demonstrators.

It hadn’t been 30 minutes before the police disappeared from the streets and the organized gangs started burning and looting. Everything broadcast by Egyptian TV about what’s happening appeared like a secret code after which the police is to back off and leave it to the criminals who turned out to be the secret weapon of the police which it uses to control the elections and other such activities. The demonstrators reached Tahrir Square finally and the news poured about incidences, to the extent that some thugs tried to burn the Egyptian Museum, however the demonstrators surrounded it with a human shield to protect it. I saw it myself and stood by the young people; that will really require another conversation indeed. They also caught the thieves who were going in to steal who turned out, very unfortunately, to be police in disguise!! They were handed over to the army that had by then went into the streets!

The fire continued right in front of our eyes in the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (right next to the museum). The sound of fire wouldn’t stop near the Ministry of Interior building the entire night. I met the artists Mohamed El-Gebiliy, whom I started meeting every day in Tahrir ever since, and another friend. We stayed maybe till dawn among the angry youth.

An ambulance came through which turned out to be carrying arms and ammunition but discovered and confiscated by the revolutionaries. Few attempts by the army to stop the demonstrators soon halted after the demonstrators started changing “The army and the people are hand in hand”. Egyptians from every wake joined the demonstrations Saturday morning; elders, artists, intellects, students. All was excited and happy. The police had disappeared completely! Young people in every neighborhood were coming together to form local public protection groups to secure their houses and families from criminals who were released by the police from everywhere. At night, some surrounded the building of the Ministry of Interior and it appeared difficult to enter, hiding behind a huge wall, but snipers residing in the building were shooting people the entire night until Sunday morning, killing over fifty young demonstrators. However, this didn’t stop the demonstrations which kept increasing in Tahrir square continuously calling for regime to step down. Very quickly small banners made from regular paper were made, and the lightheartedness of Egyptians appeared at its best. Statements such as “The price for one kilogram of meant is 100 LE, while the one meter squared in Madinaty (new deluxe settlement at the outskirts of Cairo) is for only ½ an LE”, pointing to the incidences of government land being distributed at virtually no cost among friends and businessmen. “Go away, man, and keep some blood in your face” was another banner. Sunday morning the funniest banners started increasing “Go away, my arm is getting sore” referring to how long he’s been carrying the banner made of paper. Another had “use President+used mixer only for twenty five pounds” (a bargain sign).

Chants never ceased the entire time “The people … want … to topple the regime” and “the people … want … to put the regime to trial” and “Muslim and Christian hand in hand” which attracted a lot of focus. At this time, the revolution, and not the demonstration, has become a home for everyone! Young girls and women filled the square without a single incident of harassment among the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators; not a single incident of stealing. Residents of houses around Tahrir started throwing bottles of water to the demonstrators, while many of the demonstrators went and bought food for everyone with every penny they had!

News spread all over the world that revolutionaries took over while police disappeared and jokes were made together with army soldiers on their tanks, dancing and even writing slogans on the tanks requesting Mubarak to step down! At night, I would go stay at a friend’s house near downtown as my house was a long distance away, I saw the young Egyptians organize the traffic around the streets, searching cars and capturing criminals who vandalized and looted malls and stores and handing them to the army, day and night. I saw them capture men who ran away from the security police, and handing them safe to the army without beating, handing them food and water. Hundreds of them were captured, disbelieving the demonstrators would themselves do that! They chased cars which would run though the streets and shooting randomly, most of which were fancy Mercedes or Grand Cherokee, hinting at a potential link between rich businessmen and the police in the attempt to stir fear. The demonstrators identified the security police even as they stripped their formal clothes, going back to their civilian attire and trying to get back to their homes, mostly belonging to the rural areas outside Cairo.

Sunday night, Mubarak gave a speech that offered nothing to the demonstrators. He changed the cabinet and appointed Ahmed Shafiq as new PM and Omar Soliman from the intelligence vice president. But it became apparent that he will not change the constitution, and will not charge those who killed or looted. The revolution then heightened again, with a decision that on Tuesday, a demonstration will go out to include a million people. And indeed, around three million gathered in Tahrir, calling for Mubarak to step down with his regime, chanting and singing for Sheikh Emam, Abdel-Halim Hafez and Mohamed Mounir, all famous for their patriotic songs. It was a day of hope!

The new cabinet had over twenty names from the old cabinet that humiliated the people, in particular Minister of Supplies, Petroleum and Media, the one who turned the TV and radio into agents for ignorance and lies. It appeared that there’s no room for communication with this new cabinet, against what Mubarak has requested!

The president gave his second speech on Tuesday, where he announced that he will not run again for presidential elections, however, no hint that his son will not run. He pointed to change to the constitution articles 76 and 78, but without a hint at the corruption or the looted public money over thirty years. Not a word was said about the young people killed in the demonstrations, not a word of condolence to their families. It was natural that the revolutionaries would refuse this statement, although many of them did, especially when the president stirred for the public’s sentiments stating that he is Egyptian and would like to die in Egypt.

The State authorities could have indeed gone themselves to the revolutionaries instead of waiting to be approached, especially the day following this last statement, the Wednesday. However, they were busy, even hours before the statement, collecting their thugs, as well as the poor and needy around the TV broadcasting building, giving each 50 or up to 200 LE. I saw this myself around the Maaruf area which is not too far – there’s discrimination even among criminals! Similar incidences were reported in various areas around the National Democratic Party’s offices, in addition to sticks and knives. Before dawn, these killers were released on the revolutionaries, using camels and horses on top, to attack. A revolutionary said that Mubarak resembled Abraha Al-Habashi who invaded Mecca and wanted to burn the Kaaba. Indeed, Tahrir square was the pilgrimage of all revolutionaries. The incident was termed the “Battle of the Camel”. It continued for nearly twenty hours, leaving over one thousand injured and tens killed. News spread that no one stepped in to try and stop it; not Mubarak, his vice president Omar Soliman, his PM Ahmed Shafik, or even his new Minister of Interior who could have ended this slaughter by asking these thugs to withdraw away from the revolutionaries. But the next days were to bear a new taste and new stories which are to be told later on. For now, I will stop here.

Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid is a novelist, writer and publisher for young talents.

[email protected]


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