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In your face in Cairo

By Brian K. Barber

I had learned from Kholoud that Aly would be in Cairo this week. So, as soon as I arrived on Monday night I called while walking through Tahrir Square. He picked up but the reception wasn’t good. He said he was also in the Square, that he was headed to drop off his bags, and would call later. I didn’t hear back from him.

Several calls and SMSs went unanswered. I figured that he was simply busy and that we would eventually meet this week for the next in our series of interviews that we’ve held since I first met him in early March this year.

Aly, tall and burly with a handsome face, has shared passionately in these interviews his commitment to the revolution. He, along with Kholoud and so many others in Alexandria were direct participants in the events of January 25th and beyond. (The coverage of Alexandria’s role in the revolution has been pitifully inadequate). When I first met him, Aly had just been injured in his hand and shoulder in a battle with security forces as they attempted to destroy incriminating documents.

Over the months, he, like all other activists, expressed increasing disappointment with the lack of substantive change. Aly’s narrative was unique among those I’ve talked intensively with, however, in his growing conviction that real change would require an escalation in violence on the part of the protesters. In July, he labored heavily with his own growing awareness that the regime’s corruption extended far beyond its recently deposed leader. But, rather, the violence, exploitation, and abuses of power are endemic throughout all sectors of society. He articulated that one grave implication of that for him might be that he would end up having to fight those he knows and is close to, perhaps even his family members.

Just a few weeks ago he wrote in an email, “The situation is getting more complicated and I am not optimistic at all with the coming elections. . . I am wondering . . . how could we break this system, what else is needed? I am believing that we need more violence against these structures and those leading it.”

Then, two days ago here in Cairo, in classic revolutionary form he posted on Facebook: “It is by all means the time of revolution, emancipation(s), and …love. SO For God Sake Revolt or die in Shame. It is the correction of the Egyptian Revolution Path; from War/revolution to politics and Again in the correct road from politics of the coward elites to the WAR/REVOLUTION of brave young generation who fights in the first lines, behind the enemy lines and in front and against the heavy machines of war and suppression. They shoot by their heavy equipment and we shoot by faith, believe and anger. Tomorrow we will not die, tomorrow we will be emancipation from who we had been, a new life is going to born from the heart and mud of the battle field of our revolution.

I had an immediate sense that Aly would be acting out this admonition himself, and even wrote to a colleague that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he would soon be a casualty of this newly reenergized revolution.

Last night at about 10pm I thought to try one more time to reach him. A voice picked up and identified himself as Aly’s friend. I could hear Aly in the background overruling his friend’s decision to turn me away and he took the phone. He was excited to talk, as was I to hear his voice. It wasn’t a surprise, but no less difficult, to hear from him that he lay in the hospital with bullet wounds to his head and body. He said that he “would love so much” a visit and, getting directions from Ayman, I hastened to see him.

While his face is severely bruised and swollen, the buckshot, otherwise embedded in his head and torso, missed his eyes or other vitals. He is in good spirits and is eager to leave the hospital when permitted in a few days.

He had lead a group of protesters on the main Tahrir artery where virtually all of the Cairo clashes have taken place (Mohamed Mahmoud Street) in an effort to help instruct them how to confront the police head on and push them away from the Square. Then the shots came.

The swelling in his eyes and mouth clouded neither his pride nor the clarity of his vision on the current phase of the revolution. “They thought that we were just some kids who were playing around . . . but I think we proved that we are more than fighters.” He expressed amazement at how peaceful Egyptians have conducted the revolution, bristling against the criticism expressed by some that throwing stones or an occasional Molotov cocktail is violence. “What else should we do?”, he protested. He warned that if the security forces continue their real violence – like betraying today’s ceasefire and firing on the protesters as they prayed – then the masses will become “very aggressive . . . they won’t stay peaceful . . . and the [security forces] will lose a lot . . . This time it won’t be just our blood . . .”

After all, “revolutions are about drastic change, not some silly reforms.”

Brian K. Barber is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict, professor of child and family studies, and adjunct professor of psychology, all at the University of Tennessee (USA). He is the author of Adolescents and War: How Youth Deal with Political Violence. This post first appeared on Brian’s own blog How the Hell Did They Do It?.

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