– Judge’s review: 3rd place “In the Streets of Cairo” by Rana Hassanen, age 24,Egypt.
”The essay captures the chaotic atmosphere of Cairo before, during, and after the initial Egyptian revolution, with the author sharing her transformation from naively assuming the army was a force dedicated to protecting the Egyptian people to the understanding its brutal capacity. She describes the difficult decision to go to join the protests in the streets and the turbulent scenes that followed the removal of President Mubarak as protesters continued to press their demands. The issue raised is one relevant to many Mideast countries undergoing a revolutionary
change of leadership: Will genuine individual rights for all emerge or will the old repressive order simply be preserved under new management?”
“NO, I am not moving from here, I am waiting for my friend. Are you listening to me? The
military is not going to attack the protesters, we are one hand.”
I looked at my friend appalled. I did not believe that the military forces were going to attack the protesters. However, merely before I started to argue, the soldiers attacked. Their shimmering helmets and protective shields reminded me of the so-called riot control tactical forces known as central security, but that night was the first chapter of the military repression.
Mubarak had stepped down, and it was our absolute right to demand a new revolutionary government. I tried to figure out what was happening, but suddenly my best friend came running toward me. I felt slightly relieved, and we escaped to the side streets. Protesters chanted “Ahmed Shafik – void.” Other protesters yelled with a strident voice: “If the military attacks us then there is nothing left to live for.”
That was one of the most harrowing moments I experienced since January 25/28, 2011. Although, the clashes with central security forces were incredibly violent, I was terribly confused to the extent that I believed that state security agents were dressed in Army uniform in order to destroy the strong bond between the armed forces and the revolution.
General Al-Fangary saluted the martyrs on national Television after Mubarak’s resignation, and that scene was engraved in my heart. I was unaware that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces had an ulterior purpose. I was merely naïve because the council is part of the former regime.
“I am fine,” I said. Ramy Hamdy responded: ‘’Thank God’’ and then he complained to my friend about my stubborn behavior – as I did not want to run until she was safe. On this night, I did not expect that the military forces were later going to kill my Tahririan friend Ramy Hamdy on December 20.
Three years ago, I had never expected to be where I am today. I believed my life would have gone down a completely different path. I have been growing up in an outstanding country, endowed with contradictions. Do not be fooled by the beautiful areas all over Egypt, because few minutes away another area is located. It is neither quiet nor peaceful. The residents are poor, oppressed, and deprived of beautiful scenery. Fresh water could be their greatest expectation. In my country, people are accustomed to seeing homeless children constantly. Consequently, it is normal for people to walk by children sleeping on a boulevard.
“The police and the people are in the Nation’s service” had been the slogan of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. In fact, the police were a repression tool to comfort corrupt elite. Therefore, Egyptians went to the streets In January 25, 2011, demanding “bread, freedom and social justice.”
Going to the streets was not an easy decision. Nevertheless, I chose not to be apathetic. I decided to go whatever it would take. Even if my fear of sexual harassment equaled my fear of live ammunition – and being there in front of security forces offers a combination of both.
On the subway, people were lackadaisical as usual, and I was concerned about state security agents who were dressed in civilian clothes who would arrest any revolutionary suspect.
Upon my arrival to Tahrir, I was overwhelmed with chaotic feelings. The square looked different, I could feel a fresh breeze, the protesters were energetic, and steadfast regardless of tear gas, and live ammunition. The chants were forthright like a rhapsody. The security forces were standing like puppets in rows, solid faces longing for violence. By midnight they started to attack. Apparently, Tahrir had to be evacuated by any means.
The forces cordoned Mustafa Mahmoud mosque as I joined my friend on “Friday of Rage” marches that were planned to start at mosques all over Egypt. “Do you think the same crowd will join this march?” I asked my friend with anxiety. “Egyptians are apathetic. Better not to have high expectations.” She answered. “People demand the removal of the regime.” A voice came from the crowd and suddenly protesters coalesced from side streets and security forces were forced to open the cordon.
