By Mohamed Zeineldine
It was the night of the 13th of August, 2013; a large turnout. We were still steadfast and calling for a return to the true democratic process which was forced to a halt on the 3rd of July of that year. Ramadan had finished, and we had celebrated the three days of Eid. The movement was not stopping.
I still have the photos and videos of the eve of the 14th of August. The large crowd. The signs and banners waving in the air. One banner stood out among the rest. It read, “اليأس خيانة” – ‘Despair is treason’.
I also still have photos of a police vehicle (a pickup truck with a covered back intended for personnel transportation) that manoeuvred through the crowd. The caption I wrote for those photos was: “A police vehicle was attacked, but nobody was injured and the vehicle left. Protestors informed me that the driver cursed at the protesters which lead to a physical response. The organisers yelled “Peaceful, Peaceful” in an attempt to dissuade people from attacking the vehicle.”
The protest marched on through the main roads and streets of Alexandria that night – without any violence of any sort. That was on the eve of the 14th of August, 2013.
I woke up the following morning, still lying down in bed. I opened my mobile phone to check on my Facebook feed to see an update on the news.
It felt as though a large bucket of cold water was dumped on my head. The statuses, posts and photos that were being shared on social media were unbelievable. There had been other massacres since the 3rd of July, yet they were nothing like the reports that I was reading at that moment.
The two symbolic squares that served as the gathering points of anyone who was against the coup, the Rabaa El-Adawiya and the Nahda Squares, were witnessing a bloodbath.
I quickly got out of bed and rushed to the television to find out exactly what was going on. It was a modern-day massacre of thousands taking place in real time and broadcasted on live television.
A couple of hours later, a protest that had just gotten started in Alexandria in response was scattered by force. Different fragments of the march found themselves sprinkled across the streets of Alexandria.
Shortly before noon prayer, I headed in the direction of the location the protest was before it was attacked, the Shoban El Moslimeen area. There, different groups of men, about a handful in each group, stood at different intersections to try to hold back any attack by the security forces. The stinging smell of teargas was still in the air.
Security forces had taken over the coastal road, and state-sponsored thugs were attempting to move in from a more inland street. For a while, the state forces remained standing, firing teargas at varying intervals. The protestors resorted to Coca-Cola on the skin and in the eyes, and burning tree branches and shrub to counter the burning effect of teargas.
Then things took a turn for the worse. The security forces began to move in and live ammunition was used.
I had just returned to the group at the Shoban El Moslimeen area from walking along the tram road to see how the other groups were doing, and to see how many were actually there and for how long these checkpoints stretched. I had to duck and crouch behind a cement wall of a tram station. Bullets chipped at the brown cement and whizzed just above me.
They continued firing and attempting to push in for approximately three hours. A constant bombardment of live ammunition for almost 180 minutes was something I had never experienced before nor seen throughout the Egyptian revolution. Each moment would pass painstakingly slowly, and I would always wonder if I should remain there or find a way back home.
The concept of morale is something that is only truly experienced, understood, and felt by anyone who has actually been in a conflict such as this. At that moment, we were physically at a weaker position and could have easily been killed, butchered, or arrested. We could have easily been a figure in the statistics of the events of that day. Now, upon reflecting on the events of that day, one verse from the Quran truly addresses the feelings of anyone in a similar position.
وَاذْكُرُوا إِذْ أَنتُمْ قَلِيلٌ مُّسْتَضْعَفُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ تَخَافُونَ أَن يَتَخَطَّفَكُمُ النَّاسُ (سورة الأنفال – 26)
And remember when you were few, deemed weak in the land, fearing lest people might carry you off by force. (Al-Anfal: 26)
The tide turned dramatically after approximately three hours of the siege. Apparently, protestors from areas around downtown Alexandria had managed to break free. We heard a loudspeaker coming from a distance. A familiar sound, loudspeakers were very commonly used in protests during the revolution. Large sound systems would be hoisted on top of pickup trucks, turning them to mobile stages and platforms that would boost the morale of the protestors and serve as a command center.
Large numbers of protestors finally arrived. It felt as though life was breathed into me once again when death or torture seemed almost certain.
The security forces pulled back and retreated from the scene. Alexandria was, if only just our vicinity and that moment, liberated.
We marched on to the coastal road. There, we prayed the afternoon prayer.
We marched on throughout the roads of the city, peacefully, for most of the remainder of the day. We reached the Smouha area of Alexandria, a very short walking distance from Alexandria’s regional police headquarters. Although I was not close to that end of the protest, we did see teargas smoke rising from that area, suggesting that something was taking place there.
Night fell. I returned back home.
My experience is a minute fractional segment of what was witnessed that day in Egypt. What occurred in Cairo was a bloodbath, a massacre. The death toll, according to the regime’s former Prime Minister Hazem Al Beblawi, was roughly 1,000. Anti-regime activists and organisations place the number at multiples of that.
The young and old, women and men, were butchered. Snipers were used, bodies were burned. What was, during the Eid holiday, a utopia of political activism with children playing and politicians giving speeches, became a burnt land of rubble and corpses with people quickly carrying away the injured and dead bodies. A beacon of hope quickly became a scene of one of the most horrific crimes against humanity in the 21st century.
The coming 14th of August marks the first anniversary of the massacre. Remember the martyrs, the injured, and the imprisoned in your prayers.