‘Muslims, Christians we are all Egyptians': Scenes from a revolution as told by one eyewitness

Israel/Palestine
on 35 Comments
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A cross-section of Cairo residents formed a human chain on Saturday to help guard Egyptian antiquities at a national museum. (Photo: Khaled Desouki/Agence France-Presse via The Lede)

My friend Yousry is in his late twenties. He and his wife would be considered affluent because they live in Zamalek. But like so many others, because all barriers of class have fallen away—he has been on the streets for the last 48 hours. He just returned home in Zamalek after patrolling the streets of the neighborhood with his prized Syrian sword that used to just hang up as souvenir in their living room. He had never thought he would have to take it off the wall and actually try to use it to defend his neighbors and his family. He did like to show it off at our late night parties in his apartment.

I have spent the last half an hour with him talking from his landline at home. This is his powerful account un-edited by me of each and every moment of the last 48 hours as he experienced it. For a moment I wished that he was live on air on Al-Jazeera or CNN saying all of this—but then I realized that it is better for him to talk to a trusted friend and he perhaps would not say all of this to mainstream news media hungry for sound-bites. I am not going to provide his phone number or his real name to any journalists. He needs to get up in the morning, if he can sleep tonight and go back out.

To me what he describes is more powerful than anything I have heard on television with the endless parade of pundits or the unfortunate tendency of even Al-Jazeera (which is doing some great reportage, no doubt) to have their reporters climb up high in tall buildings to show us wide shots of the immensity of the Egyptian revolution. Yousry is one of those citizens in the middle of the chaos who reporters are not talking to as much as they need to.

Here he is in his own words, un-edited and certainly not talking in soundbites. (I have spent some time cleaning up my hurried note taking and as much grammar/punctuation corrections I could make to that). His voice sounds very hoarse-I feel guilty but press him on anyway. It sounds like he has inhaled way too much smoke and tear-gas.

Me: Yousry how are you and please if its not asking too much can you just start talking about everything you saw and are feeling. Pretend that you are on my couch or something and that I am some New York shrink.

Y: Ha Ha! That is funny. OK here goes. BTW I am having some Scotch now. I think I need it Yaani. I was in the protest all day yesterday and I started at 6th of October bridge—you remember? You were here so many times—it’s just a short walk from Zamalek?

Me: Of course I remember and btw yesterday all day the Al Jazeera reporter had his cameraperson focused on the bridge-so we basically saw it all live. He had a running commentary throughout.

Y: Ha Ha! He should have come down and talked to us Yaani. But I am glad that they showed it to the world. I have had no time to watch TV. It’s a luxury—you can either stay at home and get drunk and stare at the TV or you can join everybody out there!I was shocked at how diverse the turnout was. There were so many people from Zamalek and you know how people from Zamalek usually are.

Me: Ha! Like drinking and having all night parties?

Y: Yes yalla! No one from the Ikhwan was there or any of the organized political parties. It was about 1:30 pm or so I think. Even if any of us picked up a rock to throw at the police everyone yelled Selmya! Selmya (*Selmya is peaceful) and Parvez believe me that till before this bastard gave his speech yesterday that was the word I heard most often on the streets. We were peaceful till 4 or 4:30 I think. Then these police fuckers started shooting these pellets and it suddenly became very difficult to control the injured protesters or their friends. I think the violence must have started around 5 pm–I was not keeping track of time—was not wearing my watch and phone was in my pocket, not working anyway

Me: Were you hit?

Y: Almost but Inshaallah it just went by me. And then these guys pretty close to me and hurt started throwing molotovs. I didn’t even know till then that they had them. They started stopping cars…

M: And the police?

Y: You must understand this…its important because its been a mix of these thugs and cops since yesterday—most of the thug types who are doing most of the attacks are prisoners who have been released by that bastard Mubarak in return for their services to beat up civilians

Me: And the army?

