The Man Who Fought For Freedom

March 1st, 2013

It was a disturbing December in 2010. Abdel Hegazi, is sitting in his office in Dusseldorf, staring at the people wrapped up in heavy clothing, cautiously tip-toeing on snowy white pavements. The coffee in his hand is turning cold. The news of the Tunisian Revolution seems to have struck him. He tenses up his muscles and takes a sip of the coffee. An unknown and continuous drive has made him decide to fly back to his homeland, Egypt. Nobody knows what is going on in Egypt, and what is about to go on.

Abdel Hegazi, is a 24-year-old Egyptian man with fuzzy black hair, chocolate color skin a broad shoulder and a goofy smile. He has been working as a computer engineer in Dusseldorf ever since graduation. Two months before the Egyptian Revolution, he decided to quit his job and return to Egypt and participate in whatever he could at that time. When people question his determination, he always says with a firm voice, “I had to be there. It was about my country”.

At the end of 2010, as the rise of the Tunisian revolution, Egypt, as predicted, became the next hot soil for a democratization movement. Conflicts in the country arose, such as police brutality, high unemployment, food price inflation and low wages. Ex-president Mubarak and his regime was accused of corruption, lack of transparency and manipulation in elections. Anger from every social class exploded and soon spread over 18 provinces.

Jan 25th, 2011, People start to gather in Tahrir(meaning “independence” in Egyptian Arabic) Square. Things are exciting. Upon arrival, Abdel joins the movement and protests. He also volunteers to be a correspondent for news medias.

Everyday, Abdel goes out to the protests to record, photograph and support. He takes shifts with the other five people who share a tent with him to sleep. Days are long and conditions are tough, but nobody complains.

On January 28th, the first horrific scene takes place.

“We call it the ‘Anger Day’.” Says Abdel.

In the morning, the government cuts off all the internet and mobile connections because social media and text messages are the engines of this revolution. Panic and rage are escalating.

In the afternoon, the first scream shatters the “silence”. All of a sudden, the sky starts raining sharp, solid stones. The police, supporters of Mubarak and poor people who were paid by the regime start executing the protesting civilians.

Within seconds, shouts, blood, swearing and screaming fill the square. People try to grab anything possible, even just with their hands, to cover their head from raining stones. Chaos has arrived.

Then, a man kneels down following a sharp sound of a pistol. Everybody is shocked.

Another man falls, two others fall, and then a row, and dozens fall.

“Once they shoot us, they simply run people over with police cars.” Says Abdel, with his bloody red eyes, wide open.

Blood, flesh and bones, all smashed into unbearable images of horror. Some people still cannot be convinced that this is not a Hollywood movie scene.

Soon, not only guns, but water guns, tear gas and chemical weapons that, even up till today, people still do not know whether it will affect them in the future or not.

12 of Abdel’s friends died this day, on January 28th.

After the shooting, nobody knows whether their beloved husband, or children, brothers or sisters have been crushed underneath the ruthless wheels of Mubarak. Desperation and anger exploded.

Protesters now realize that their requests will not be respected facing a government who is a murderer of its citizens and the will of destroying the regime is inevitable and urgent.

Abdel says, “from this point, nobody goes home. We are here to fight. We either die, or we win. There is no negotiation.”

One of the main issues of this revolution at start is that not enough people are backing up the protesters. ” almost 50% of the population is poor, and they are the ones afraid of change. This is exactly what Mubarak have been using” , says Abdel. “So much corruption was going on. We could not even go to the police station most of the time. Some girls were violated by them, they let criminals go with a payment and some police were even controlling the drug industry.”

Before the revolution, at least 12,000 protesters who stated their opinions about starting a movement were arrested as “political prisoners” for no specific reasons.

However, at this point, the old, the young, the men, the women, the poor and the rich are all standing up for one single goal.

Abdel cannot bare to let his friends die in vain. He decides to engage even more for the sake of justice. He takes cameras from news magazines and starts documenting the scenes. Everyday, from speeches to gatherings; from doctors rescuing the injured to fathers’ cry-outs for the loss of their sons. “Foreign media was our only way to let the world see what is going on in Egypt. And I need to devote as much as possible.” Says Abdel.

A short period of Euphoria was created in Tahrir Square. Camps, food, water and blankets were donated by the rich, the old who cannot join the protest. The hotels, restaurants and shops all opened their washrooms to protesters as support. Churches, Mosques, the National Egyptian museum and the Hiltons also opened up to provide shelters on their lobby floors. “You never know where all the supplies are from. But they never stopped arriving.” Says Abdel.”Sometimes, everybody wants the others to have the limited amount of food. Sometimes even nobody dared to take any”.

On February 1st, after the crowd has lingered in Tahrir Square for 7 consecutive days, Mubarak makes a nation-wide announcement. He tries to negotiate by acknowledging the issues in Egypt, promising to make political reforms and encouraging people to go home. The internet and connections were back on again.

Soon after the announcement was made, some protesters who caved in and bought the compromise of Mubarak start to leave the square. However, Abdel stayed. He and his friends did not believe that this is the end. They have lost complete faith in the regime ever since the “Day of Anger”.

