Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Disgraced to be Egyptian: A Testimony"

The post title is hers, not mine. Egyptian blogger Nora Younis posts this first person account of Cairo police clearing out a group of Sudanese -- I don't know what word to use...migrants, refugees, squatters, exiles...I am copying the whole piece here without editing because it is the kind of reporting that is apt to be banned by authorities and could later disappear from its source. There are photos at the link that are not being shown here. Thanks to Matthew Hogan for the link.

I had learnt about the Sudanese refugees sit-in in Mohandeseen through my house helper Rousse. She is southern Christian Sudanese whose husband has disappeared during the civil war time and whom she knows nothing about. Rousse told me the story of her great escape to Cairo in a 10 days horror trip. She lives in a room in Ahmed Zaki district, a suburb of Maadi mostly inhabited by Sudanese refugees. At some times Rousse couldn’t work because of bone-pain and at many times she had to leave the room where she lives, unable to pay the rent.

At 10:00 pm, Thursday December 29th I received an sms saying Mohandesin area is turning to a military camp and Sudanese refugees who have been sitting in for 3 months may be disbursed by force.

I arrived campus at 11:00 pm to find State Security Trucks and plain cloth police filling and closing the roads of Batal Ahmed Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Orabi, and Gameet el Dewal streets.

Public white busses lined up all the way from Donuts House till Mustafa Mahmud square with a few number of state security soldiers sitting inside them. I was able to take down some of the public busses wagon numbers as I walked 4129, 3696, 4107, 4136, 4335, 3416, 3534, and 3416.

Few minutes and all streets leading to Mustafa Mahmud were totally blocked. Police forces started cornering then disbursing civilian pedestrians.

At 1:00 am, and it was really cold, security forced started flushing the Refugees with three water cannons from three different sides. First spray lasted for almost 6 minutes and was rather high. We could see the water reaching as high as the 4th balcony of the near-by building. Probably it aimed at destroying the top of their shelters.

Refugees met the water floods with cheer and dance. We won’t go was their message. A reaction no one at the other side could understand and it rather provoked the ‘they deserve whatever happens to them – they are crazy’ type of thinking.

The few civilians who gathered to observe the scene from far were mostly quiet amused. I painfully heard comments such “let them take a shower to become clean”, “Egypt has been more than patient with them”, “security forces should’ve got rid of them from day one. They (Sudanese) are disgusting”. Laughs interrupted such comments as the refugees were sprayed with water. Few stood silent with eyes wide open at the scene, while only one objected and explained that Sudanese have demands and rights to be met by UNHCR.

A police officer told a friend as he smiled that they badly needed a bath after three months sit in. “We have orders to finish this tonight and we will” he added.

We resorted to the 2nd floor of a Cilantro CafĂ© just across the park to be able to observe, take pictures, and make phone calls. Choosing the time to attack the Refugees was more than well planned. Midnight Thursday in the New Year’s weekend. All the media I contacted were out of town for vacation. A handful of political activists arrived but were totally helpless. A couple of human rights activists were with us on the phone all night, mainly Aida. One lawyer, Zyad, was able to break to the refugees themselves but then was roughed up and forced out.

The rest? Another shame

Almost an hour later another 5 minutes of continues water showered them. This time water was low, strong and direct straight at the people.

Water stopped and a negotiation round started with a Refugees delegated committee, an Egyptian official, and a UNHCR official. The Egyptian said “UNHCR will do nothing for you. We are authorized by the highest power in the state to disburse this sit in today”. Refugees’ reply was “we will die on the turf”.

I was able to step to the second security circle surrounding them. A public bus waiting in the area had five Refugees at the back seat while a sixth one was being brutally beaten by 5 state security soldiers. From my position next to the bus I could see and hear him screaming as they beat him on his head and back with hands and batons, kicked him, and twisted his arm and wrist behind his back as his screams went louder and louder. An officer standing next to us explained that he is trying to break the window and escape because he is drunk. At this point a man from the back seat opened the window holding a few months old baby girl as he cried “we are not drunk, I am not drunk, he is not drunk, and this baby is not drunk. Her mother died here in this park”. They beat him to silence as well and continued with the sixth guy. A young man videod the scene on his cell phone and later Bluetoothed it to me.

Reporters, observers and the few activists who were there started to leave the scene as time passed with no further developments. It was very cold and my hands and nose were freezing. It was unimaginable to imagine wet people!

At around 4 am we managed to get to the building of Al Watany Bank of Egypt and only then we had a full clear view of the situation from high. In Mustafa Mahmud square, the part I could see from Gamet el Dewal and Lebanon streets, and the side street of the mosque I could count 60 state security wagons, 6 ambulances, 10 armored cars and uncountable busses.

At 4:45 am the troops were lining up properly and the first circle of formations moved closer to surround the refugees. Their warm up exercise echoed in the empty city as they exchanged stepping on each foot at once saying ho- ho- ho- masr! and singing ‘ya ahla esm fel wegood yaa masr’ meaning To Egypt, who has the most beautiful name ever, whose name was created to be eternal, for Egypt we live.. and for Egypt we die.

