As I write this, a truce between policemen and protesters has just ended by the Ministry of Interior (MOI). Football ultras, seeking vindication and perhaps vengeance for their 75 friends who needlessly lost their lives a few days back, and their opposite numbers are probably engaged in a grueling night battle where stones, molotov cocktails and tear gas canisters are being pelted. And more physical and proverbial walls are being erected.
It’s Monday now, half an hour after midnight. It was a Wednesday when football ultras were ambushed and slaughtered in Portsaid. A black Wednesday. Another dark day added to the long list.
Black seems to be the color of New Egypt.
An hour earlier tonight, a friend of mine, Zakariya Mohyeldin, started reflecting on another, perhaps bloodier “Black Wednesday” a year earlier, where state-sponsored thugs had attacked unarmed protesters in Tahrir on camel- and horse-back.
My friends would testify to how notorious I am with sharing some of their views. While talking, it’s not abnormal for me to take out my blackberry and start quoting them in tweets. With Ziko, as I and his friends call him, I took it to another level. His reflections were raw, random … It always touches me how people’s memories are selective, and why they choose to say certain things. So I took out my laptop and started typing away. Refreshingly, he didn’t stop me.
When he was done, I asked, “But why are you telling me all this? Why did you feel the need to say that?” He shrugged his shoulders (Ziko doesn’t use many facial expressions, like most men. So I couldn’t read his sentiment), he said, “When I was walking in the square the other day, I saw angry people. But do we share the same anger? I don’t think so. I don’t feel I belong to them, I don’t feel like I support them. Does this make me ‘felool?’ I don’t know. I don’t remember that these were those people I saw during the 18 days, on The Camel Battle day. Maybe I’m wrong. May be they were.”
Zakariya, or Ziko, comes from a family of armymen — sort of. His grandfather, his namesake, was the first head of the General Intelligence Directorate, which he founded, had been reportedly involved in reshaping the state security apparatus, he was a Nasser adviser and he was a Free Army Officer, one of the most prominent and celebrated . His grandson is on the other hand no stranger to anti-military protests. Ironically, Ziko took to the streets to bring down the state security apparatus his own grandfather once helped refine. On his Twitter feed, you’ll find a lot of condemnation of the “3askar.”
But let me halt my editoralizing, this post is about what he said before that last statement, so here’s how it goes:
“The people that I’ve met that day [on Camel’s Battle / Black Wednesday] I may never meet again. Maybe some of them are now in Mohammed Mahmoud, may be not. But these people were the most courageous I’ve ever met. They were not thugs. Even those who were thugs among them were not thugs, if you know what I mean.
I remember how they looked at me when I left the square that day. I was drained. I felt I could either kill someone for real or that I would be killed myself, if I had stayed any longer. [Those I left behind] looked at me, their eyes pleading. “Don’t leave us,” is what I felt they said. That look. They were desperate. I can’t forget it. It wasn’t that they were taking the moral highground or blaming me because I was leaving. Unlike the people now in Mohammed Mahmoud. Maybe.
Everybody fought but no one was expected to. It wasn’t a duty. ‘If you want to help us, come help us. If you can’t, it’s fine.’
The goal was to defend ourselves against a brutal, planned and horrendous attack.
These people [our attackers] were the scum of the Earth, because they had no values or morals at all. They were there to kill us, just because they were told to kill us. They’ll probably kill us. Then go smoke a cigarrette later as if nothing happened.
Those fighting them back [in Tahrir] was such a strange group of people. Their economic background. I don’t know whether they were ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood], or ultras … they were just people. Very normal and very good.
Mind you that day wasn’t very positive. But it was … we were the people who went down [to the square]. There was a sense of comarderie and friendship that was undescribable. This Salafi guy came up to me on the day and asked me if I prayed the “thuhr” prayer. I said, “what if I’m christian?” He responded, “go pray, even if you are.” Some people came and asked him to leave, and they stood by me. I don’t know [why I’m telling this story]. These images keep coming to my head. I wanna write about them.