Y: Till then there was no army—and then when finally they came and people cheered this one tank—it looked liked they were hesitant to use force. I actually came back home after the violence started—just walked back on 6th of October past these guys setting a police van on fire. I have a wife, family to think of.

Me: I know. I am so glad you are still OK man…today?

Y: I went to tahrir today with other friends at about 11 am and by 2 pm or so we were by the TV station near the Corniche…

Me: Yes, I remember that. I once stayed at the Ramses Hilton right next to it. There was also a small shopping mall there. That’s the one right?

Me: Hey a lot of guys here have been saying that this revolution is all about the success of social networking? I mean I guess up to a point they are right because someone like me sitting here is tweeting obsessively with updates I am getting from anyone I can reach on a landline really—but is this true?

Y: Its bullshit…I mean I agree that in the beginning around the 25th twitter did play some kind of role because people were able to throw around ideas on it—but come on—even that! How many fucking people in Cairo you think would know how to use the damn thing or even the damn internet—and even if they knew how many do you think would have easy access to a computer with a reliable internet connection? I mean, its bullshit…

Me: I am so glad you are saying this. I thought I am the only fucking idiot repeating this like a fucking parrot

Y: You said it? Great man! I have no fucking idea anyway about what you are saying? I haven’t bloody seen Facebook or twitter in a fucking while now…

Me: Man this is all so fucked up.

Y: Tayyib ofcourse yaani—you see now since yesterday and even Thursday actually after they shut it all down—it is self explanatory– it doesn’t matter anymore—twitter and all that shit—no one has it anyway. I guess maybe some journalist types can still do it? I have no idea on how to get on the fucking internet and I am pretty good at this shit—so if I don’t know—how can others be tweeting–so everywhere u go Parvez today there are thousands of people now its come to that…All of Tahrir has been filled with so many people—I have never seen so many people—Tanks were standing at the entrance of Tahrir facing each other as I walked towards it today—All I could hear was this amazing chant that made me so fucking happy—“Alshab Aldesh Eid Wahada” you know…it means “The people and the soldiers are one…”

Me: Alhamdullilah

Y: You still haven’t given up your religious bullshit I see…and then as we walked closer these soldiers on these tanks were holding like these small bouquets of tube roses I think…some of them were giving like a thumbs up to all of us…I even took photographs which of course I cant fucking email you—but some of the tanks had “Yasqut Hosni Mubarak” spray painted on them…You know Yasqut is like Fall…
They were holding small bouqets of tube roses

Me: I don’t remember if I saw any images of that? But I am sure there must be…

Y: Yes and then people started clapping in Tahrir and as we walked deeper into this crowd— and Parvez it was amazing…they were people who were carrying an army officer on their shoulders he was holding up his fist…the soldier and people started chanting….because the army officer was chanting….

Me: What was the soldier chanting?

Y: I couldn’t hear him…there was just so much noise and smoke and then we started chanting you know the slogan of the last few days…The people will the fall of the government…and we were chanting that and this group of older guys stopped us! And said no the chant has changed now it is The People will the Fall of the President. Amazing man, do you get it? They are making sure that there is no ambiguity anymore after his scam speech from last night…and his fucking new “government” lies…

Me: wow…

Y: and ya today you know I felt Muslim Brotherhood presence for first time—these are what we call the beards you know—they made their way to the front of the protest near me where students were leading—and this elderly man in his 60’s was holding up a flag–he started chanting Allahu Akbar—and the students started
“Muslameen Mesiheen Kolina Masreen” you know… “Muslims Christians we are all Egyptians”

Me: I cant believe it—everyone is saying that the Copts have been looking after the backs of the Muslims when they are praying in mosques man…its just fucking unbelievable especially after all that drama a few weeks ago…

Y: yes! And then we heard fire shots from distance— and these two bodies covered in shrouds were carried in like a ganaza procession, you know…

Me: I think I saw a youtube video of that…ya they were reciting the Salatuljanaza…the funeral namaz…

Y: Yes. And then this ambulance kind of pulled up and the guy in it yelled out…that he had another martyr and that all 3 had been killed while they were at that fucking Ministry of Interior which you know everyone has been trying to occupy…you know Parvez how much that bloody MOI is hated in this country…

Me: I know…I know and now second only to Mubarak I guess

Y: And yes then all these guys were carrying 3 bodies through the crowd and everyone was praying the Genaza…literally everyone….even me…

Me: Ha! So you know the Genaza and you are calling me mr. religious bullshit!

