Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tahrir Square, A First Person Experience

A couple of weeks before the uprising in Egypt, I became friends with a young lady who lives in Cairo. We formed a very fast bond in the messages we sent back and forth to each other, getting to know each other, and a feeling of sisterly love and comradry formed between us.

During the government induced communications black-out during the first few days of the uprising, my heart was in my throat constantly as images filtered in over breaking news via CNN and Al Jazeera online.

Where was my friend? Was she in the square being pummeled by rocks, shot at by government thugs? Was she alive? Was she dead?

My mind whirred as the days grew in to nights into days and still no word. And then finally, I received an email from her. She was safe, she was at home, and she was feeling useless while her brothers were dying in the streets during the government ordered violence that arose.

With tears streaming down my face in relief and in complete and total sorrow at the images that were flashing before my eyes, I wrote to her and asked her to "please continue to be 'useless'" as my concern for my new friend grew.

Maybe it is the "mother" in me that I have grown in to as age is creeping up in me, but as I said this, as I sat and I watched, the photojournalist and activist in me was wishing that I was right there, capturing images, and lending my voice and my support to my brothers and sisters in Egypt.

On February 4th, my friend wrote to me again. This time she relayed an experience she had in Tahrir Square. It was so moving and so touching, I asked her permission to please share it here. She gave me full access to do so. The following is in her words. I will only call her "Maha".

"I just got back a while ago from Tahrir Square again. While I've been hesitant before to write about my experiences, today I have come back overfilled with emotions that I just can't not share it. I pray Allah accepts it from me and I remind myself that this is solely for Him.

It was beyond words can describe. Getting there took us some good 20 minutes walk because all the entrances except that one were closed. Every 10 meters or so you are stopped for a security check, and my sisters always say, "We apologize." Such good people. In the square, there was these big speakers and everyone in the square could hear, it felt ever so united. It was so different from Tuesday because on that day, there were different groups composed of hundreds of people together each saying their different chant against Mubarak. There was one group that had speakers but it wasn't large enough for everyone to hear. Only a few thousand people who are nearest to the speaker. But today, everyone was chanting in the same breath, praying at the same time, and making dua together. It made me reminisce on Hajj.

A short while after we arrived, the men were running in the opposite direction like something had happened and the person with the mic said that they need 30 guys to go to the Talat Harb entrance because the thugs are trying to get in. At that moment, my heart skipped a beat but I also felt very safe at the same time. He then added that our numbers are much more than them and that we are those who are right and all those inspirational words that we won't leave until he leaves and that no one should be afraid of anything.

I cannot even begin to explain how crowded it was, we were MUCH more than Tuesday! I am guessing like 3 million or more. I couldn't move!

It was time to pray, and as all the millions were praying hand in hand I could hear the thugs' voices and chanting really near and I thought it was really low of them to try to do anything while we are praying. Really low! But many guys passed in front of me (the square couldn't accommodate everyone praying at the same time, so we were split into rounds), going in that direction I guess, and I know they had the situation under control right from the start because there were many people already at the entrance. How wonderful my fellow Egyptians are. Everything was organized. There was only one entrance you could enter from, all the others were closed so that the thugs won't be able to shoot from the top of the bridge as they had done before.

Shortly afterward, there was this huge cloth that they had put up on one of the buildings and they were airing Al Jazeera news channel on it as kind of a projector. Everyone sat down on the floor to watch. I got up to take a better picture of how many we were since everyone was sitting, and I was amazed! We are SO many! And I had already gone there quite late, at Maghrib, so I can't believe what it must have been in the morning.

After a while, I needed to get water, so I exited the square and headed to the nearby streets. While I was passing, I saw that people had made first aid corners in the streets and were helping injured people (I think the government is not allowing ambulances to enter). I thought those must be the brave men that fought off the thugs. But there were many injured people, and I couldn't help feel more hatred for the government. I got water, and I remembered the people who were distributing free water and gave me one last Tuesday, so I got an extra one to try and pay it forward. I walked for a few meters and sure enough, someone asks me if he could drink so I gave it to him. It was really cool how it was okay to ask a stranger for food or water, I loved how warm that was. And how everyone was giving. The guy sitting next to me was eating this Egyptian dish, and he had finished eating but there were some leftovers, so he was offering it to people. Another guy I sat next to, gave my dad I from the candy he had. And I saw a girl passing biscuits.

While I was leaving to go home because my dad got tired, I couldn't help but wish that I'd be in Tahrir with everyone the time they announce he'll leave, so as much as I hope for it actually happening, as much I want to be there when it does. Inshaa Allah! I'm so proud to be Egyptian!"

Maha wrote to me again on February 6th:

"Today was a really emotional day. It was named the "Day of the Martyrs and Coptic Sunday". It was in memory of those who lost their lives, most of whom all died on Friday the 28th and who the government sill won't even make a decent memorial and say sorry for their deaths. So the memorial was done in Tahrir square, and by the non-national TV channels. Such young and innocent people. We saw their photos hung all over the square, and aired by the decent! TV channels, and their relatives came to talk on TV of what happened to them exactly, all of whom killed by the police. Heck, even one person from the ARMY was killed by the police, so it would look like the citizens are the ones who killed him so that there would be a fight between the citizens and the army! And a ten year old child.. I don't know how I expect the police to protect me in the future. I think if I see one I don't know what I'd do.

Other than that, I quote the news: the Christians pray Sunday mass under the watch of the Muslims, Christians wake up Muslims for Fajr prayer. So beautiful. The Egypt they have for so long tried to hide.

At the square, our numbers were less than before and the streets were starting to get busy like everyone was going back to their lives, but for sure the ones in Tahrir Sqaure were not moving. I am staying steadfast until I smell the freedom with my two lungs that have probably gone black now by the pollution Mubarak has made with his own hands. Smell the freedom, and continue what the martyrs have started. Half an hour after we arrived at the square, we hear gunshots. Live gunshots from a distance, loud and clear! It lasted for like 30 seconds. And I could hear my heart beating so loudly. For a few minutes, there was clear panic. I shrugged off any thought for my faith in my brothers securing the entrances. Sure enough, they had everything under control and the guy in the mic asked for a big number of people to go there so nothing happened."

I was so moved by Maha's experiences and the peace she felt and the raw emotion that is reverberating through Tahrir Square, this was told in the first person, her own experience. It is a different side to the stories that are shown on the news and online, it is a story of peace, of love, of pride, and of the dignity that each Egyptian is fighting for.

I am not Egyptian, but I am proud of my sisters and brothers over there for what they are doing. May their fight continue until the last tyrant is gone, and may they enjoy the freedom and democracy that they are all striving for.

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