Friday, November 25, 2011

The Battle of Mohamed Mahmoud -Tahrir (Nov 19 - Nov 23)-

As a tear gas canister starts to land in the middle of protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud street, thousands of people turn and start running towards #tahrir. Mohamed Mahmoud feels smaller than it's ever been and the building on its sides seem larger, taller, enclosing us, trapping us and the gases between them. Within seconds, protesters start running back towards #Tahrir, trying to outrun the a thick white cloud of smoke, stumbling, gasping for air. My eyes and face start burning, my eyes shut and I could not see, I only knew which way was out because of the bodies that swept me out of Mohamed Mahmoud. I see to my right @sumayaholdijk's head disappear under a wave of people rushing to escape the white cloud of teargas. Before I can begin to worry about @sumayaholdijk, I start gasping for air, in a moment of panic I pull off my scarf and mask and gasp for air, but instead I fill my lungs with a gas that feels like I inhaled searing hot pins. I try and inhale, but there is no air, just more pins tearing up my insides, by the third time I try to take a breath, my head starts spinning, my legs become heavy and everything becomes silent. As my knees buckle under me, someone on my right hooks his arm into my right arm and someone on my left hooks his arm into my left one. I don't feel my legs as I glide with the crowd through the smoke. I hear a muted voice screaming, "save us,الحقونا" and realize its my own. I look behind me in time to see @fazerofzanight slide under the feet of the fleeing protesters, I try and pick her, but my legs won't hold me and my screams become clearer as I shout, "Save her, save her, someone save her,الحقوها الحقوها حد يلحقها". I couldn't breathe and I knew that if I did not escape the cloud of teargas in a few seconds I would die and surely if I did then @fazerofzanight would also die. A man behind me, also with swollen eyes, carried @fazerofzanight towards the Field Hospital in Mohamed Mahmoud, instantaneously other protesters starting clearing a way for her to get through as we went through people on the sides started spraying our faces with a mixture of yeast, bicarbonate, saline and other things and I could finally breathe. We made it to the field hospital and after a very close call we were all, though extremely shaken, miraculously okay.

Many people don't understand why so many were injured and others had fallen dead in what they consider the pointless clashes of the battle for Mohamed Mahmoud. If we recall the events of June 28th, tear gas canisters were landing in the middle of Tahrir square, these canisters were being launched from Mohamed Mahmoud. Mohamed Mahmoud is the closest point with the clearest trajectory to Tahrir Square. If #CSF forces were to take it over than there is no doubt that within minutes #Tahrir would be covered in a formidable cloud of teargas.

The battle of Mohamed Mahmoud is an organic show of sacrifice like no other I have seen or experienced before in my life. It is a living breathing barricade of people who are willing to risk snipers, asphyxiation, burning eyes and seizures to stop the disbanding of the #Tahrir sit-in. People on the front-lines escape the teargas to be quickly replaced by others, while hundreds wait for the fallen to carry them to the over-crowded under equipped nearby field hospitals, while they spray whatever they can into the air to dissipate the effects of the pernicious gas that has already taken the lives of many of us. People are determined to maintain the #tahrir sit-in at every and all costs. That is the story of the battle of the living breathing barricades of Mohamed Mahmoud, you have not experienced camaraderie till you've experienced Mohamed Mahmoud.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zeinhom Morgue -November 21-

A little before midnight on November 20th @fazerofzanight, @sumayaholdijk and myself (@bamyabombom), during the clashes on BabElouk Street in #tahrir, ran into @baha2saber. He was extremely distressed about a phone call he had received from a family member of a martyr that had just arrived at the morgue. Morgue officials and the prosecution official were convincing families to quickly sign incorrect reports and immediately bury their loved ones. We quickly head there with a few other people.

Once we arrived at the morgue, the families were extremely distressed and did not want any of us anywhere near the morgue. We explained to them why we were there, how it is not uncommon for the prosecutor official to issue fraudulent reports citing different causes of death such as heart attacks rather than gunshot wounds, in some cases they may even insert or remove evidence from the body, especially if the cause of death can implicate one of the state's institutions. We also slowly explained to the families why a State Security Intelligence Prosecutor cannot be present during the forensic examination because the people who were killed were either killed by the Military Police or Central Security Forces, this would clearly be a conflict of interest if they would be supervising the forensic report. Within a few minutes the families had calmed down and informed us that prior to our arrival morgue officials informed the families that foreign agents and money hungry journalists looking for a quick buck would be coming. We reassured them once again that we were activists from #tahrir and we were not gaining anything other than ensuring that their children's death would not be in vain, that those who were responsible for their deaths would be held accountable and we were here to stand in solidarity and honor their loved ones. The family members then agreed to have us advocate on their behalf and we started negotiating with morgue officials.