Y: Ha ha! Well I was taught well man…anyway I left Tahrir by 4:30 or 5 I think…You know Parvez…you must understand this…people were initially happy it was Omar Soliman who was going to be a vice president you know…he does have a lot of respect…you know…but then after he made that bloody Ahmed Shafik the PM…you know…I think we realized then you know…that something is very fishy…its like he has appointed these two guys who are very close to him you know…there is so much anger….

Me: I know…I almost feel its like he will step down maybe by tomorrow but then make sure that he can run the country by proxy through especially this Soliman guy and maybe long distance…because god knows he will not be safe in Egypt!

Y: I cannot believe that President Mubarak is still so tone deaf and clueless trying his same old tricks you know…

Me: Hey Yousry–Why are you still calling him the president, man?

Y: Parvez–Because he has not left the seat yet—its important that people are reminded he is not gone yet…it is important to say President before his name constantly….he is NOT gone yet man…I am so worried Parvez….people cannot feel tired… they cant feel they somehow won and maybe we should settle for this…because really man none of the demands of the people have been met man…at the end of the day President Mubarak needs to go… this-because this was none of the demands that people were met

Me: I should let you go soon man….you’ve had enough of this shit already…but quickly what about all this looting now?

Y: The looting in my view is so fucking disappointing man…and then to see how quickly the cops who are still wearing uniform disappeared…I mean, you know that so many of those bastards are now pretending to be civilians and walking amongst all of us…bloody traitors….My theory is simple really…The Army and Police have left the country wide open you know—I feel it was deliberate—they are proving that if you guys want democracy and you want the President to go— then this is what will happen without us…only we have protected you all these years…without us and him you are not safe and will never be safe…This is political blackmail…Everyone is sure that the police is doing all the looting…Egyptians are not stupid and I know that there are so many rumours…I hear a new one every 5 minutes…but I am sure that the police are behind the looting…

Me: So fucked up

Y: You know about the secret service police guys were citizen arrested at the museum and handed over to the army? You know so many of the protesters held hands man and formed like this long cordon around the museum so that these police pretending to be looters could not go in and destroy our history…and then they found out that these secret police guys were already inside and even damaged some Mummies…I mean people were so furious and they just handed them to the army… and handed to army

Me: Yousry it must be getting fucking late there man…what time is it…

Y: Maybe 12 or 1? I don’t know…its ok…I feel better saying all of this man…its like just letting out all this negative shit man…Parvez tell me this…In the 80’s revolt you know…military could secure Egypt in 2 hrs—here it has taken them 2 days and they still have not—Is it because they are protecting civilians or are they proving that this is what will happen if you want the President to go

Me: Listen man…its really fucking late…what about Zamalek?

Y: Well at 10:30 when I was out with my sword…remember the sword?…a few army commandoes came to protect the American embassy compound you know…you know its just walking distance from here…it was a fucking joke…here we are all walking around barricading ourselves…and these guys arrive to the American compound to save the Americans? And guess what… I was standing there so I asked the guard outside if there were any Americans inside…and guess what man…he said they had all left between Thursday and Friday! What a fucking joke! There are no Americans left to protect and they show up to protect them while they have abandoned us?

Me: Disgusting…so fucking disgusting…

Y: I know man…so I asked the commandoes…whats up guys? And one of them says…don’t worry Zamalek is secured…there are so many neighbour guys out there you know…everyone is doing it in shifts…none of them are going back home…I mean what is this one mini van of stupid commandoes going to do?