I learned how to imprison pain and continue my fight on Kasr Al-Nile Bridge. Someone close was shot. “There are snipers!” people screamed. Meanwhile security forces fired live ammunition, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets; armored vehicles ran over the protesters brutally. “Mona where are you?” I screamed. “Do not look backwards,” an old man yelled while protecting me. I ran until I found Mona, I grabbed her hand, and we were hyper-ventilating until we became safe. “We were close to the armored vehicle’’ I said. She trembled. “So close.”
I went to Talaat Harb Street in Tahrir to help secure the sit-in. “Hello do you need some help?” I asked. “Yes, sure – I am Ramy Hamdy – What is your name?” With a beautiful grin Ramy answered. He looked exhausted, clearly having slept in the square since January 28.
Memories returned on my way back home on February 26 after the military’s violent attack to disperse our second peaceful sit-in. “Do you remember the camel battle?” I reminisced. “Of course,” my friend responded. “Why did the military stay still while we were being attacked for more than 16 hours? Military doctrine forbids attacking civilians, how the hell did they attack
today?!” We fell silent. Nevertheless, we were certain that soon things will become crystal clear. Tyrants cannot pretend for long, a lesson we have learned from the revolution.
On March 9, 2011 the military violently dispersed another peaceful sit-in, brutally tortured the protesters by the Egypt Museum, and forcibly administrated shameful virginity tests on female detainees. On April 8, the military forces attacked the square in order to arrest the young military officers who joined a peaceful sit-in. Ali Maher was killed and 71 others injured. It was either compliance for SCAF, or detention and torture. SCAF was completely against liberating Egypt.
“Down with military rule” chants were like an earthquake on our way to the Ministry of Defense on July 23. After a peaceful sit-in in Tahrir Square from early July, protesters decided to march to the ministry. At the Abbasiya District the military forces blocked the streets, and we were cordoned from all sides. In addition, thugs attacked from side streets. Deja-vu like the camel battle, the forces remained silent, while thugs attacked peaceful protesters. Soldiers were protecting Al-Nour mosque and pointing their weapons towards us. Eventually, the security forces spewed tear gas; we were completely drained and nearly suffocated. On that day
Mohamed Mohsen was martyred and hundreds were injured.
October 9, the ugly face of the military was revealed with the unexpected Masbero massacre. “Did we become inconsequential?” I screamed while watching the videos. I felt worthless. The general state all over Egypt became gloomy, hope started to vanish. However, Muslims and Christians stood side by side at the Cathedral, and marched to Tahrir Square carrying Mina Daniel’s body. Consequently, I was certain that they can take everything but they can’t kill our unity.
Research has shown that chemical gas was used in the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes. The Ministry of Interior Affairs announced that no live ammunition or rubber pullets were used. In order to justify excessive violence, the military announced that the protesters tried to break into the ministry. The armed forces believed that making such allegations made them irreproachable. Apparently the corrupt remains are unaware that bloodshed made us stronger. We are determined, and we will keep fighting peacefully to liberate Egypt after 60 years of military repression.
“It’s my birthday, can you believe that? I am spending my Birthday in Tahrir square.” I laughed. “The security forces and SCAF threw an amazing party – Happy birthday, dear!” Ramy Hamdy responded. I left him and I went near to Mohamed Mahmoud Street. I did not know that the Talaat Harb gate would be the first and last stop of our friendship. In less than one month, on December 20, Ramy was martyred with a treacherous bullet from the military forces. During the Battle of the Cabinet, 18 were killed and more than 900 injured. Soldiers dragged women in the streets violently. The majority started to be apathetic again. But we will keep fighting for freedom, for eliminating the military state.
After a few hours the presidential elections will start, and my vote will be counted. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces is not going to give up the military state easily, but youth will record corruption during the elections. People died for this moment and the revolution is continuous.
“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the
passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.And so long as men die, liberty will never perish… Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes –
men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.
Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!”
Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator, 1940.