May 22, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Flagman and ‘Our Martyrs in Sinai’
Posted on Aug 22, 2011
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about public reaction to the Israeli killing of three Egyptian soldiers on Egyptian soil.
CAIRO—It’s 5 a.m., I’m stuffed, just got back from a big sahour (the last meal before the morning start of the fast) after walking home across the footbridge over the metro from the sophisticated side of Maadi Road 9 to Shara 7, where I live above the souq (market). ...
My friends walked me home. We prefer not to drive in part because the traffic is usually bad at 4 a.m. during Ramadan—but especially because one of those with me lives in Maadi across the tracks near the Israeli ambassador’s home, where a few hundred people were demonstrating and sitting in for the night. There were military barricades at the access to the area, but there was good will between the demonstrators and the police. It was pretty calm. I saw only Egyptian flags and signs. Some people were chanting sporadically ... it had slowed down by then. People were tired and texting about Flagman and the fighting in Libya. Some said that last night there were some black jihad flags but that they were rejected by the demonstrators. We didn’t see any.
This is a picture of the scene outside the ambassador’s home.
Earlier in the night, before going out around midnight, I rushed to my window upon hearing a crowd chanting “El shab urid tard Israel! “The people want Israel to get out!” “El shab urid tescot elsafir!” “The people want the downfall of the ambassador.” Also, “To Jerusalem we are going, martyrs in the millions”; “Long live Egypt!”; and “Treaty null and void!” shouted from across the tracks toward the home of the Israeli ambassador. The sound resonated against the low buildings and the metro all the way up to my sixth-floor window, from which I have a view of the whole area. I could see a small crowd marching down Shara 9. It was a nice, polite bunch. I’m sure if someone had yelled “Flagman!” they would have taken up the chant.
Yes, Flagman—surely you’ve heard of him by now. He has been all over the social media and the television and press—the Egyptian superhero who scaled the 21 floors of the Israeli Embassy in the predawn hours Sunday. Lots of YouTube telephone videos if you want to see.
The 23-year-old housepainter/carpenter and talented climber was seen earlier in some vastly circulating photos taken in Tahrir Square in July as he precariously perched high atop a slender light pole and waved the Egyptian flag.
Last night he climbed with the Egyptian flag over his shoulders in a feat of courage and skill and perseverance to take down the Israeli flag and replace it with the Egyptian flag. The crowd roared and cheered, and the military helped him down, smiling and giving him back pats. Then the people burned the Israeli flag and he became a hero of legendary proportions. People will tell their children stories about Flagman. The revolution singers and many songwriters will be scrambling to create songs about him: The Egyptian ambassador left Israel and Flagman took down the Israeli Embassy’s flag in Cairo and gave it back to Egypt—a Ramadan to remember. Thank God for the peace and forbidding of aggression during Ramadan.
They will also be writing songs about the Libyan people’s hard-won victory on Sunday.
Egyptians’ reactive twittering about payback to Israel and their war cry have been distracted somewhat by Libya’s freeing Tripoli and defeating Gadhafi. May it be truly over by the end of Ramadan.
People here are elated as they fall into their nocturnal sleep this Ramadan morning as the sun comes up. Their anger was at least for the moment transformed by joy in reaffirming their dignity and heroism—so many reminded of their love of Egypt and their pride in being Egyptian by the act of Flagman, and by the joy and hope for our brothers in Libya.
It [the killing of the Egyptian soldiers] was a terrible error on the part of Israel, and was not sufficiently expiated or sufficiently apologized for by Israel. The timing of this tragedy couldn’t have been worse, as Egypt, the Middle East and most of the rest of the world is a mass of unfocused fear amid crises—lava in search of a fault to explode out of. And Palestine is the place where we know it is prophesized. Is it time yet? We can only hear the explosions, gunshots and yelling in Arabic and Hebrew, and universal shouts of fear and pain, combat, revenge and bloodlust.
Potential presidential candidates in Egypt were quick to comment on what happened in Sinai and show solidarity with the quasi-unanimous public sentiment.
The strongest and fastest reaction was from Dr. Amre Moussa, who posted three tweets about what happened. The first: “My condolences to the people of Egypt and the families of the four martyrs, the martyrs of duty in our Eastern borders.” The second tweet: “The martyrs’ blood that was spilt while doing their scared duty will not be wasted.” The third: “Israel and other countries must understand that the day our children get killed without strong and proper reaction has gone forever.”
Gen. Magdy Hatata also put an interesting statement on Twitter and Facebook:
“Considering the violations of Israel in our borders that resulted in the martyrdom of one officer and two soldiers while [injuring] two soldiers from the CSF, I warn Israel that the blood of these Egyptians are precious and this crime will not pass without accountability. We are sure that the Egyptian reaction will be on the same level of the incident. May Allah bless the souls of our martyrs and cure our dear injured.”
Dr. Ahmed Zewail’s account on Twitter carried this tweet: “Where is the dignity of Egypt after the revolution? May Allah bless the souls of our martyrs in Sinai.”
I saw these paper signs at the protest at the Israeli’s ambassador’s home last night: “May Allah bless the souls of the Martyrs in Sinai,” “Mubarak, Qaddaffi, Assad, Israel battal!” (null and void). “The days of tyrants over Arabs are over.”
Flagman is a hero of the people, and hearts are full and strong and ready to stand up and combat injustice, oppression or attack. The people dream well today of what will follow the month of peace and purity. Long live Egypt.
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