Me: Hey Yousry…please sleep man…and if phones are still working please lets keep calling whenever you are awake and before and after you go out man…sleep now man…if u can…have any pills?

Y: Well you are the pill supplier usually! I think this Scotch will help…My father in law only keeps the best Scotch..ha ha!

35 Responses

  1. Saleema
    January 29, 2011, 7:26 pm

    I am so, so proud!! I love you my Egyptian brothers. I love you!

  2. Lydda Four Eight
    January 29, 2011, 7:59 pm

    Amazing.

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that the American Embassy’s residential compound in Zamalek is protected by commandoes, while Egyptians are left on their to protect themselves. This is part of the problem with Mubarak, his policies end up treating Egyptians like 3rd class citizens in their own country. Foreigners get paid better than Egyptians, like 5 x’s better for the same work.

    I am so glad Egyptians realize something fishy is up. On Al-Jazeera Arabic they’ve been reporting that some of the top brass have been in DC mtg with the US gov’t to decide/ negotiate/ plan how everything is going to play out.

    I don’t know how other revolutions have been but the establishment is huge in Cairo, walk down 26 of July street (main street in Zamalek) and there’s a massive officer’s club, you can see it on google satellite the pool looks like the nicest in Cairo. These officers don’t want to change the status quo, they’d lose way too much.

    • yonira
      January 29, 2011, 8:18 pm

      How is storming the American embassy going to further the revolution?

      • Taxi
        January 29, 2011, 10:23 pm

        It’s called ‘symbolism’ yonira – something that’s hard for you to grasp evidently.

      • yonira
        January 30, 2011, 12:48 am

        dead Americans are are hard for me to grasp taxi, sounds like you could give a damn though.

      • James
        January 30, 2011, 2:02 am

        yonira – read david heaps comments directly below for a broader insight on america’s contribution to this revolution.. i doubt you will read about it and all the rest of the bullshit that the usa is responsible for, including keeping this thug mubarak in power… democracy my ass… it is a complete joke, no matter whether off the lips of obama or bush…

      • Taxi
        January 30, 2011, 8:09 am

        yonira,

        How so very touching you are (not cuz you’re so fake). So is that a new string on your zio violin?

        You don’t mind our boys die for israel but definitely not for Egypt?

      • Citizen
        January 30, 2011, 8:42 am

        Ah yes, yonira, we know how you really care about dead Americans.

      • DavidHeap
        January 29, 2011, 11:17 pm

        Gee, do you think it might perhaps have to do with all those “made in USA” teargas canisters people have had fired at them? Just possibly? Maybe after several changes of puppets, they might prefer to cut the puppeteer’s strings, rather than have the Embassy choose their next “democratic” leader for them.

      • thankgodimatheist
        January 30, 2011, 1:25 am

        “How is storming the American embassy going to further the revolution?”

        :)
        This would be hilarious if it wasn’t sad!

  3. Jim Haygood
    January 29, 2011, 8:00 pm

    Brilliant, uncensored reporting — the best yet!

    “Muslims Christians we are all Egyptians”

    All my life the background meme has been ‘Judeochristian culture,’ with its implied exclusion. In one stroke Egypt has changed the discourse, in a way that the Islamophobes said was unimaginable.

    Talk about subverting the established order!

    p.s. Never mind Scotch — how’s the hashish in Egypt these days?

  4. virtual lab
    January 29, 2011, 8:06 pm

    Vibrant journalism, reads like a book

  5. annie
    January 29, 2011, 8:21 pm

    You know Parvez…you must understand this…people were initially happy it was Omar Soliman who was going to be a vice president you know…he does have a lot of respect…you know…

    oh really

  6. bijou
    January 29, 2011, 9:17 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing conversation. It brings the scene to life in a much more direct way than even the TV coverage. Unforgettable.

