When a Revolution Gets the Activists it Deserves: Page 2 of 2
Neither the military nor the police had attacked us as I began writing this piece. They seemed to be playing a game of “who can hold their breath the longest,” just like Mubarak played a year ago. Maybe, we thought, the military’s strategy was to leave us to our marches, long sit-ins and protests un-touched so we’d lose average Egyptians bit by bit. And by the end, eat one another up.
The newly elected parliament held its first session on the 25th of Jan, and I couldn’t swallow watching the new members on TV wearing scarves emblazoned with the logo of the protest campaign “No Military Trails for Civilians” (some 16,000 Egyptians were put in military jails over the last year). To me, they looked helpless. They looked like they didn’t realize the power they had in their hands. The “No Military Trials” logo should be on my chest walking down the streets and protesting. Parliamentarians should be making laws and putting an end to it.
The Birth of a New Tahrir
The 25th passed, leaving us to the nights that followed, assembling all of us in front of Maspero (the State TV building). After a couple of nights, a real sit-in set in and Kazeboon started using a wall of Maspero to screen footage showing the military’s assaults - right in the face of that platoon of soldiers standing by the gates.
Finally, Tahrir’s spirit is finding its new form: It’s no longer a sit-in waiting to be attacked so it’d react. Maspero is a vital building. Back in January 2011, the same army units wouldn’t have hesitated to shoot down protesters if they even dared approach Maspero.
One day, I got the impossible: An exclusive with a guy who's been working inside Maspero for years (they don't give interviews). Over a coffee, Nabil El Choubachy said to me, “What we need now is for the military to acknowledge that, first, there was a revolution. We need them to start incorporating new faces and people with different philosophies – different from the single-minded figures we’ve been directed by for the past decades. We need them to acknowledge that we’re not soldiers like they are – that we’re civilians who have the right to deny orders. The only thing we’ve got is resistance.”
Listening to his theory of what needs to be done from the inside, I couldn’t help but be bugged by how much he expected us to wait on “them” – the military - to lighten their grip on power and censorship. Where was the “we” - in terms of “we need to do this or that…” The absence of “we” struck as weak and un-revolutionary. But just a few days later, I was shown the sense in his words.
Politicized Ultras; At the End of Living and the Beginning of Survival (1st Feb. 2012)
“Seventy Four Egyptians Murdered in Ultra Clashes following a Football Match,” was the news headlined on TV following the very same game everyone at all the cafes downtown had been watching (the reports had hundreds injured, with the police just standing by). Some people just kept going about their business without saying a word, acting like they weren’t hearing this. Some kept staring at the TV screen. Others reached for their phones and called friends, wondering what was going on.
Around 3 in the morning, I ran into a group of 30 people marching down the street like dark, silent ghosts. They were marching to the train station to welcome back the ultras arriving from Port Said, where the match was.
Suspicion ran rampant from that the violence had been orchestrated by the security forces’ hidden hand in retaliation for the ultras defiance in Tahrir.
“I will only hold my football team’s flag, but not the Egyptian flag, ‘til I hear from my brothers and know what really happened there,” said one of the young ultras; he then launched into a chant against the people of Port Said, the city of the other team.
“That’s exactly what they want,” replied another, older ultra. “To hell with football if it’ll get us Egyptians to shed each others’ blood.”
“To hell with football!” replied other ultras.
At the train station, there were thousands waiting for the returning heroes. There were ultras and non-ultras, activists and people who had nothing to do with football. Mothers, sisters and brothers came hand in hand, walking through the crowd with pale, dry red eyes; they had spent the whole night with no news from their sons. And they’d arrived, most probably, to hear the news of their deaths.
The train came and everyone just flipped. We jumped across the tracks, racing to get to the platform. We started rocking the train as soon as it landed, while others climbed on top, stomping around with nowhere to go. Heroes came out, crying and screaming in pain, most of them having spent hours on the train screaming in pain. Some of them just walked away. From all the hugs, wishing they'd died with the others.
“Say it loud! Don’t be afraid! Down with the military rule!” was the chant that echoed all across the train station from the moment they arrived. There was no hesitation about what to chant by then. The chants echoed with the mourners’ hysterical cries.