When I left the midan, I was in such an emotional state. I was ashamed. I broke down. It was worse than January 28 for me. I remember that day the phone calls of people asking me not to go to the square. Or telling me they won’t.
The people who were calling me on that day, amid the fighting, were saying things like, “what do you guys want? Didnt you get what you want?” School mates I haven’t talked to in years. My father’s friends. All pleading. But even if I’d wanted to leave, it wasn’t possible. We were in the middle of a battle. You can’t leave a raging battle. To some I used to say, “there are girls here in the square. I’m not leaving while a girl stays.”
On that day, I could have stayed at home in the morning. But when I saw the pro-Mubarak people marching on the square earlier in the day, I decided I wanted to go. Ten minutes after I went down, the clashes started. I was armed with an anti-Mubarak placard, that’s all.
I’m still trying to make sense of that day. Who was there. Who wasn’t. Part of the ikhwan were there, but by the way, part had left in the morning. And returned. I don’t understand why that happened. Was that part of a plan? I mean I’m sure some of those who fought [with us in the Camel Battle] were ikhwan. Or maybe they were normal people.
I asked Ibrahim El Houdaiby [a former brotherhood member, and the grandson of a former Supreme Guide] about the ikhwan. He said, “it’s either they’re not here [in great numbers] or they’re here but not organized.”
There was a friend who would hold me back whenever I got carried away and took part in the violence. “This is not your job,” he would say. “This is not why you’re here.”
For those who fell or got injured from the thugs’ side [our attackers], I felt no sympathy. For moments there, I felt i didn’t care if they were killed. May be it was wrong to feel so. But it felt legitimate to feel that way. We wanted to stay there. And we didn’t want to be killed. It was simple as that. Even if we were killing them, we were still better than them. I don’t know how many died that day.
That said, most of us protected them.
When I was leaving the “midan,” from near the AUC building near Sheikh Reehan street, a army officer decided to search me. I don’t know why he did it. I asked him, why didn’t they move to defend people. He told me, what are we supposed to do? We cant do anything. I argued with him. But it was futile. He stopped talking to me, and continued the search without even looking me in the eyes.
It was very vague. I left after curfew, and as I negotiated my route back home through blocked roads, I was thinking how I understood nothing; who’s doing what, and who’s on our side. In one checkpoint, I saw two guys shirtless in the cold and blindfolded, their hands tied behind their back. It looked like they were beaten hard. I didn’t understand who they are, or why they were beaten. Were they decent? Were they thugs? I never knew.
But it looked ugly.
I continued walking.
I met another solider, in another checkpoint, who asked me, “what has brought you here? it’s dangerous.” I retorted shouting: “You’re a soldier and you’re asking me that?” A higher-ranking officer, an army man, came up to me, pushing me away, screaming at me, “don’t you dare shout at an army soldier.” My friend pulled me away.
I walked on.
Another checkpoint. I was searched again. An officer told me jokingly, “I heard there are women with tight bodices in the square.” He looked at my friend who had long hair, and said, “And you? You probably want a president with long hair like yours.” I told the army soldier, “Look at me, talk to me,” and I told him who my grandfather was. “Of course, he was a respectful man,” he said finally. I tried to explain the situation to him. I told him about fraudulent elections. I told him that my relative was even part of it. And that it was forged. The soldier looked like he was thinking, that he considered it. Or may be he thought I was lying.”
Zakariya stopped talking. Abruptly, just like he started.
As I sat beside him putting all this into shape, in this blog post, Ziko joked, “you drained me.” It was just memories, just words. But I understood what he meant.
Memories carry such a heavy load, when they’re unresolved.
Happy with the fragments I collected, I proceeded to publish, asking him if he still wanted to write about it. “You can, you know, write your own version,” I suggested.
“Well, may be I will,” he said. “But may be by the time I try to put them on paper, the will will vanish. I still don’t know what I want to say.”
“Hmm. What should we call this blogpost?” I asked, sipping on my latte.
“Well, I was gonna call it ‘the angriest day of my life’,” he said. “But I feel this is your piece, more than it is mine, though it has my words.”
Over and out.