The smell was familiar; it was one I had known before, a place I had homed before, framed before but very different to a Déjà vu. It was the scent of grilled sweet potatoes, in the very same spot I had left it standing exactly one year back from today. This time, however, it was bitter sweet.
It was hard to picture the weather would be on our side today; we thought Alexandria will be dark, gloomy and rainy as it has been for the past week. (Not that I blame it, what reason out there could get it smiling to the world?) And so when I woke up to a sunny, warm day, I felt their presence, I felt their visit. I sensed the world felt blessed to have their souls back to where the Egyptian people’s vibes had revived them. Angels were flying amid the air of freedom and it was difficult to look up to the sky; it was shimmering, partially radiant by the sun, but mainly because they were there, today, watching above us.
On my way to the start point of main marches (Qaed Ibrahim), I came across an unusual view in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea: 3 huge military ships, which are usually there all the time, today were decorated in red/white balloons, the Egyptian flag and many other red coloured strips. It occurred to me that the Military had either chosen to show what they call “democracy” to the people, or celebrate what got them to where they rule now; celebrate what they think is the eternal power. Either one, it was a farce. They don’t deserve to show their support anymore. The Egyptian people learnt it the hard way: It’s just the people and the people that are hand in hand, not the Army, not the Police and not anyone else, but the people. Rocks were their snipers, their voice was their knife and their number was their tanks.
Getting into Qaed Ibrahim premises, I was welcomed by a group of men who were guarding the entrance and so I had to pass by them first to get in (I could have left you to guess who organized it all but I feel like spoiling the surprise anyway. They were FJP youth). Basically, they were ensuring no “real” thug could get in, and then have the protesters being blamed for thuggery, and then Moushier would have his win to not lifting the emergency law and then bright, young youth would spend another night, shivering to frost bites on cold prison floors. Reality is tough, and a scenario was there to keep you awake to the reality even more.
At Qaed Ibrahim Mosque
The smell was familiar; it was one I had known before, a place I had homed before, framed before but very different to a Déjà vu. It was the scent of grilled sweet potatoes, in the very same spot I had left it standing exactly one year back from today. In that very moment their presence suddenly disappeared, they were no longer there. Was my brain back to sanity and was their presence an illusion I yearned to believe? I roamed around the Mosque and all I could notice were a bunch of very well organized booths, with preppy youth dressed in fluorescent yellow jackets, labeled FJP. There was a long tent, which exhibited photos from 25-January 2012. There were balloons, smiles, chats, gossips, THERE WAS A CELEBRATION. The festive atmosphere blocked the scent of sweet potatoes, and I no longer linked that smell to what had passed through my nostrils up to my memory centre as “25-January 2011”. It was bitter sweet.
Charging out of Qaed Ibrahim
And so I left the bitter sweet smell of grilled sweet potatoes, the glittery festive smiles of the people and the preppy well organized booths of Martyrs pictures and headed where I belonged, where the martyrs would’ve been; The Streets. Strangely it wasn’t a trick in the mind; they were back. This time I felt all of them, from Khaled Saeed to Alaa Abdel Hady, I felt each and every one of them, amid the bustle of the angry protesters. I heard the chants of protesters pointing to those inside Qaed Ibrahim permises: “We are not here to celebrate; we are here to bring justice to our martyrs.” And I joined right away. In that same instance I witnessed one man whom was part of the human gate entrance to Qaed complaining that those inside also want to bring justice to martyrs. But to my utter surprise I found a middle-aged, religious man snapping back at his statement in mere antagonism: “NO, you do NOT want that, you want to CELEBRATE because you got all you wished for, you got your seats in the parliament and that’s all that matters to you, and guess what? I was one of you, but I had enough, I couldn’t put up with you and your lies.” I wanted to clap, hug him, tell him you have made the revolution proud. You chose not to run off with your chair hand in hand with the bribing SCAF, you chose your country, your people and your martyrs. I wanted to tell him they’re here, they know you didn’t turn your back to them, like many have; but something deep inside got me believing he felt their presence just as much as I did.
As we roamed from Qaed Ibrahim to Manteqa El Shemaleya, chants ranged from anti-SCAF to chants about our beloved martyrs. I had no idea how many we were, all I could see was a horizon of people infront of me and as I turned my back I could see another horizon of people were behind. We made it; we made it a million man march. But the essence was not in the number, the essence was in the souls of those who marched above us. The beauty was in the heart of Mina Daneil that imprinted each and every heart that pound the streets beside me. The grace was in the strength of Khaled Saeed that killed the fear in each and every one of us. The blessing was in the kindness of the juvenile Alaa Abdel Hady, and the future we will fulfill on his behalf. We were empowered by them all.
Reaching Manteqa El Shemaleyah
Looking at the number that gathered, my heart suddenly skipped a beat, I couldn’t take my breath. I looked up hoping the beauties of the sky could find the words that I couldn’t find inside of myself.
I found myself speaking to the sky: I wish I was with you, I wish I was a martyr too. I wish I had a million people calling my name, fighting back my right. I envy you; I wish I was with you.
You’d think it was just yesterday, when we all came home from one crazy New Year’s Eve celebration with a bunch of friends, acting like the usual hooligans we really are. You’d think it was just yesterday when we opened our facebook accounts and stared traumatised at the screen infront of us. Pictures uploaded by Egyptian News Agency I recall tagged as “Terrorist Attack at Two Saints church in Alexandria Egypt”. In my own trance, delusional mind I had so many questions; I was literally a walking question mark. The thought of myself partying, lost in the world I let myself dwell in, unaware of what really was going on a couple of miles away, stung! “TERRORIST” echoed in my head painfully and got me insomniac the whole night.