  7. RoHa
    January 29, 2011, 9:23 pm

    And there’s this.

    link to 3.bp.blogspot.com

  8. RoHa
    January 29, 2011, 9:24 pm

    And this isn’t Egypt.

    link to desertpeace.wordpress.com

  9. Richard Witty
    January 29, 2011, 9:49 pm

    The picture is effective in describing those Egyptians’ desire for a humane order, rather than the described inhumane order of the existing regime’s policies, and rather than the chaos of rioting and looting.

    • annie
      January 29, 2011, 11:41 pm

      rather than the chaos of rioting and looting

      he did mention it

      The looting in my view is so fucking disappointing man…and then to see how quickly the cops who are still wearing uniform disappeared…I mean, you know that so many of those bastards are now pretending to be civilians and walking amongst all of us…bloody traitors

      i even read on stratfor:

      Security forces in plainclothes are engaged in destroying public property in order to give the impression that many protesters represent a public menace. The MB is meanwhile forming people’s committees to protect public property and also to coordinate demonstrators’ activities, including supplying them with food, beverages and first aid.

      • syvanen
        January 30, 2011, 12:40 am

        The great Robert Fisk has more on this:

        link to independent.co.uk

        Don’t worry about RW, he has finally found his issue — denouncing the insurrection because it has violates his sense of propriety. True balance — white phosphorus on Gazans, OK, burning down the fascist party headquarters, not OK.

    • thankgodimatheist
      January 30, 2011, 1:28 am

      “and rather than the chaos of rioting and looting.”

      Looters arrested and found to be policemen in disguise
      2 looters were just caught in Muharram Beyh neighborhood of Alexandria who had police ID cards and were members of undercover plainclothes force.
      link to hrw.org

      • yonira
        January 30, 2011, 3:41 am

        when in doubt, blame someone else huh Atheist? You sure they didn’t have their Mossad ids on them. Maybe the Mossad shark will start looting too.

      • Citizen
        January 30, 2011, 8:48 am

        Right, yonira; it just so happened that 1 thousand criminals broke out of jail and are now looting and beating up on protesters.

    • VR
      January 30, 2011, 2:05 am

      Even if its not totally plainclothes security forces which might be looting, what people need to know is 19.6 percent of the people live on less than a dollar a day in Egypt – and another 20% at $2.00 a day. That is approximately 40% 31,000,000 people out of about 79,000,000 people. Food insecurity has reached terrible proportions, so you need to think about these facts before you start spouting off about looting (it almost reminds me of the bullshit about looting in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina). As you can see the billions Uncle Sam is contributing is being used to support the people – no, its not, it is lining the pockets of the rich domestically and the defense contractors in the USA to oppress the people into submission.

      EGYPT – WPF – UN

      So even though by far the majority of the people, living in these conditions, are still not “looting.” As for rioting, more is needed, if you know anything about how these police forces treat the people (which I serious doubt by some of the posts). I say level the US embassy, and the security better thank the stars that they are not hanging from lampposts! This is another reason the security is in plainclothes, they just do not want to be recognized because they know what is rightfully coming to them.

      • VR
        January 30, 2011, 2:22 am

        I might also add that it should not be back to business as usual, no going to work – a general strike needs to be imposed by the people. This will show them that nothing will go back to “normal” until Mubarak is gone – get what vehicles you have and abandon them in the middle of the streets, blockade the thoroughfares which are used as routes to work. Steal some buses if you have to, in order to make removal of the blockade extremely hard.

      • VR
        January 30, 2011, 9:57 am

        Then we have the general ignorance of what is happening in the region, most here have no idea what the “US Imperium” and the EU partners have been doing in the region. I could spout off about MEFTA, GAFTA, Agadr Agreement, COMESA, EU-Mediterranean and few if any would know what I am talking about. Suffice it to say that the current programs of impoverishment by the international “community” (conglomerates of exploiting corporations represented in the IMF, World Trade Organization, etc. using various retarding instruments), are supposed to be a panacea for purposefully suppressed people – are a form of regional slavery in so-called “free trade zones.” The current condition of rank poverty is supposed to make these traps attractive, and Egypt’s dictatorial current ruler (Mubarak) who has reigned over this debacle in Egypt was just one of a myriad of “rulers” who was more than happy to throw his people to the wolves.