“People died. I saw people die,” said one of the returning ultras, bursting into tears. Another man, trying to calm him down, replied, “At least you’re still alive.” But the ultra replied, through tears: “I wish I wasn’t.”
All the returnees had a consistent story, and the videos emerging from after the match confirmed it: The massacre was orchestrated by the police and the military at several stages, beginning with not searching people entering the stadium (many were allowed to enter with unconcealed knives), then opening the playing field gates to fans of the other team right after the game ended, switching off the lights a couple of minutes later to send the whole place into dark chaos.
It made perfect sense: The military and police were taking their revenge. The ultras were a bunch of kids who, with nothing but rocks and Molotov cocktails, had been defeated the police forces - with their rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition - time and again throughout the past year.
“This city is starting to look like a ghost town,” said a taxi driver. “Look around. Everyone is silent, sad and looking down. With this news, we’ve never been sadder.”
A State TV presenter on the following morning’s talk show went wild on the SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces], accusing them of plunging the country into chaos. Everyone celebrated that presenter’s boldness and saw it as a move forward. And I finally saw the wisdom in the words of my Maspero contact, Nabil El Choubachy: “Resistance is the only thing we got.”
As for the ultras’ role in the revolution from this point, it’s the end of living and the beginning of survival.
The Clashes after the Clashes
Ultras and ordinary people and activists started marching to Tahrir the morning after the football massacre. Then, people decided to protest in front of the Ministry of Interior, venting rage at police.
On Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which was a battlefield back in November, protesters found themselves face to face with an ugly concrete wall. After the clashes in November and December, the military decided to erect the walls to put an end to the fighting. Walls of huge concrete blocks, stacked one on top of the other. The clashes stopped back then, but the army kept the walls in place. Some people posited that the generals find them trendy.
When the protesters came face to face with that ugly wall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street this time, we decided to take it down. Dozens gathered and started pushing, one concrete block after the other, until it was a pile on the ground.
The police tried to frame the “rioters,” claiming we were trying to break into the ministry, claiming their forces were just defending it. But in the early morning hours of February 6th, riot police stormed half of downtown, including neighborhoods well away from the ministry. They chased protesters, shot some of them down, ran them over and tear gassed them. They arrested all the doctors at the field hospital and burned their medical supplies. They went wild, raining us with tear gas, rubber bullets and birdshot, sending people fleeing in horror, kids shot up with birdshot. And around every corner, mothers screaming.
The parliament, dominated now by the Muslim Brotherhood, held an emergency session and ended up demanding investigations. Investigations were supposed to take place around the November clashes, in which there are allegations of chemical warfare perpetuated by the police forces. Investigations were supposed to take place around the December clashes and the Maspero clashes, where military tanks ran over protesters. And now we’ve got one more investigation. Don’t wait up for its result. It just might never come out.
A call for a general strike starting February 11th is the word spreading on the street now. So far, student unions at some 40 government and private universities have announced support for the strike. And Kamal Abu-Aita, the head of the labor movement’s free syndicates’ union, has announced that the workers’ movement will be joining the strike en masse.
And yet another campaign has taken off, calling upon people to boycott all products made by the military’s businesses and factories, from mineral water to basic supplies like macaroni.
Ahmed Harrara, one of the icons of the revolution, lost one eye back in Jan 2011. and lost the other in the November clashes.
Ahmad Badawi got run over by a police armored vehicle back in Jan 2011. But that didn't stop him from joining the recent clashes. He was shot and passed away on the night of February 5, 2012.
Sometimes the police and the military act like they’re on a morning hunting trip, or in Hollywood, on a wild-west set.
From now on, the street is the only place where we can be. Long live the revolution, for those we’ve lost along the way.
Resistance is the only thing we got.
During one of the labor movement meetings on Feb 8th, journalist Mostafa Basiouni surprised and inspired us all by beginning his talk with a refusal to stand for a moment of silence for the martyrs. "Martyrs don’t need our moments of silence. Martyrs need us to stop the machines, close the bureaus, shut the shops and halt all transportation. Let’s give the martyrs what they need.”
General strike is the answer.
Amor Eletrebi is a 23-year old poet and activist who has been participating in Egypt's revolution throughout the past year.