I stayed all night, and so did most of my friends on facebook. Updates of statuses were as fast as thunder when it hits an angry sea. There were my Muslim friends and my Christian friends. Some of my Muslim friends were embarrassed, ashamed, speechless, while the majority and I had questions and we bluntly posted it on facebook. We knew it was not a “terrorist” attack, or maybe by the word “terrorist” they would mean terror arising from government but not of any Islamic organisations in Egypt, or was I wrong? My Christian friends were outrageous, storming every chance they could to express how much they feel no longer belonged in their own country. My facebook home page turned dark, gloomy and tearful, most of my Christian friends had profile pictures of an icon which quoted, in Arabic, “Dear Egypt, I’m a sad Christian Egyptian”. A part of me felt the urge to reply to each and every one of them, comment that this is not a sectarian matter, but a people’s matter. I wanted to assure them, “I am a sad Muslim Egyptian” so we might as well all add an icon that wouldn’t specify any religion. But how are they to blame, they are being attacked as outsiders in their own country, in their own home. I thought what if Egypt turned its back on me just like it did with its Christian children, would I still feel belonged and wanted?
After such a festive atmosphere, one could have not imagined this is what awaits as he gets home. I called my dearest Christian friend to assure that everything at her end was fine, and yearned I would find comfort in her words. As I expected, I heard the grief, mourn and sorrow in her voice. I did not want to hear what came next, but I did. I felt a bucket of cold ice had just been thrown right at me, in a cold winter night; I felt naked, although it had nothing to do neither with me nor Muslims, but I felt exposed. My ears were not fooling me, it wasn’t a play in the mind, she said it loud, scared and clear “My friend…(deep breaths)… my friend in my choir….. She’s gone.”
My phone wouldn’t drop from my hand, I just stood there gripping tightly to my phone, as if I had my friend in my arms, embracing her, trying my best not to let go. I wanted to lie and tell her everything would be okay, but I knew it wouldn’t. I knew chaos has just begun.
And from that day on, Egypt was never the same again.
One year later, 31 December 2011, I went to where it all started. Where, what they call, Egypt 2.0 was born. I went to the scene of the “Egypt’s wake up call”. I went to what created the better version of me, that I never knew existed.
It was there, it was at that very moment where I saw the simplest version of Egypt infront of my eyes; the light of joy was too radiant, my eyes started to sparkle. A mosque and a church facing each other peacefully and solemnly. The light of both were the stars of the night of New Year’s Eve, and the souls of the martyrs were the angels that were looking upon. My heart felt warmth, it felt a country‘s stones have magically turned from brick to gold, as wizardly as Alchemist.
It was beautiful to see how a hand can never let go of another hand, with or without a crucified tattoo, both hands had same blood flowing inside. Both hands were Egyptian. I saw a lady in niquab standing with other friends in Hijab as they shared smiles with one another, as they stood in solidarity to families of martyrs, as they looked up to the sky and said prayers only God would understand. I felt a homey breeze blowing right towards me.
Sadly, I was in a rush, and wanted to get into the church, light a candle, say my prayers, my Islamic, personal prayers, my relationship with God, in a church.
Security was tough; there were plenty of police cars, plenty of police and plenty of church-arranged security men. News agencies were everywhere, press was everywhere, and media was everywhere. All were in one magnificent place; a place where each and every one of them had finally agreed to speak in one title, “Unity of Egyptian People.”
As I stood at the entrance door, I was asked to show my ID card for security reasons. I wasn’t the only one who was asked, all who wanted to get in had to hand in their ID cards. Gate security scaned carefully my name in the card, Mohamed, and said I had to wait a while. Christians would pass by, while I had to wait to find out whether or not they’d let me in. But then again why wouldn’t they? I have every right to mourn my Egyptian brothers and sisters, just like every Christian who easily got in. The security man apologized regarding inconvenience as I felt restless and discomforted to how I was left aside for a long while; however, I understood they had to take measures, I understood Egypt is no longer a safe playground where factions can peacefully play; I understood they paid a price, a very dear price exactly one year from today, and they can not afford paying it once more. As I stood there, I saw the security man explaining to 2 girls in Hijab that they couldn’t get in at the time being.
Luckily, one pope was called by security men on gate to come handle my case, he told me prayers are proceeding right now and that I might cause disturbance. I told him I wish only to light a candle, say my prayers and leave. His eyes smiled, something told me that wasn’t something he hears everyday; although I know that if every Muslim was given the chance to go light a candle and pray for martyrs of last year’s event, they would’ve, daily. He said come in, told security man to let me pass. I went in; and there hung a massive picture of the martyrs. They were arranged in a background of sky and clouds portraying them even more as the angels they truly are.
I lit my candle. I, a Muslim, lit a candle in a church for the souls of my deceased Christian brothers and sisters. I know God is everywhere, so I said my Quranic verses, I said my prayers, prayers that have only echoed in the church a few times, or maybe never, before. Flash backs of memories popped in mind of my best friend who happens to be a Christian. I remembered when my little, 11 year old cousin had passed away after a long battle against cancer, that day, she came to the apartment that was open for all who wanted to show condolences to our family. She came in, and asked us to all encircle around her; she wanted to say a blessing, a prayer to our family. She started speaking, her mouth uttered words triggered from her heart. She was blessing our Muslim home with her Christian heart and soul. She was praying to Jesus and to God from all her heart and I felt blessed to have such a friend. I actually consider her family, because we are of same blood and same spirit. God is out there for all of us, each sees Him in a different perspective.
The pope thanked my care, although I should have thanked his for preparing such ceremony for MY beautiful brothers and sisters.
I took one last look at the Qidiseen church, and I knew that last glimpse is where my journey in 2012 has just begun.