Book review: Inside the Rabaa sit-in


Rabaa Al-Adaweya – Ma'araka bein Dawla wi Maidan (Rabaa Al-Adaweya – A Battle between a State and a Square) by Fairouz Abdel-Aziz, Dar Kenouz Publishing, Cairo, 2014, 216 p.

Fairouz Abdel-Aziz's testimony on the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya protest camp in August 2014 moves beyond sensationalism and shows the dangers and horrors she endured through nearly 45 days at the sit-in.

Abdel-Aziz – a journalist at a newspaper she prefers not to name – doesn't belong to any political faction or current, which is why her book feels neutral. She points out in the book's last pages that she voted for Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh in the 2012 presidential election on the grounds that he belongs to the Islamist current but not the Muslim Brotherhood.

Her writing style proves her to be a novice. However, this isn't a defect – rather, it gives boldness and courage, honesty and candor. She points out in her introduction that the book is a "human testimony" and doesn't monitor events which satellite channels and newspapers chased after. Also, she doesn't incriminate anyone. Instead, she presents the narrative over a year after Rabaa was dispersed, which cools down the writing.

Here is the life inside the sit-in. The tents and guards. Their clothes, training sessions, the building materials arriving by the tonne. The children playing all day. Destitute Egyptian families and needy Syrian families. Passengers arriving from the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt in big buses, going right to the numbered tents they learned of before even leaving their villages.

There is also the story of her work as a journalist. She buys hijab – or a head scarf – before she goes to the sit-in. Many times she comes under suspicion, especially for holding a camera, and was even interrogated by the site's security. She introduces herself as a freelance journalist, reporting the truth of the sit-in, which she supports along with Morsi, for being the country's legitimate president.

On another level, her testimony confirms the belief that Brotherhood supporters arrived to the sit-in to receive promised food. At the same time, there is a small number of cadres executing their leaders' instructions and commands firmly and accurately.

She also mentions that the Brotherhood rented several apartments in the nearby neighbourhood to accommodate the group's leaders. She visited one of the apartments after she collapsed from exhaustion.

All of these details give the book credibility. For example, she shows the destruction and filth which the whole neighbourhood was exposed to, like schools turned into storerooms, with the toilets overflowing and the playground a slaughterhouse for cattle.