Umm Raef is one of my teachers who had gone home to Egypt for an extended visit. She was due to return to Maryland after Ramadan, but she hasn’t returned yet. This eye-witness report is from Eman, Um Raef’s daughter.
For the first time in my life I thought I wasn’t going to make it home. This is a nightmare. After Friday prayer we had the Day of Rage march spilling out of the mosque into the streets. We prayed upon the deceased, wrapped in shrouds at the front of the minbar, their loved ones crying out in pain and raising their hands to the sky. We drove to Ramses, where all of the protests around the country were funneling into a massive one. As soon as I started walking, I saw reporters scurrying here and there with their cameras trying to get into the mobs. Smoke was everywhere…for the first time I experienced tear gas. That stuff hurts. Your eyes water, your throat cracks, you can’t see, and the only way to relieve it is to pour pepsi into your eyes or water with yeast and breathe into a cloth. I was walking with my family into the crowd when we saw people running back, warning us not to go, they are firing live ammunition, people are dying. Helicopters are everywhere, dropping tear gas canisters. You can distinguish the crisp shots of live ammunition as opposed to the muffled blunts of the cartouche. I look up and I can see snipers atop the buildings. All of a sudden it is chaos. Everyone is running, everyone is pushing you or pulling you along; on one side there are thugs advancing upon you with sticks, on the other side are snipers and helicopters. The only thing you can do is flatten yourself against the walls of the buildings. One man lost his temper and started screaming in the middle of the streets, almost ripping his clothes off, telling us “WHY ARE YOU SCARED. THEY ARE TEN. WE ARE TEN THOUSAND. STAND YOUR GROUND.” None of the protestors were armed. No one. As we advanced ahead, more gunshots, more people with cartouche wounds in their face. Small motorcycles were operating as makeshift ambulances as they urgently puttered back and forth, each time with a different man or woman on it covered in blood, some lifeless, some screaming in pain. There aren’t enough motorcycles; some people are holding others like babies and running in the streets to the mosque which is housing injured folk. Dead bodies are being transported atop floor mats. There are mini fires on every corner of the street so as to make smoke so the helicopters don’t see clearly. As we turned to head home, we found the street we were on was blocked with thugs. We took a side alleyway, hoping it was safer. As I was walking in the quiet alley, passing by a guy making bean sandwiches, I heard a sharp rat-a-tat-tat and turned to my right. A man not one meter in front of me, RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE, got shot in the head and plopped to the floor, lifeless. His brother was holding him when this happened and started shaking the man’s bloody face. He gave one last futile kick…I swear I saw his soul go out of him…and sunk like jello. His brother screamed in anguish…the deepest anguish I’ve ever seen, and threw himself at my feet. Sobbing uncontrollably, pounding at the floor like an infant, wiping his face and smearing blood everywhere. People picked him up, hugged him, kissed him, consoling him for something that couldn’t be consoled. The dead man was carried away, pools of viscous ruby red pouring out of his head on the floor. When I walked home I saw a tank with soldiers sitting on it, stoic expressions on their faces. One woman in hysterics asked them if they were content in their hearts, to which the soldier replied yes, yes I am very content. I don’t even know anymore. You can sit behind your computer screen talking politics, talking about churches or mosques or brotherhood or the STUPID word ‘islamists’ all you want…go ahead. This stuff can’t be unseen.