[Prelude: Read my post for background information about what happened during the Egyptian Revolution.]
On Tuesday January 25th 2011, while I was headed to class early in the morning, Ahmed geared up in his over-worn black shirt with an Egyptian flag ironed on. Together, Ahmed and his older sister, Sarah, marched out of their house and headed towards Tahrir Square.
The protests at Tahrir Square were in full force. People were no longer scared of the State security, the police, the government or even their family’s outrage for joining these sporadic protests. Once things had cooled down towards the evening and everyone regrouped, they realized Ahmed was missing. With Ahmed’s short height, small physique and typical dark curly Egyptian hair, it was difficult to spot him amongst a crowd. His friends and family checked everywhere, called Ahmed, texted him and sent out mass messages for people to stay on the lookout for Ahmed.
His friends and family hoped he was dead rather than imagine the torture and pain the State Security or the baltagiya (escaped convicts) would put him through. But they soon learned that our worst fears were Ahmed’s reality. Later that evening, Ahmed’s friends and family found out where he was when they saw a picture of him in the newspaper, blindfolded and kneeling beside 10 arrested baltagiya (escaped convicts). Another example of just how “efficient” and careful the police claim to be. I doubt any of those 10 guys in the picture were actual baltagiya (escaped convicts) either. It was anything to keep the masses quiet, after people found out that it was in fact the government and state security that let the convicts out in the first place. If you ask me, I’m pretty sure he was caught because of his outspoken nature against injustice and the corrupt regime we were dying under. He was out on the streets much earlier than January 25.
Saudi Arabia – Tuesday, January 25th – Evening
Five years earlier, Ahmed left his mother, father and older brother, Munir in Saudi Arabia to go back to Egypt and live with Sarah, his older sister. He chose to leave the safety and comfort of his parents house to be part of Egypt’s continually changing future. Ahmed couldn’t adapt to living aimlessly, going to school, going home, eating and sleeping. Ahmed’s love for Egypt, its people and its culture trumped all else. I had tried pulling that card with my parents during the revolution, begging them to let me join my friends and family in fighting for the freedom of our country only to receive chuckles and an unwavering no.
Now, on January 25th, Munir flopped onto their living rooms brown leather sofa to watch the latest updates on the events unfolding at Tahrir Square. He flipped between Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Channel One and Channel Two, pausing on each channel for no longer than 10 minutes. Munir settled on Al Jazeera. His mother, Mona, landed on the couch beside him. The news anchor reported that the police had caught 10 baltagiya and a group picture flashed onto the plasma screen TV. Munir froze when he saw the picture. He blinked several times focusing on the young boy in the back corner of the picture, the boy who looked familiar, the boy who turned out to be his younger brother, Ahmed. Mona was reading a cooking magazine. Munir’s heart thudded, he couldn’t believe his brother was kidnapped again. Munir grabbed the remote control and punched the big red button with his thumb.
Cairo, Egypt – Tuesday, January 25th – Evening
Ahmed’s small physique and baby-face made his abduction or more officially his “arrest”, all the more ironic – and slightly funny. Ahmed joked about how ironic it was that he was so tiny and still in high-school, yet caused the State Security so much trouble. That was the only reason the rest of us could joke about his small physique but crazy nature. Although Ahmed was younger than I, he was in grade 12, I still looked up to him. I admired Ahmed’s strength, courage, conviction and passion. Ahmed still managed to joke, laugh and enjoy his life even after all he went through.
Ahmed was handcuffed, his hands tied behind his back, crammed between 20 other men, making the ride in the back of the State Security truck all the more uncomfortable.
“I couldn’t tell who was a baltagy (escaped convict) and who wasn’t, but I was scared to death so I kept quiet and didn’t ask any questions. They all liked me because I spoke respectfully, addressing them with hadritak (Sir) and not swearing or inciting any problems.”
The truck screeched to a stop. The truck door flew open. The foreigners were pulled out and untied. The trucks back door slammed shut. The engine turned on and the truck wobbled slowly before parking a few minutes later. Ahmed and the 18 prisoners left were dragged into a building and thrown, one by one after being untied, into one large dark and musky and putrid jail cell. The floor was made out of a layer of dirt. There weren’t any beds, chairs or even benches.
“Not that it mattered all that much, the days kind of just blended into each other – there weren’t any windows – so you kind of lost a sense of time and place and pretty much everything else.”
Ahmed spent six days with just enough food to survive, sleeping, staring at the rotten walls and praying he would get out soon. Ahmed didn’t talk to any of the other inmates. He kept to himself. Ahmed addressed the other guys with hadritak (Sir), they liked it. Everyone took care of him as their youngest brother. Ahmed was dragged for questioning everyday. They had nothing on him, they were trying to intimidate him into giving them information, information about who was planning the protests and who he had been with at Tahrir Square, information he didn’t even have. The first day he was questioned they told him he had nothing to worry about, he was safe. Ahmed said nothing. The next day the threats began. Ahmed said nothing. The next day the torture began. Ahmed was tortured, tazered, punched, kicked and passed out. Ahmed said nothing.
Four days later, Ahmed was back in Tahrir square, leading chants, singing and drumming in youth circles and protesting the corrupt regime that tried to stifle him.
Cairo, Egypt – Friday, July 8th 2011 – Morning
Six months after Mubarak stepped down, I met Ahmed at Tahrir Square. Ahmed was sitting among a crowd of Tahrir Square-ians singing revolutionary songs in the shade of the large white tents that had mushroomed all over the square once again. After everyone had lost their voices, we scattered towards the different sections of Tahrir Square. Ahmed, Yara, my cousin and I went to our tent where the rest of my family huddled. We took pictures, laughed, ate and I questioned Ahmed about what happened during his arrest or more correctly his abduction. Ahmed’s eyes darted from side to side. Ahmed looked down at his jagged, nibbled nails. I could tell he was uncomfortable. I later learned that Ahmed received a few new scars after his stay with the State Security.
Ahmed explained to me the importance of Tahrir Square and why he is adamant on going as often as possible.
“I go to Tahrir Square when I know there aren’t enough people, when we need the numbers and the people to show our power, strength and solidarity”
Ahmed’s story made me think about my life here in Canada. I lived a comfortable life, at arms length from the turbulent, bloody and dangerous revolution, viewing the events from behind my MacBook Pro laptop screen. It was difficult. I had been dreaming of events like this to unfold in Egypt for as long as I can remember. When Egyptians finally did stand up for themselves, I was unable to do more than watch Al Jazeera English 24/7, pray for everyones safety and stay updated via Twitter and Facebook.