        However, this is not just an isolated incident, it is happening all over the world where people are treated to puppet governments in bed with the global powers that be.

        GLOBALISMS DESIGN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

        For a quick treatment to bi-laterals but by no means exhaustive –

        BILATERALS.ORG

        Scroll through the ME territories for yourself.

        The point being, How are you going to intelligently address the situation in Egypt if you do know the processes they are being treated too? I assure you it is much worse than you can imagine. Ignorance makes you prey to MSM propaganda through ignorance, they poison the minds of the people – make them defensive, by the absence of information and by direct lies.

  10. Todd
    January 30, 2011, 12:41 am

    Ordinary Egyptians want order now. I wonder who will bring it?

    • Avi
      January 30, 2011, 1:24 am

      The people themselves. That’s how nations are built. Crowds of people have already formed a human chain around one of the museums to protect it from looters and vandals. The same has taken place in several neighborhoods. People are forming neighborhood watch groups.

      ==============

      The response from various Western governments is truly telling in that they have long claimed that Arabs do not understand democracy, that Arabs don’t want democracy, or that Arabs are incapable of bringing about democracy. But, just as Wikileaks has shown on paper what a charade the peace process has been, much in the same way true journalists have shown how the US and Israel bring democracy to the people at the barrel of the gun, or at the bays of a bomber aircraft, these corrupt, lying governments have nowhere left to hide. The king is now bare naked.

      When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, the United States, arrogantly, thought it could rule the world. A New American Century was declared. But, that America managed to destroy itself from within with its failed and corrupt policies and allies. Eastern Bloc states of the former USSR fell one after the other, the same is happening with U.S. client states in the region. This is the beginning of the end for western Colonialism in the Middle East, not a moment too soon.

      • Citizen
        January 30, 2011, 8:01 am

        And one of the original PNAC guys is John Bolton, who’s been on TV cable news, especially FOX practically 24/7 as the go-to guy to interpret the events unfolding in the Middle East. He’s also a tentative candidate to be the next POTUS. Everything he says is pure, unadulterated hasbara.

      • Avi
        January 30, 2011, 8:25 am

        John Bolton creeps me out. There is no way he could ever be the president; he is cranky and has a very short temper. In the very first debate he’s bound to lash out in anger at one of the other candidates. No way. The guy ended his career with junior and is going to spend the rest of his days suckling from one NeoCon/Zionist stink tank or another.

    • thankgodimatheist
      January 30, 2011, 1:32 am

      “Ordinary Egyptians want order now”

      Ha! Not before Mubarak is gone, Todd!

      • VR
        January 30, 2011, 2:14 am

        Mubarak is in denial, and soon if he does not leave he will be floating in the Nile.

    • Todd
      January 30, 2011, 1:47 am

      Let me rephrase, Avi: Who will ordinary Egyptians choose to lead them?

      Thankgod: From what I can tell, it’s pretty much a given that Mubarak’s time is up. What comes next?

      • Avi
        January 30, 2011, 6:51 am

        Todd January 30, 2011 at 1:47 am

        Let me rephrase, Avi: Who will ordinary Egyptians choose to lead them?

        Whoever they want. As of now, no one really knows who will emerge as the charismatic leader figure.

  11. kalithea
    January 30, 2011, 6:28 am

    The Mubarak government is trying to create the illusion of chaos and anarchy to instill insecurity in people and through this psy-ops operation regain a tight grip on power.

  12. Richard Witty
    January 30, 2011, 11:18 am

    Extended anarchy is not good for Egypt, or for the rest of the world.

    Some have faith in the natural power of human beings to self-organize (as nature self-organizes). Others distrust the parts of human nature that are greedy and calculating and in times of struggle result in the quiet and weak and unpopular being unheard (in the name of democracy).

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