At first we said that we were there trying to find the body of a relative, they took us into a room with unclaimed and unidentified bodies placed on trays strewn onto the floor. The stench in the room will never leave my memory, some of the bodies in that room were not #tahrir and were unclaimed for over a month. As we looked around for evidence to implicate #SCAF and #CSF for these brutal murders, morgue officials realized that we were not trying to identify a body and they started pushing us out of the fridge, they shut fridge and we were not allowed in again for the rest of the night. Family members of the martyrs who were in the morgue then intervened immediately and said they wanted us there and they wanted us to take pictures. This enraged the morgue officials and started pushing us out of the morgue, while family members of the martyrs were pushing the other way sandwiching between them. Eventually we managed to hold our ground inside the morgue, but then the prosecutor official refused to perform the forensic examination unless we left the morgue. When @fazerofzanight insisted to supervise the forensic examination as the families of the martyrs had requested that she attend, the State Security Intelligence officer issued a warrant to detain @fazerofzanight. The morgue officials then switched off the lights inside the morgue a cheap attempt to scare us out. At some point a man who claimed he was the uncle of martyr started creating a lot of commotion, he was shouting and screaming saying that all he wanted was to bury his nephew, he didn't care about the cause of death, he did not care about holding anyone accountable, "the dead have to be honored and you are making my nephew's soul suffer", the families once again changed their mind about wanting us there and so we told them that we understand and we left, on our way out a young man who was clearly distressed about the death of his brother spoke to the families again and they asked us to stay, at this point other activists and two human rights lawyers had arrived. The families apologized telling us that they were just really confused and upset and they just wanted the day to be over, but they did not want to let their childrens' deaths go unpunished. Interestingly enough, the man who had earlier created this commotion was sitting smugly inside the Morgue official's office.

The families decided that one of the lawyers must be present during the forensic examine before any of them would agree to signing the report, the lawyer was able to attend and observe one examination before the prosecutor official refused to continue working. This back and forth with the morgue officials was ongoing all night, some of the forensic examinations were supervised while others were not.

That night a total of 18 bodies arrived at the morgue and later we would find that there were 7 more bodies due to arrive, but because of our presence there they rerouted the bodies to other locations. Out of the 18 bodies that arrived only 1 had died of asphyxiation, while the rest had died from gunshots mostly targeted to the head region. When riot control and police want to disperse protesters they will shoot at arms and legs, but when they shoot at the head they are shooting to kill not to disperse.

When I reflect back on the events of the morgue, I realize here were families who were experiencing the darkest depths of grief and loss. That night three people had collapsed from grief and shock. Yet, morgue officials had no qualms to further exacerbate their suffering, through pointless emotional manipulation, so that they can cover up and exonerate from blame those who are ordering the killings of protesters in #tahrir. Those who have lost their children stand there pawns in a corrupt government's game. Not a seat for them to sit on, out in the cold standing or sitting on a sidewalk of a parking lot entrance, begging to be let in to see their children behind the iron doors of the morgue. No compassion, no respect, treating people like they are a nuisance, shouting and screaming at them, threatening to not release the bodies for burial unless people sign false forensic reports, forging death certificates, tampering with evidence, protecting those who are killing and murdering people. My heart goes out to the families of our #tahrir martyrs.

Photographs used were taken by @fazerofzanight

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I just finished watching the graphic and horrific testimony of Samira Ibrahim who was tortured and assaulted by the Military Police. If one substitutes the Military Police with State Security then Samira's testimony takes us back to the days before #Jan25. Where violence, torture and humiliation are institutional practices. Human dignity, is one of, if not the most important aspect of democracy, assuming that by democracy we mean the right of individuals to to live in a state that represents their non-coerced views. With the upcoming elections, a supposed platform for democracy, one must not forget to question the space in which these elections are taking place. Do the institutions and powers currently in place, that are moving and shaping the political sphere show any respect for human dignity? When a political arena excludes human dignity how would you expect human dignity to find itself in the political sphere later on?

Any form of participation in voting, whether it is the referendum or the upcoming elections immediately signals consent and grants legitimacy to those who are shaping the political sphere. In our case a political sphere devoid of human dignity.

In #Jan25, Egyptians tore down what most media termed the "barrier of fear". When we vote, we are expecting to move forward, yet we have not addressed how the Egyptian Military Institution has systematically been rebuilding this "barrier of fear" since Mubarak was deposed on #Feb11. 6 months following the Mubarak's fall, 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts. Trails that take minutes to reach verdicts often in the absence of lawyers and without the knowledge of their families. @fazerofzanight recounted, how a teacher in a village, told her there are no more youth in the village, all them have been detained by the military police. There have been many incidents not just of military tribunals for civilians, but also videos and testimonies exposing the brutal torture and humiliation of civilians by the Military Police. SCAF has been slowly confining the spaces for dissidence, by controlling information flow and their strategic use of violence and torture.

A few days ago during a "No Military Trials for Civilians" stand on Kasr El Nile Bridge, I spoke to several by-standers. Few knew the purpose of the stand and even fewer knew about the 12,000 civilians that have been court-martialed and none had ever heard of the virginity tests. Despite the fact that SCAF have issued statements acknowledging these situations. Yet, the most terrifying realization was that as I spoke to people and distributed fliers, many people were scared to be seen listening to me speak about SCAF's atrocities. At the sign of uneasiness, I would ask, "Are you scared talking to me?", the usual response was, "Yes, a bit". At the very level of individuals, people fear the military establishment, most people are unable to access honest and credible information, it is naive to even imagine that at this point elections would do anything to serve human dignity, when our participation is compliance to an institution that only wants to serve its own interests and human dignity is not one of them.

A revolution will not happen through complacency, negotiation or dialogue with those who drag human dignity through a pile of horse shit and run it over with their APCs, but rather through an unbridled collective rage of a people who would rather give up their lives than live another day in subordination.

This post was inspired through conversation with @fazerofzanight and @sumayaholdijk