“It’s a battle ground here. It’s terrible,” he says in a fragmented voice.
A friend seizes the phone and tells him what to do if he breathes in any of the toxic gas the police are firing on the demonstrators. Ahmed suddenly rings off.
He and Abdul have been attending every demonstration in Alexandria. Their demands for Field Marshal Tintawi, leader of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to resign, is gaining momentum. The moment they thought would never come, has arrived. For months they’ve been attending daily meetings with other activists around Alexandria – mostly in cafes or in gardens. The last time I saw them, Abdul had opened up a bag revealing several cans of spray paint and rolls of black and white photo copied posters. He held one up. ‘We need our rights, our health, our money, our blood,’ it reads.
He was preparing for a late night session of spreading the message around the city. I thought of offering to help until Abdul said they would start at 3.00 am.
“You’d be safe,” he said. ‘We have lookouts posted everywhere.’
It’s not illegal to put up political posters if they are part of the election campaign. Ahmed and Abdul do not have a party – but are part of a coalition of activists who believe that any elected government will be illegal.
‘We haven’t even got a proper constitution. The Revolution has been stolen from us. The military are scum,’ Abdul says.
Every morning in the micro bus I see evidence of their nightly missions. Their posters are plastered all over the granite walls of Haturam Gardens. A huge version dangles from a statue outside the Alexandria Library. Heads turn in the bus. The posters are everywhere.
More recently, travelling to school each morning has been like turning the page of a book. Ahmed’s black and white photo-copied posters are soon covered by the slick posters of the Muslim Brotherhood party. By the following morning they, in turn, have been obliterated by the bright new posters of another party.
For several months Ahmed and Abdul have tirelessly devoted themselves to keeping alive the spirit of the 25th January Revolution. “We were cleaning the streets together. ' Abdul says. 'For the first time, I got to know my neighbours. We were one big community, helping each other, Now it’s gone back to what it was. '
Moments later he is in the middle of junction trying to sort out a traffic jam.
“This is what we did during the revolution. There was no one to control the traffic.’ Ahmed says.
We pass a parked car belching steam. Abdul rushes over and starts trying to force open the bonnet. The owner is nowhere to be seen . A crowd gathers. Ahmed and Abdul are now pulling so hard on the bonnet, the car is bouncing. The owner appears.
“We thought it might blow up,” Abdul says peering into the engine. Ahmed examines the battery and gives up.
There’s no time for any of this any more. Their moment has come – again. Their objective – to rid the country of military rule – looks increasingly likely.
At a demonstration in Alexandria, thousands poured through the streets towards the main police station. Flags waved. Voices chanted ‘Mother Egypt we are you sons. We shall relieve you of your burden,' and called for freedom. Families, the elderly, and above all the young, pushed bravely through the city aware of the risks they were taking.
Shoes were held aloft when Field Marshal Tantawi, head of SCAF, announced his concessions. (To show someone the sole of a shoe here is an insult) .The crowd jeered and continued their calls for him to stand down.
“It’s Mubarak all over again,” someone says.
A candy floss man pushes past us, his bags of pink sugar fluttering from a pole. A car creates a path through the crowds. A young woman in the back is bent double from toxic gas. A small field hospital has been set up under some trees. Further down the road a deadly mist rises above the demonstrators.
I walk back to the apartment block where I live. It’s just across from The Four seasons, a $700 a night hotel. Attached to it, like an incubus, is the shopping mall. This is the place where rich kids hang out. Costa Coffee is packed, women buy handbags and shoes, people queue for KFC, Macdonalds, and Pizza Hut. Outside, someone has pulled down a large Muslim Brotherhood banner, and slashed the rest. In a shop people huddle around a television. A presenter announces that the toxic gas cylinders being fired on the demonstrators, are manufactured in America.