“They came with swords with which they slashed our tents, all the while shouting ‘Allah is the Greatest’,” American University in Cairo undergraduate student Maha Mohamed told me.
“We ran out, but remained in the street as other protestors came on.”
I had found Maha as I roamed through the scene of the protests, trying to evade the dangers. The bullets and gunshot was all around, ravaging the protestors’ bodies. A demonstration of older women approached, crying: There is no god but Allah.”
I saw a young woman being dragged on the ground; I ran over to save her but a young man hit me on the hand and went on dragging her. I pulled her by the feet and freed her from her captors. She ran off, sobbing. I took her hand; she was shivering. I got her a bottle of water and let her have a drink and rinse her face. I found out her name was Maha, and that she lived nearby. She could not stop crying as I guided her home; “Why do they do that?” she cried.
It was now my turn to ask: “Is this the first time for you to join a demonstration?”
“Yes,” she said. “Who are you?”
“I’m someone who loves Egypt,” I said.
“Why do you grow a beard?”
“Guevara was bearded,” I said. That made her smile. “You know about Guevara!” she said. “He was my neighbour in Shubra,” I laughed.
“I am Muslim”
Lina Mounir Megahed, a 21-year-old freshly graduated lawyer, had her own story to tell.
“I was among the demonstrators in front of the presidential palace when the clashes between the Islamists and the seculars—Mursi’s supporters and opponents—started. I thought at first they’d be no more than harmless skirmishes, but I was dead wrong. The bullets and gunshot rudely woke me up from the pleasant dream of peaceful protest.
“I tried to run to the safety of a nearby building, but young men in a mob screaming ‘Allah is the Greatest’ saw me. More than a dozen of them rushed at me and started beating me everywhere on my thin body with sticks, clubs, hoses, anything they had at hand. A young, dark man came in; he appeared appalled at the scene: “A girl!” he exclaimed, ‘That’s a girl!’ He tried to shield me from them but they beat him instead. Someone then shouted: ‘Stop that! That’s our brother Hassan.’ Another defied: ‘If Hassan is our brother, why is he defending a thug?’
“‘I’m no thug,’ I cried. ‘I’m a lawyer and a revolutionist.’
“The beating resumed, then they took me to a nearby gas station where, in a small room, they started questioning me. Hassan had followed us; he did not take part in the beating. They asked for my ID, but I refused at first to hand it to them. ‘If you wish to know whether I’m Muslim or Christian,’ I said, ‘I’m Muslim.’ One of them struck me on the face.
“‘How much have you been paid to go out in the protest?’ someone else asked me. When I denied having been paid, I was again struck.
“A man dressed in Afghani-like white robe came in, took a photo of me, then an older man came in. He screamed at them: ‘Why do you do this to a woman?’ He looked to me gently and said: ‘Don’t be afraid, I’ll get you out.’ My guess was that he was a security guy. He did get me out; I had insisted Hassan should accompany me, which he did.”
I met Lina as she left the scene.
The dawn truce
Bishoi Timri, an engineering student and a member of the Maspero Youth Union, was among those who underwent an unusual experience. As the clashes began to subside in the early hours of Thursday, the call for dawn prayers sounded. The seculars could see their Islamist adversaries across the street, and realised they needed to pray, so they decided to offer a truce.
I was chosen to inform the Islamists of the proposed truce. I raised my hands above my head and held a white banner to indicate I was a peace messenger, and crossed over to the Islamists. “We realise you wish to pray, ” I said. “We’re offering a truce, so you can pray in peace.” They gratefully accepted, and I crossed back to the secular protestors.
We saw them hold dawn prayers; we felt relieved that we had offered practical evidence of goodwill towards fellow-Egyptians. However, another group came to join them and apparently disliked the idea of goodwill; they turned back and started to attack us once more. Timri was among the injured.
16 December 2012
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