At the night of the 1st, according to Al Jazeera, the state television announces that a confirmed attack group will be evacuating the square. But Abdel does not pay attention to this and he is still determined to stay and seize the square. However, people are having a moment of relax and joy for their first minor-victory. They are unbelievably tired and all they need is a good shower and a good night sleep. There are only around 30,000-40,000 people left on the square.

Abdel immediately passes out inside his tent like a baby. The January chill has been torturing everybody from sleeping and sometimes, due to the shift policy, he cannot be in turn until the next day at night.

Little did they know, the worst two days of the revolution is like a thick, black storm, slowly approaching the peaceful harbor.

Hours later, suddenly, people start to scream again. Disturbance is shaking the tent and the smell of smoke start to wake up Abdel slowly from his dream. After a huge shock of noise, he instantly gets up and takes a peek outside the tent.

Abdel is still in a state of fog. He frowns and starts to look for his friends. As he turns around, a man is burning one step away from him. He laughs a bit because he still thinks that it is a prank his mates are playing on him. 2 seconds later, he notices that it is nothing funny.

“It was scary”, Abdel remembers, “They brought out every single weapon possible to attack us. Guns, stones, bombs, gasses, Molotov Cocktails, horses and even camels. Everything.”

The square turns into a killing field. People sitting on camels are not characters from Arabian tales. They carry knifes and slit people’s throats;Those who shoot water on others are not in for a party, the chemicals in the water turn people’s skin into an itchy jacket that you just want to rip off from your body; The smoke on the square is not to create a mysterious atmosphere. It is to put people’s eyes in burning hell.

Protesters are agitated. They start to rip off burned cars, pry open the ground only to acquire bricks as a weapon. Even though it can, in no way, compare to those that attack them.

“We are not trained soldiers. We are civilians without even a brick to defend.”

Abdel drags his body behind a rusty piece of metal, he ducks down and starts to process everything that is going on. A friend calls his name on the far left. He switches to the side. In the mixture of noise, he heard vaguely of him saying “Abdel, try to hide…”

But he falls, with his eyes, so frightened and so reluctantly, still staring at Abdel.

“They pour oil on you and light a fire. They cut through your throat and let you suffer. There was so much exhaustion. And we are the only ones left fighting.”

The Tahrir Square is the most essential place of this revolution because of its capacity of almost 250,000 at that time. “If we lose this, we lose the battle.”

Attackers are either from the NDP(the party supporting Mubarak) or the poor who get paid 2,000USD by the government. They were told that if the square is seized, everyone gets an apartment.

The night of horror lasted almost 2 days. The night of the 1st, the entire day of the 2nd, and all the way to the morning of February 3rd.

After almost 40 hours, the protesters did not back down. They fight, they run, they scream, they rebel. In two days, about 5,000 people were dead or injured.

The morning dawn rises. Shining on the Square of Independence, bricks, blood, tears, rugged city, worn out people. Birds hum as if another normal day had just arrived.

“We did not lose our tension for almost 40 hours. I could pass out anytime.”Says Abdel.

The second day after, those who left on the 1st, marched back to Tahrir Square. They kiss and they hug those who suffered, they thank, they apologize.

“You cannot cry, but you want to cry. You cannot complain. But you want to complain.”

Abdel drops down on stone bricks and bodies. His lips are shut, he is hungry but has no energy to eat, his legs are numb. He just remembered that a bullet hit him on the thigh last night. But he does not feel the pain. Blood has already dried out on his pants.

Soon, internet wen back on. Everybody crazily starts uploading images or tweets to inform their families, friends, and the rest of the world.

Phones start to ring, from every corner of the square. Some in the pockets of the dead. Abdel is not brave enough to pick them up, and pass on the most dreadful news to their families.

February 7th, the government resigned. Protesters start to gain more and more support. Media is exposing, the army switch their side to the protesters.

February 11th, Omar Soliman, the Director of Intelligence, broadcasts a video that was 11 seconds. He announces the quitting and imprisonment of Mubarak and the temporary take-over of the army.

Tahrir Square boils.

Abdel is hugged and kissed by people he does not know. The past pain and toil burst into a garden of joy and pride. Colors, laughters, tears and cheers, rejoined in Tahrir.

Following the video, the country announces the 21 senior offices of counsel will be in charge of Egypt until the next election in a year. In June 2012, their first ever transparent election takes place. Egypt is now taking a more neutral side of international politics, avoiding the control of others due to its essential location connecting Africa and the Middle East.

Abdel spent 4 months in hospital for the shot in his leg. Afterwards, his ex-boss from Dusseldorf heard about his story and offered him his job back. But he rejects. He has a new perspective in life now. “There are so many people who can be engineers. But not that many are helping others who suffer.” He later on co-operated with NGOs such as Global Experience and worked for human rights issues. Then he decides to continue his studies in a new place, Hong Kong.

“There are still a lot of issues in our year-one democracy. People are over-thrilled by the rights and freedom they have now. But at least it is going in a good direction.” Abdel says in an optimistic tone. He takes a sip of the cold American coffee that has been in front of him for the last hour of story telling. “But everything in Egypt is better than before. And I feel like I can proudly say, that I am the person who changed my country.”

The Sunday morning sunshine tones and smoothens his light brown skin and his curly hair. Along with his smile.

Johnny Bohan Qiu

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