May 23, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Game of Death
Posted on Feb 5, 2012
Recent days have been clouded by tear gas clinging to battered streets where police and the people battle. People choking, throwing up, throwing rocks, ferrying the injured on motorcycles to quickly established field hospitals. A Twitter-organized volunteer system of food and blanket delivery snapped back into function with practiced efficiency.
Helmeted members of the CSF have been out in large numbers, notably armed with a new supply of USA-made tear gas stamped “March 2011.” A huge reserve of expired canisters of U.S. tear gas had impressively been used up in the previous months.
The people have heaved down a part of the cement-block wall erected by the military to protect the Ministry of the Interior. Protesters are still there working out their anger as I write this, but the overwhelming sentiment of Egyptians since Wednesday is depression.
As of this moment, in all of Egypt there have been fewer than 20 reported deaths in protest-related violence since the outrage at the stadium. It seems a light number to us. Some of the revolution’s dead were boys who had desired martyrdom, their images now gracing marches and squares in the swelling ranks of martyr-heroes, but this new massacre didn’t work that way. Recently, we have seen photos of positive, beaming teenagers and other young people happily attending a major football match, some for the first time. Their Facebook pages, full of innocent enthusiasm, also bear witness to the hollow loss of their futures.
The atrocity at the stadium indeed worked to the advantage of the SCAF if the authorities instigated it in an effort to turn the people away from focusing on the longtime privilege of Egypt’s elite. The budget of the military makes up 30 percent of the gross national budget, and the SCAF’s favored sons hold vast industries and other properties in a country where most inhabitants are poor, unskilled and illiterate. It has never been difficult to spin the common people in circles, and it does not require plans of excessive cleverness (although these plans now sometimes backfire under the scrutiny of Internet-aware young people).
The nation’s parliament of fledgling legislators has set special meetings on Wednesday’s sad events. The usual suspects are being called out. Meanwhile, a people shamed by seemingly senseless violence are striking back against the boogeymen they know: the SCAF, mysterious third parties, “Mubarak’s Children” felool (leftovers). It is a dreary continuation of mobilization without foresight.
And as Egypt held much of the world’s attention over the last week, forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad slaughtered hundreds of his own people in the Arab Spring’s most horrific massacre yet. In Homs, whole families were murdered, children beheaded. Rockets landed on the anti-government neighborhood of Al-Khalidiyeh.
Even Egyptians caught up in their own troubles were stopped in place as the news from Syria flew on Twitter in real time. Across the world, demonstrators attacked a number of Syrian embassies. Among them was the one in Egypt, where the assault was led by Egyptians and Syrians who will not accept the slaughter of their brothers.
Blankets and other supplies flow through the revolutionaries’ volunteer stations to multiple fronts now. The people want an end to the military regimes in both Egypt and Syria regardless of what is inside the regimes’ black boxes. They want an end to Assad and his butchering of a Syrian opposition they support. They want freedom, bread and dignity. They want to tear it all down.
There are people and tents and empty tear-gas canisters and rubble in the acrid haze of Mohammed Mahmoud Street in front of the Ministry of the Interior. The people still shout hoarsely for the death of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. There are effigies and signs and the occasional Molotov cocktail sailing through the air to explode in fire.
Saturday was the Prophet’s Birthday. It is not supposed to be a religious or largely observed holiday. Usually people give each other sweets, and children get penny toys. My neighbor gave me a bag of halwa and other candies, but most people didn’t even notice the holiday this year, as distracted as they were by the grimness of the current wave. I remember last year’s Melad (Prophet’s Birthday). The revolution was still in the passionate uproar of its beginnings ... and the neighborhood’s kids were smiling from a sugar rush.
But the news of the day was not all bad. Two American female tourists who were kidnapped in Sinai Egypt last week were returned safely Saturday and reported that they had not been harmed. They said they were treated “like family” by their Bedouin kidnappers, with whose relatives they shared pleasant dinners. They are continuing their vacation.
We are praying that all the people will be delivered from their devils and that somewhere in this chaos someone will remember to ask the right questions, and show the way, and not get swept up, and survive long enough for the people to understand and follow.
After the prayers are done, in my head I still see the Facebook pages of two smiling 15-year-olds who died after attending their first major football game; I still hear the mother of a dead 17-year-old sobbing at a train station. And in the physical world I still hear the sounds of tear-gas guns reverberating in the street. …
Happy Prophet’s Birthday to you.
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