Thursday, 8 December 2011


Alexandria's Revolutionary dead

Alexandria's Victoria Emanuel square  once served as a field hospital for the injured and dying in the recent demonstrations against the ruling military. The recent  elections have preoccupied  protesters  and now only a hard core of activists remain, sleeping in tents  pitched in the square (which is actually round)  – several hundred yards from the police headquarters.

Egyptian flags have been placed in the hands of two large statues. They flutter above the clutch of six tents and the   traffic circulating around the square. Drivers honk their horns in support. 

Ahmed walks around the tents, taking photographs. 

'I’ve got 8GB of photos already, “ he says and slumps when I suggest he edit them.

We walk across the grass looking for Abdul.

'I’m worried about him,' Ahmed says.  'He looks terrible. He has no money. He breathed in a lot of  toxic gas during the demonstrations.’

He rings Abdul’s number but there’s no reply.  He tries again but is diverted by an approaching woman.   Like the other women in the square, Zainab will not be camping all night, although she is there everyday, and intends to stay until the military step down. She and her friends are very keen to know what the British  think of Egypt's  25th January Revolution.  Uncomfortable with my role  as spokesperson for the UK, I say  that the Egyptian people  are an inspiration for us,  and that one day Trafalgar Square could be our Tahrir. 

‘You’ve never had a revolution, and you never will,' someone scoffs. Zainab looks puzzled.

'Everyone should have a revolution,’ she says.

Zainab brings  tea and Mary joins us.  She’s a slight figure in her twenties and  is dressed entirely  in black.  Unlike Zainab, her hair is uncovered and hangs in a loose bunch down her back. Ahmed whispers in my ear.

‘She’s been in prison for three days. She was demonstrating and the  police accused her of murdering  someone – I don’t know who. “

Mary overhears and says  the charges were dropped.

“Close shave,” Ahmed says.

‘How were you treated by the police?” I ask.

Mary  looks up at me with wet eyes. Zainab casts me a warning look.

Suddenly there’s a loud explosion  and the clattering of what sounds like guns. Zainab jumps and turns white. She clamps her hands over her ears.  She begins to shake.

Ahmed tries to convince her it’s a wedding party, but Zainab walks away from the noise.

'I was in the crowds outside the police headquarters and they kept firing toxic gas at us. We ran, but you can never get away.  The noise was dreadful. I can’t bear to hear loud noises any more.'

Zainab is a widow and has a small daughter.  Her husband was killed  while working in Iraq during the  American and British occupation 2003.

'I’m sorry “ I say and she claps her hands together and laughs.

'Didn’t you like him much?”  

She shakes her head. ‘If he was still alive I wouldn’t be allowed to come here on my own like this. The Revolution is my life. It is dangerous but I have made many friends. We are equals here.’

Ahmed  points across the gardens  to a hunched shadow passing through the trees. Abdul is wearing a reverse baseball hat  and his computer is, as usual, slung around his back.   When he lifts his head to greet us, I am shocked  at how thin he has become and by the grey yellow tinge of his skin His eyes are dark  and glazed. He fixes me with an unnaturally bright stare .  Ahmed takes him to one side, and they stand whispering to each other.

‘Money has been stolen from the funds,' Ahmed tells me later. ‘We are trying to find out who it is. We have our suspicions. ‘

Abdul  sits outside  the management tent and clicks through his various Facebook accounts. I express concern at his appearance.

‘What do you expect?' he says. 'I’ve been hit with five different gases….mustard gas, nerve gas, CS gas. You name it - I've inhaled  it. ‘

When I ask if he is taking the medicines and vitamins necessary to counter the effects, he says he was, but has  run out of money.  I offer him some money so that he can  buy more. He  instantly  doubles the amount. I agree. We cross the road  to  a patisserie to change some notes.  Abdul stops in front of the shop window and  stares at the display of  gateaux glistening  in phosphorescent light. He fixes his eye upon the eclairs. 

‘Two people died  where we are standing,’ he says. 


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