After being in and out of Tahrir Square regularly since the demonstrations started on the 25th of January, and spending a whole night talking to members of my local neighborhood watch – I decided to take last Wednesday off from ‘Tahrir Duty’ and rest for a day.
Halfway through the day, as a friend passed by, we watched in amazement with the rest of the world while thugs on horses and camels broke into what had so far been the world’s most peaceful revolution.
It was silly. I know people got hurt. But it was downright silly. We laughed at how clearly desperate the regime had become.
Then the mob of hired thugs showed up. We continued to watch for a while. Bit by bit the news said that the demonstrators in Tahrir were now surrounded on all sides by Pro-Mubarak thugs. This worried us, since it seemed that even if things got really bad, and even if our friends had any intention of escaping (and they don’t) they would not be able to.
And then we saw the molotovs. At one point, I kept count, and counted over 18 molotovs being thrown into Tahrir by the thugs (who we later found out were part hired thugs, part members of the National ‘Democratic’ Party, and part Plain-Clothed Police Officers).
In our minds, it now looked brutally ugly, our friends were surrounded and were about to be torched. The scenario that played out in our heads was that the surrounding throngs would slowly wear them out, the circles would close in and the molotovs would continue. It wasn’t a pretty picture to imagine. We feared an absolute massacre, a final reminder by an endangered regime that they were not to be reckoned with, that they were not concerned with even the appearance of being civilized. That despite Mubarak’s second speech, the decision had been made to ‘remind’ us who’s Boss.
We were very, very, frightened. More so because as we felt obliged to go join our friends (in what we full well believed could be a brutal, final, and possibly successful massacre) we were also told that there were groups of thugs blocking all the streets leading up to Tahrir, so we might not even make it there. Making our attempt at solidarity all the more futile.
But it was harder to watch this unfold on tv than it was to go to Tahrir. So we left.
As we arrived at Kasr El Nil bridge, leading to Tahrir, we found ourselves in the middle of a group of around 500 ‘Pro-Mubarak’ protesters – and in the middle of a rain of stones – we got through, but that’s a story for another day, since the purpose of this piece is a conversation I had when we finally got inside Tahrir Square.
As my friend found some of his friends, I was stopped by a small group of fellow demonstrators who asked me how things were on Kasr El Nil – so we started to chat. Two of them were fully bearded Islamic men, one older, the other younger, the other two in the group just seemed like totally ‘normal’ people.
The older Muslim man and I had the following conversation – I might paraphrase a bit, but this is basically what was spoken:
Muslim: I have to tell you this. I owe you an apology. A great apology.
Me: Huh? What for?
Muslim: Before…before – I had…I’m sorry to say this – but I had contempt for people like you. I saw you as a young, irresponsible generation. Internet youth educated in English language universities with nothing on your minds but sex and drugs and the internet….so I didn’t come when you started this. I didn’t come at the start. But I came on the 4th day, to see what’s going on here. And…this is great. This is great what you’re doing here! I used to think that we would be the ones to do something like this! That it was up to us, the people of God to spark a change! That it was our job, our task! But…we did not make this thing! We did not lead this thing. I am here behind you, not before you!
The man was on the verge of crying as he spoke. I was a bit dumbstruck, but before I could say anything – he continued:
Muslim: And there is a lesson in this! There is a great lesson in this from God himself! Can you tell what it is? Can you?
Me (dumbstruck still): I’m not sure? No? Tell me?
Muslim: I was vain! God taught me a great lesson! I used to think that since I had chosen God that God would choose me! Would choose me to do what had to be done! Would choose us to make a change! But now I know the truth! It is not ours to choose who does what! It is God’s choice and God’s choice only! And God chose you! God chose you! I’ve come to realize this! And it has made me feel very small!
And then he continued to thank me, and we hugged.
So yeah, regarding the Brotherhood…