Refugees lined up and started warming up too but saying ‘allah akbar’, ‘la ilaha ella allah’ and ‘hasbona allah wa neama al wakil’ meaning there is no god but allah and only him we delegate to handle our injustice. The Christians chanted Halleluiah. And this set identity for the war players. The few civilian audience started cheering for the Egyptian army against the dirty / black / Christian parasites. Yes, there was no humanity in the scene.

At 5 am sharp the 3 water cannons flushed them again and right beside the water line security forces timely attacked the Refugees campus with batons and shields. After 1 minute the water stopped. Soldiers destroyed the rest of their makeshift homes and pulled up their front line of luggage throwing it away as other soldiers made their way in.

Refugees fought back with wood sticks (that was keeping their shelters), plastic empty water jars and gallons, and their hands.

The left side (the side of Radwan Ogeil store) fought back very bravely and was able to force soldiers retreat out for three times throwing on them their helmets after kicking them away but the other two sides soldiers were breaking in. Sounds of sharp metal hits were heard loudly. I guess these were the wooden sticks on the metal shields. Also sounds of screams, mainly women and children, echoed.

In 10 minutes time, a whistle was heard and all forces pulled out of the garden. Lines were reorganized. Extra troops added to Al Ogeil store side and in couple of minutes signal was given and they lashed back in.

This time was fierce. The street lights were cut off. Screams never stopped; the most acute were children’s. My eyes couldn’t follow where or where to look. It was cold. It was dark. I am sure the garden was muddy after all this water. Soldiers were brutal. They were just beating anyone anywhere stepping over anyone and anything.

Every 2 or 3 seconds a Refugee would be dragged out of the horror circle, beaten all the way out, another 3 – 4 soldiers will take grip of the Refugee so the first soldier could go back hunt another one. The soldiers receiving the Refugee beat him more up with batons on his back, bringing him down to his knee, slapping the back of his head, dragging him to a bus where other soldiers take care of the next stage. All the way through, obscenities could be heard.

This happened to men and women equally. Sometimes when the victim was a woman I saw a child trying to hang to her leg as the soldiers drag the mother.

I saw four Refugees carried by soldiers from their arms and legs, oftenly dropping midway in total motionless and I could swear they were dead.

The most horrible was the EGYPTIANS! Civilians who cheered as if they are cheering for the “army forces” freeing Palestine! As forces advanced in battle; the audience cheered, whistled and clapped. They were amused!

Resistance was weakening on Al Ogeil side and soldiers breaking fully in when my host, standing beside me in the balcony said “we are entering from the left side”. I looked back at him in shock. This is not “we”. He said “I mean the Egyptians”. These are not Egyptians. He said “whatever”.

I started shaking.

As the Refugees were dragged out in bigger numbers they forced them to sit the ground on groups casually beating them till soldiers will come pick them and put them in busses.
A friend later told me he saw an officer spitting on a bus as it moved away with refugees!
Resistance fully collapsed. As fewer Refugees were left inside the garden facing at least 2500 soldiers the screams became sharper, louder and desperate.

Everything was over at 5:30 sharp.

When I took control over my body, I picked up my car and followed 6 of the white public transportation busses carrying almost fainting Refugees and state security forces to Dahshur State Security Camp in Fayoum road. They arrived there at exactly 7:15 am. The camp is almost 40 kms outside Cairo. Distance could be more or less, I was so tired and so not well. The wagon numbers were 3686, 4107, 6132, 4335, and 3696. I missed the numbers of the first bus.

Returning back to Cairo I went directly to the battlefield. Let the pictures speak.

At 11 pm I called Rousse and found her at home. By coincidence she didn’t join the sit in that bloody night. I can’t imagine what I would – or wouldn’t – do if she was inside.

So far 20 people died. There is news that those who were taken to 6th October state security camp are all released. And some are released from Turah. No news yet from Dahshur.

Individuals, groups, lawyers, associations are protesting in the same place tomorrow Saturday 12 noon both the brutality of the Egyptian government and the disgraceful role of UNHCR.
But who would protest the Egyptian People?The inhuman, the racist, the sadistic!



This is powerful stuff. I don't know what to say. There seems to be no depth to which we humans can sink in our capacity to hurt and destroy one another. Hoots

From the comments thread...nothing I say an better underscore the pain of this event, not only to the victims, but to those who were witness to the atrocity or were able to know of the event. Whenever innocent people die, everyone, at some level, becomes a perpetrator.

Last November I had to pick up some donations from the building next to El Ogeil in Mohandeseen. I have been seeing those refugees for over a month then in the garden infront of Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque. I know that they are from Southern Sudan and I knew through a friend who used to work for the UNHCR that they have an issue going back to Sudan and an issue in getting aid from the UNHCR. I didn’t understand what was exactly the problem but I knew that their sit-in is a form of protesting. I see them very frequently as I live in the neighbourhood.

