Footnotes to a curfew
It’s the big fire.
On 28 January 2011 we watched the flames consume the NDP building, awaiting the announcement of a curfew as a mark of victory. When the army was deployed that night, it was the sign that Habib al-Adli’s state had been broken against the will of those who took to the streets and stayed there, for a day or a bit longer. That morning we saw everything: death, freedom, and the face of truth.
Life before the "Friday of Anger" was not the same as life after it. The "Friday of Anger" was that fairy singer "naddaha" of the revolution. For two years the naddaha called on us assuring that the will of the street—the will of the masses that came out ready to die for bread, freedom and human dignity—was our will, and it was what determined the course of events.
It was our will that made a mockery of the curfew of the first 18 days of the revolution. We fought our wars, defended our streets and celebrated. We were driven by that hidden magic that had brought down the barrier of fear inside us, just like it brought down class barriers and pre judgments. We all were simply human beings pursing Nobel ends and the street we restored was enough of a homeland. In the street we were victorious, or so it seemed to be. In the street our blood began to course anew.
We called what happened at Maspero "a massacre" because at least 25 people were killed in the street in one night, run over and shot. We took to the street and chanted: down with military rule. Under our street pressure, the military set a date for parliamentary elections.
We took to the streets again against the "Selmi Document", which put the military above the state. We held strong against what we called "chemical warfare" in Mohamed Mahmoud, and we lost more than 40 people -called it a massacre- then we chanted for the field marshal’s execution. He then came out with "a first speech" Mubarak style, and announcing a date for handing over power to an elected authority: 30 June 2012.
Scattered news leaked that the military leadership did not declare a new curfew for fear that they would not be able to enforce it, and it also might expose restlessness in the ranks, coming after confrontations in several cities. A myth? Maybe. But certainly any curfew declared in November 2011 would have met the same fate as Mohamed Morsy’s moment-of-truth decision to announce a curfew in the Canal cities in January 2013: derision and scorn. On Mohamed Mahmoud we saw the truth yet again then everything evaporated. Yet we thought after all there was a ballot box battle between us and military. We were sure we shall prevail.
We were convinced that nothing would again be imposed on us without fair rules of the game. We fought to dictate our own conditions. We celebrated small victories, and we were certain the better was yet to come.
Arwa Saleh said, “You can never again be the same person you were before you experienced the allure of rebellion, not just because it’s beautiful. Rebellion is a moment of exceptional freedom.” And I add, “That is what will compound your tragedies, when you remain a rebel while others are tamed.”
The big fire again.
It is nothing like the fire that symbolized victory over the NDP. No one knows who set fire to the Rabaa Mosque, just like no one knows who torched the NDP building. But we knew our battle lines then. We knew how to tell signs of victory from signs of defeat.
A sanitation worker says as he informs me that “that’s it, they broke up the sit-in. There’s just a few more people left and they’ll declare a curfew to round them up.”
While they were rounding them up, we were trying to round up dozens of bodies strewn around the Iman Mosque, there because the morgue couldn’t take any more bodies. We’re trying to get an exact count of the victims of the dispersion of the sit-in, before we issue a statement in which we used the term “hundreds of victims” because we are unable to get a precise count.
Then the curfew hour comes and I feel my spirit broken in a way I’ve never experienced before. No signs of victory to be seen. There is only grief and an unparalleled sense of impotence. No accurate estimation of the losses.
A street that was ours has now become the military commander's: he summons them to give him authorization and they authorize; he sends them back home and they simply leaves.
Since that day, I fail to understand who “them” is and who “us.” is what is precisely "our will"? Why must I leave the street at 7 -or 9- pm? And what’s the use of it?
What good is it counting the dead in some massacres but not in others? What’s the use in accountability for the murderers of Jika and al-Husseini Abu Deif when no one wants to hear about the killers of Mina Daniel and Emad Effat? Should we call what happened at the Cabinet building in December 2011 a massacre, or should we sing “Bless the Hands” to the killers?
Why are we prosecuting Habib al-Adli while Mohamed Ibrahim not?
I wept with joy the day I saw Mubarak in the defendants’ cage. I believed what Mourid al-Barghouti said that day: “From today on, every Arab throne can turn into a cage.” Today Mubarak leaves his cell while we are the prisoners of Sisi’s curfew. Every Arab throne is more than fine, and we will thank them too for supporting us in a war we chose to wage against some "terrorism" we have not defined.
Again: I fail to mark who “we” are or what we have chosen.
Attempts to define “us” have been painful. I came close to losing some lifetime friendships thanks to the aftermath of 30 June and Sisi’s authorization.
We used to call the changes in the composition of our social circle since 25 January “revolutionary threshing.” There was no regrets losing anyone or having any relationship go sour from 25 January 2011 to 30 June 2013. Today, it’s no longer a matter of threshing, a heart-to-heart talk, a rearrangement of priorities or even revolutionary decisions. It is an excision that leaves the spirit with irremediable wounds. My heart is ripped out during discussions with those I stood side by side with, who put their lives on the line, over the past two and half years, before the revolution became a war on terrorism. Today our discussions are governed by a logic that requires me to frame what the Brotherhood unleashed at the Ittahidiya Palace and simply discard what the military unleashed at Rabaa al-Adawiya.
I swallow one bitterness after another. I decide I can’t take more bitterness nor losses, so I stop discussing politics with those I cannot afford to lose. I turn a blind eye to their opinions which turn a blind eye to massacres committed against some other “them.”
“Because this curfew is fine by us.”
So a waiter at a cafe explains as he hastily kicks us out, after I reminded him that they didn’t act this way during the first curfew. Today, he stands heart and soul with the army until it wipes out "the terrorists."
“You mean the Brotherhood?” I ask.
“T-err-oris-ts” he stresses.
The conversation reminds me of the taxi driver who was about to kick me out of his car when I didn’t second his idea: “If the army can’t kill them, we should go and kill them ourselves with our bare hands.” I remember Ahmed Sabaa al-Leil, the soldier in the movie “Al barye'e.” I remember a scene during which he kills those he thought were “enemies of the nation” with his bare hands.
I don’t know who to blame.
The curfew suits their taste. It seems some have taste for massacres as well.
6:30 pm, curfew time.
Cars are racing and their horns sweep away what’s left of my energy. All the doors are tightly shut in the neighborhood I moved to recently, specifically for wide-open space.
At 6:45 pm curfew time, the military APCs move to close the street; the national anthem of the authorizers, “Bless the Hands,” rings out from the last passing car.
Then we celebrate when Sisi allows us two additional hours of life. We celebrate one day without bloodshed or fires. But life is not the same.
A friend wonders on her Facebook page: “After everything that’s happened, can we get on with our lives again?” The question pains me and I’m not certain of the answer.
Will we get on with our lives?
My aspirations are confined to retrieving my normal sleep hours, two more hours of life without curfew and some of my lost concentration. And to laugh again without that twinge in my soul.
Will we get on with our lives?
News of massacres in Syria again takes its leading place in the headlines. I read an article about the massacre by Mohamed Abo el-Gheit. I remember all the massacres we have been through, and those that we followed at a distance.
The visual of "Sisyphus" appears before me, having faded from my mind over the last two and a half years. During that period it seemed like we were pushing the giant rock to the top of the mountain. Today we must watch it roll down past us, settling at the foot. Then we are supposed to "get on with our lives again"