This night I parked my car and walked to the building. As I stepped out of the car, I found 3 young men of them sitting on the pavement. It was 11 p.m. and not many people in the street. For seconds I felt scared. In my mind I immediately associated them with violence and yes a big part of the association was because of their color. A stereotype of black being associated with violent! I started figuring out what would I do if they harrase me. I was really scared, but I found myslef smiling at the 3 men, and peacefully they returned my smile. Yes they smiled at me. On my way back to the car, I was no more scared of them. I smiled again a supportive smile and again they returned the smile.

Through the months November and December, I made sure to pass by the place where they stayed and read their banners. One of the banners read “We don’t want to go back home”. I always stopped infront of this one and thought “so whoever wrote this banner still thinks that Sudan is home, yet s/he doesn’t want to go back”. Each time I leave thinking how hard it is for someone to not want to go back to a place that he considers home. But I understand. They don’t believe that the peace accords signed bewteen the Sudanese government and the rebels will hold for long. They know that it is a matter of time before the accords fall apart and the civil war is resumed.I also believe so. They must have experienced horrors, horrors that made staying in the street on those cold nights in a foreign country better than going back home.

By time, I came to look at them compassionately. Many a time I thought of having a chat with some of them. Especially those people standing near the banner of “We don’t want to go back home”. Once I was waiting for a friend nearby and I thought of talking to a woman who stood near the banner, but I refrained. I was not scared this time, but I thought I might offend her.
Last week, I was telling a friend living close to the scene that it is getting very cold and wondering how are they managing especially the little children. When Nora sent the call for medicine email, I thought I would want to donate. That was Wednesday. I didn’t get a chance because the security forces were faster in voluntarily donating a medicine with a long lasting effect. They killed them!

Friday noon, passing by the scene, I found the cleaning guys removing the remains of luggage and banners. I wondered what has remined of my favorite banner. I thought to myself that if it ever came back, it would read “I don’t want to go back to life”.

Comment by Noha Sallam


Candle and a Dua’a

Dear Nora

A big hug to you…I received your sms at 1:30 am Friday saying you are there and the attack will follow in few hours and called and sent messages to all the media persons I know, but as predicted the Egyptian police chose well the seems they wanted the rich people of Mohandessin to enjoy new year evening without the scene of anyone asking for any rights around, surely not “black” poor people.

Friday was sad for me..and round noon I started calling for a satirday 5-6 pm silent vigil saturday in the name of the Egyptian Mothers’ Active Network.

I knew some fellow activists started calling for a demonstration at 12 noon but thought there was no contradiction..let us have different forms of protest all day long to accommodate different peoples time schedule and political taste.And we did.Yesterday-Saturday-was like that.

I arrived there 5 pm sharp..felt very moved, and you know what..felt guilty too.I was there in my bed sending sms and calling friends while they were dying on the street..was this good enough?As a Muslim I felt horrified that Allah would hold me responsible for the “silence”…that’s why I called for the vigil..When I saw you there Nora I hugged you…I felt you were still shaking..and you surely will need time to recover from that traumatic experience.

I did not greet you for the report..nor for the courage, I just felt like keeping you in my arms and hugging you forever.

Allowing you to cry and crying with you.

I brought to the vigil three candles, one for the victims of torture who died in prison for the last 24 years since Mubarak took over, one for the victims of the last elections that took place December 2005 who lost their lives because of state police brutality and violence-but also for all the victims of all previous elections, and the third for the sudanese refugees who only asked for decent life and who could have been dealt with differently…without loosing their life.All those were killed by the same regime, the same police apparatus, the same state system.As for the racism you complain about , it is a result of opression -as a commentator here above mentioned..only when people know what dignity is would they defend the dignity of others.

You should pitty them.I live in Maadi..many sudanese refugees live around.

I raise my children to be good Muslims, meaning appreciate difference and diversity and respect all God’s creatures and foremost their fellow humans no matter what race, religion, nationality or ethnicity.

I was struck that my 7 years old boy said few days ago watching a bunch of black sudanese come out of a church after celebrating xmas on the 24th :” I feel disgusted when I see these people.” I know that this was not my fualt nor my value system…so he must have heard it on the street..or among his peers joking or so. I tried to be calm and turned to him and siad: “Well..dear ..remember that your color was not your choice, so how would you feel if you were born black? Besides.. I just want to remind you that Bilal the companion of Prophet Muhammad who had a beautiful voice and used to say loudly the call for prayer was as black as they are..he was Ethiopian.” Ali kept silent for a moment and then said in shame: “Its true I remember.”

The lesson is simple: people have to be reminded..all the time..that we are all equal and humans.

We are all the creation of Allah and stand equal in front of him.In many societies this simple fact is usually simply …forgotten.

Let us keep reminding people…our people…and other people.

I love you Nora..and I am proud that I know you.

May Allah bestow on you peace, help you heal your pain and allow you to come out of that difficult experience more strong, and let us mourn all the victims of that brutal totalitarian regime that managed to make people witness crimes without acting against them…even if the crimes were…against them.

Salam 2 you and 4 you , sister.

Comment by Heba Raouf Ezzat

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